Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Is Stress?

Photo credit: stressed by rick


Hans Selye was a researcher in the biological sciences during much of the twentieth century.  He is widely believed to be the first to use the term "stress" to describe a biological phenomena.

While experimenting with hormone injections in rats, Selye discovered that a wide rage of irritating substances would produce the same response in rats.  There was an impact on their adrenal glands and damage to their gastrointestinal tract.  In other words, the rats got all wound up and their guts hurt them.

I heard Selye speak during the mid 1970's.  He made it clear that stress was the organism's response to the irritants, not the irritants themselves.  He called the irritants stressors.   The general use of the term these days confuses stress and stressors, but the basic idea is retained:
as we are impacted by various irritants, our stress level builds up.  We get anxious. We have various physical complaints, especially gastrointestinal problems.

However, an important point is often overlooked.  Selye learned that stress is generated by both irritating (or bad) events and by exciting, even pleasurable, good events.  To much of a good thing can make a person sick in a way that is identical to what would occur if they got too much of bad things.

It seems that we too often forget that the good events in our lives can help make us sick.  In fact, I have a hard time believing it despite having heard Selye in the flesh explaining it all.

So getting divorced will generate stress in people, but so will getting married.  Deaths, but also births.  Financial losses, but also winning the lottery.  Annoying people clearly create stress in us, but the truth is that stress is also generated when we spend time with a loved one.

There are some great coping strategies for dealing with stress:  exercise, avoiding caffeine, and various sorts of attitude adjustment.  However, I doubt that many people think to employ those strategies when lots and lots of good things are occurring.   I have been reminded of this during a period of weeks when we are enjoying many visits from loved ones, a daughter is getting married, and all of my children are doing very well.  

I find it difficult to believe that great things like those can make me uptight.  But it is clearly true.

Bad things will come, and hopefully good things will come.  My prayer is not that God would remove the bad and certainly not that he would hold back the good.  My prayer is that I would mature, grow stronger, and attain the wisdom needed to cope with the good and the bad.

Pray for strength, not for an easy life.  


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