Why We Experience Stress

18 Jul

People ask “Do we live in a more stressful world?” The answer is yes, here is why.


Last week we discussed the Yerkes-Dodson law. This function shows that there is a personal optimal level of stress where each of us performs best. 

 So why is stress such a problem in the modern world? We are perfectly adapted to surviving and that heritage bears little similarity to our current environments.  In the hunter/gatherer world there were lots of life threatening events.

 The presence of such a threat, perhaps a sabre-tooth tiger, sets off an automatic emergency reaction, the major aspect being to dump tons of epinephrine (adrenaline) into our circulatory system preparing us to FIGHT or FLEE.  This is called the General Adaptation Syndrome, as you can see, it’s a real gas.

 Unfortunately, virtually all contemporary stressors do not permit us to fight or flee, so we end up cooking in our adrenaline.  Incidentally, I know people for whom the drug of choice is adrenaline. They are not fun to work with.

 These stressors are idiosyncratic; each of us has his/her own personal set.  Some are common, most are not, some are powerful, most are not.

 Please note, the accumulation of many smaller stressors can have big effects.  My mother used to state “In life It’s not the elephants that get you, it’s the ants.”  There are lots of “ants” in the modern environment.  Many of these result from technology.

 For more about the General Adaptation Syndrome go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Selye

 Next week: assessing and managing your stress.



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