What is Stress?

Just the word “stress” itself can cause some people anxiety. So what IS stress, and how do we deal with it?

Well, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary(1), it is: “a constraining force or influence…”, but one of the next definitions is: “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”


When we talk about our daily stress, often it encompasses all three of factors listed in their definition (physical, chemical AND emotional). What’s interesting to me is that their definition includes that it may be a contributor to development or disease progression.

Why might it be a contributor to disease? Because the body is meant to be at peace.

It’s important to note, at this point, that all three factors that can embody stress, can be present at the same time. For example, if I fall and break my arm, my body is under physical stress. Recognizing this, the body will produce chemicals that help to get me through the pain, and my emotional state can also be affected.

But, once the arm is set and the initial pain wears off, the body works to repair the broken arm to bring me back to the state I was in before I broke my arm.

The stress that I want to focus on is the emotional stress, which affects so many of us without us even being consciously aware of it. Emotional stress and peace cannot cohabitate, so to speak. And we want peace. Again, the body operates at its best, when the spirit is at peace.

I’ve done a lot of reading of some of what I consider to be the best psychologists and students of the human condition on the planet. And while scientifically, a lot of factors can be listed as contributors to stressors for people of the Western culture, there is one underlying theme: the mind is the key to finding peace.

It’s how we think about things that can affect the entire body.

Think back to a time when you noticed your own tension. I’m not talking about the tension that comes from overworked muscles or a physical strain, I’m talking about the kind of tension that makes shoulders tight, makes you notice a headache, or has you rubbing your temples. What were you doing? What were you thinking at that time?

While you can’t always control your thoughts, you can make a conscious effort to guide your thoughts.

I do this when I begin to notice stress creeping in by reminding myself that the biggest cause of stress is a negative perspective; I actually say to myself, “Stress is caused by how I’m thinking about things.”

A positive outlook is not only a stress management tool, but it’s the best way to find peace. It sometimes takes a lot of conscious effort to get or keep one, but a positive outlook can melt away anxiety. It is the best-kept secret on how to relieve stress, reduce tension, and keep you feeling good. Realizing when negative thoughts are dominating is the first step in changing them. It takes conscious effort at first, but eventually can become a habit. And that’s a habit you’ll want to keep!

(1) Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition of Stress

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