Stress generally refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure, on the one hand, and the body's response to it, on the other, which involves multiple systems, from metabolism to muscles to memory. Through hormonal signaling, the perception of danger sets off an automatic response system, known as the fight-or-flight response, that prepares all animals to meet a challenge or flee from it. A stressful event —whether an external phenomenon like the sudden appearance of a snake on your path or an internal event like fear of losing your job when the boss yells at you—triggers a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the body, speeding heartbeat and the circulation of blood, mobilizing fat and sugar for fast energy, focusing attention, preparing muscles for action, and more. It generally takes some time for the body to calm down after the stress response has been triggered.

Lifesaving as the stress response is, it was meant to solve short-term, life-threatening problems, not extended difficulties such as daily traffic jams or marital problems. Prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological effects, including heart disease and depression.

Over the last few decades, a rising tide of studies has demonstrated the value of regularly engaging in activities that blunt the stress response, from meditation to yoga to strenuous physical activity. Since the stress response begins in the brain with the perception of stress, researchers are now looking into what may be a most basic, and effective, way to defuse stress—by changing perception of certain types of situations so that they are not seen as stressful in the first place. Studies show that helping people see certain experiences—such as final exams—as demanding rather than dire, protects them from the negative effects of stress while delivering its positive effects, especially focused attention and speedier information processing. Changing the stress mindset not only minimizes the effects of stress, studies show, it enhances performance and productivity.

Recent posts on Stress

Civility Matters: How Rude Behavior Spreads Like The Flu

By Linda Esposito LCSW on February 21, 2018 in From Anxiety to Zen
Studies show exposure to rude behaviors makes us more likely to act aggressively...even if we're not the targeted recipient.

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The Invisible Habits Hurting Our Happiness

By Tasha Eurich Ph.D. on February 19, 2018 in The Power of Insight
We are often so focused on what we want to change that we don’t pay attention to what to maintain.

Your Partner Cheated, Now What?

By Andrea Bonior Ph.D. on February 19, 2018 in Friendship 2.0
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By Josephine Ensign DrPH on February 18, 2018 in Catching Homelessness
In the wake of yet another school shooting and another college campus violent white nationalist event, what are the limits to free speech and firearms in terms of education?
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11 Reasons Women Have Difficulty with Orgasm, and What Helps

By Grant Hilary Brenner M.D. on February 17, 2018 in ExperiMentations
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Can You Change Someone Else by Changing Yourself?

By Alice Boyes Ph.D. on February 16, 2018 in In Practice
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Stress Management for the Stress-Prone

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on February 16, 2018 in How To Do Life
Tips from my new book, 'Careers for Dummies.'

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Stress and Your Diet: Can Certain Foods Affect Your Mood?

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Why PTSD Is Under-Recognized, Part I: The Upside Down

By Michael S. Scheeringa M.D. on February 14, 2018 in Stress Relief
Clinicians miss the diagnosis in patients with PTSD approximately 90% of the time. Here are seven reasons why the diagnosis is under-recognized.

The First Step to Take When You’re Having a Rough Day

By Toni Bernhard J.D. on February 13, 2018 in Turning Straw Into Gold
I was taking a rough day and making it worse by turning myself into a victim, as if the world were conspiring against me. So I asked myself what I could do to make things better.

Staying in Control Can Help You Live Longer

By Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. on February 12, 2018 in Media Spotlight
While exposure to trauma is something that everyone faces sooner or later (and often more than once), the key to survival often rests on how much control people feel they have.

15 Signs of High Sensitivity in Relationships

By Preston Ni M.S.B.A. on February 11, 2018 in Communication Success
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How to Stay Attentive

By Temma Ehrenfeld on February 09, 2018 in Open Gently
Knowing how to improve concentration will help you feel confident and weather periods of stress, when your focus takes a hit. Do you live near a park? Go for a walk.

The Pros and Cons of Having a "Side Hustle"

By Alice Boyes Ph.D. on February 08, 2018 in In Practice
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Stress, Eating and Sleep

By Matthew J. Edlund M.D. on February 08, 2018 in The Power of Rest
Sleep and overeating are deeply connected.

Psychology of Tryouts: Part II (What Athletes Can Do)

By Jim Taylor Ph.D. on February 07, 2018 in The Power of Prime
I’m going to offer young athletes some practical tips to help them approach tryouts in a positive way, allowing them to perform their best on the day of the tryout.

Six Practical Strategies for Unhappy but Committed Couples

By Alice Boyes Ph.D. on February 06, 2018 in In Practice
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The Fear of Missing Out and the Courage to Go In

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Neuron Activity May Reveal Susceptibility to Depression

By Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D. on February 05, 2018 in Brain and Behavior
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This Valentine’s Day, the Perfect Gift Might Be Time

By Vanessa LoBue, Ph.D. on February 05, 2018 in The Baby Scientist
Parenting is hard work and can be stressful on a relationship. Recent research suggests that what you might need to feel happier and relieve some of that stress is more free time.