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

How to Tell The Truth in Difficult Situations

By Peter Bregman on August 21, 2017 in How We Work
Discover the eight steps in a “truth talk,” the key to getting someone else to understand your perspective, and how to distinguish for yourself between facts and interpretations.

The 1 Skill College Students Wish Their Parents Taught Them

We invest a lot of time in teaching young people to be academically prepared for the future, but we often overlook the skills they really need to succeed.
Inked Pixels/Shutterstock

Life’s Imaginary Prison Bars

By Alex Pattakos Ph.D. on August 17, 2017 in The Meaningful Life
"Prison bars imagined are no less solid steel."
Munch 1893, PD

Professional Suicide

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on August 17, 2017 in Shadow Boxing
Even great men with ground-breaking accomplishments can experience circumstances that break their spirit.

Where Do You Really Stand in the Wake of Charlottesville?

By Deborah L. Davis Ph.D. on August 17, 2017 in Laugh, Cry, Live
Following the Charlottesville riots, reactions are disturbingly mixed. Here’s how to strengthen your thinking about the effects of racism.
Earls37a/Flickr

Hey Doc, I’m Not Crazy! Part II

Mental health and physical health are linked more than you know.

When Weddings Hurt

Insight into why weddings might be particularly fraught for women.

On Coping with Political Strife On Social Media and Beyond

A conversation about struggling with what to post on social media in these times of social and political strife.

Dealing with Stress at School in an Age of Anxiety

By Daniel P. Keating Ph.D. on August 15, 2017 in Stressful Lives
A stress epidemic threatens students' learning and mental health. Understanding the sources can help teachers, leaders, and parents create a culture of reslience at school.

Can Rest Make Us More Productive?

By Peter Bregman on August 14, 2017 in How We Work
Discover why even an hour of rest a week can increase your productivity and Marilyn’s principles for establishing a rest routine that works.
Nancy F. Knapp

It's Poverty, Stupid!

Billions spent to raise U.S. reading scores have had little, if any, effect. Is the money misspent? Maybe, but there is another major factor holding us back.

Holding the "Both-And" in Times of Stress

Compassion, wisdom, and curiosity may just be able to help us avoid the well trodden path to polarization, them vs us, and the limits of right and wrong. We are more than all that!

How Do We Read Emotions in Robots?

In time of need, will you let a robot help you? A new study examines this.

Personality and Potential Nuclear Confrontation

By Ian H. Robertson Ph.D. on August 12, 2017 in The Stress Test
The possible catastrophe of nuclear war rests on the psychology of just two men

The Molecules of a Pandemic

By Billi Gordon Ph.D. on August 12, 2017 in Obesely Speaking
Hormones are the Twitter Feed of your mind, body, soul, and microbiome. You are, you will do, and you will eat what they tweet.

Keep Daydreaming: Why Only Dreamers Create Consciously

Understand the concept of unintentional creation of reality: Worrying vs. daydreaming.

Even Psychologists Need Help with Civility Guidelines

APA's efforts to improve civility might become a best practice that other groups could benefit from. Time will tell but hopefully, psychologists are onto something here.

You Won’t Believe Who Can Help You Relieve Stress

Is even vacation time grueling? A new way of thinking can reduce stress.

Four Tools to Stress-Proof Your Parenting Brain

By Susan Newman Ph.D. on August 10, 2017 in Singletons
How to get the stress related to your children under control and keep sane and calm during the parenting journey

The Case for Not Giving Grades

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on August 10, 2017 in How To Do Life
Furthering intrinsic motivation while reducing undue student stress.

The Hazards of Self-Criticism

Bashing the self is bad for your health.
Used by permission from Yelp.

Go Get Some Ice Cream

By Steve Albrecht DBA on August 08, 2017 in The Act of Violence
Ice cream will cure what ails you.

Essential Parenting Tasks for a Healthy College Transition

The transition to campus and adulthood brings high stress for students. Here are the steps you should take as a parent to support them through this transition.
Pexels

Relieve Your Daily Stress with a To-don't List

Are you bogged down in a huge flood of data? Reclaim your life today by starting a to-don't list.
 Matus Laslofi/Flickr/CC by 2.0

30 Reasons You May Need a Grief Therapist

Are you stuck in your grief?

Be a Superconnector—not a Networker

By Peter Bregman on August 07, 2017 in How We Work
Discover the three ways you can show love in the professional world, the rules for smart giving so you aren't taken advantage of, and how to be a superconnector—not a networker.

How to Mindfully Parent in Real Life

By Yael Schonbrun Ph.D. on August 07, 2017 in Moderating
How mindfulness can help get you through the tough parenting moments.
Pexels

Depression and Loss of Energy: a Waiting Game

Reverse the downward spiral of depression.

How Financially Vulnerable Are You?

The answer relies on a host of psychological & behavioral markers that indicate financial weakness.

7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone

Studies show spending just 10 minutes a day alone with your thoughts could change your life.