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

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“The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not." —Susan B. Anthony

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istock photo

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By Tara Brach Ph.D. on June 21, 2017 in Finding True Refuge
How do we shift from the identity of a controlling, wanting, fearing self into a compassionate witness that can see what is going on and knows how to rest and just be?

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Jokes and witty conversation can make you feel closer to the people around you. Is this how humor helps with stress?

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By Leena S. Guptha DO on June 20, 2017 in Embodied Wellness
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What Is Leadership Presence and How Can It Be Developed?

By Peter Bregman on June 19, 2017 in How We Work
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What Is Justice and When Is It Served?

When a court's factual findings differ from reality, it erases actual lived experiences.
Anthony Mancini

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Unimagined Sensitivities, Part 7

By Michael Jawer on June 18, 2017 in Feeling Too Much
A person who is highly sensitive to her or his feelings—and to others’ feelings—is likely to be extra sensitive to her or his environment.

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If you're mistreated at work, you're more likely to mistreat your loved ones. Studies show these two strategies end that cycle.

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By Bobby Hoffman Ph.D. on June 16, 2017 in Motivate!
Achieving personal success and financial freedom requires more than knowing facts. Win at life when you master these essential lessons.

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Applying Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention

By Dan Mager MSW on June 14, 2017 in Some Assembly Required
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Looking out for Number One

Consider these steps if you are a giver and need to start taking more, that is, taking care of yourself!

Freedom in Forgiveness

By Zack Carter Ph.D. on June 13, 2017 in Clear Communication
Forgive and move forward.

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Life often presents us with tasks that we’d rather not have to tackle. When faced with the inevitable, new research suggests how to make the whole process that much easier.

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Directly handling matters will always be a more effective response than avoidance.

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By Peter Bregman on June 12, 2017 in How We Work
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The One Thing Recent Grads Get Wrong About Work

By Caroline Beaton on June 12, 2017 in The Gen-Y Guide
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Can Pet Crickets Improve the Well-being of the Elderly?

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on June 12, 2017 in Animals and Us
A high quality randomized control study finds that caring for pet crickets has a surprisingly positive impact on the well-being of elderly people.

Three Tips to Stop Feeling So Overworked and Overwhelmed

By Andy Molinsky Ph.D. on June 10, 2017 in Adaptation
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Run for Your Life to Improve Your Mental Health

In his new book, William Pullen provides a self-help resource on coping with mental health issues by combining exercise and mindfulness.

The 11 Commandments of Criticism

Criticism is a crucial skill, but most of us are fearful of giving it and inept when we do. Here is how to make yourself a productive critic.