Stress is a concept borrowed from mechanics: if too much stress (that is pressure or force) is placed on part of a machine, then the part is weakened and may even break, and the machine no longer functions at maximum efficiency.
It is not so different from a psychological point of view – if you are subject to continual stress (unmanageable forces in your life) then your ability to cope is undermined, and you can no longer perform at your best.
The mind affects the body, and stress boosts production of the two hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. In the short term these chemicals, together with others called corticosteroids, are responsible for an increase in breathing and heart rates, tensed muscles and queasiness.
This is the so-called “fight or flight response”, which was useful in stressful situations in the dim evolutionary past – when we needed to flee predators.
But nowadays, the fight or flight response is frequently produced in inappropriate, evolutionary unimportant circumstances, such as a traffic jam, or a business meeting.
Prolonged exposure to the chemicals produced under stress can lead to a range of physical symptoms – anything from allergies to impotence, or insomnia to muscle pains.
This is not to say that stress is necessarily a bad thing. Stress is a natural part of life and we all need a little of it to provide us with the motivation to challenge our limits, overcome obstacles or aim for the top.
Positive stress offers us healthy stimulation, and life would be dull without it.
Problems arise only when stress levels exceed an individual’s ability to cope, and begin to have a negative impact on life.
The trick with stress is to learn how to manage it, not to try to banish it altogether.