A new way to define stress

More than 50 years ago, Hans Selye, the father of modern stress research, defined stress as “the body’s nonspecific response to any demand.” This way of looking at stress implied that any demand that threw your body out of balance, whether positive (you inherit $1,000,000, etc.) or negative (you lose your job, etc.), would trigger a stress response. While this was a pioneering insight 50 years ago, current research in the fields of brain psychology and physiology has shown that it’s not the demand that triggers your stress, but rather what your mind tells you about the demand, your internal dialogue, which triggers your stress response.

When you expose yourself to a potential stressor, a transaction takes place in your mind between it and your internal dialogue about how threatening it is and whether or not you can deal with it. Two questions related to the potential stressor instantly flash through your mind; “Is it threatening?” and “Can I face it?” If you answer “Yes, it’s threatening” and “No, I can’t deal with it,” your brain will trigger a stress response. If you tell yourself, “No, it’s not a threat” and “Yes, I can handle it,” your mind doesn’t trigger a stress response. Lastly, if you feel like something is threatening but you can handle it and you say to yourself, “Yes, this is threatening but I can handle it,” your mind will not trigger a stress response.

Defining stress as a transaction between you and a potential stressor is a whole new way of looking at stress. It puts you in the driver’s seat to determine whether or not a potential stressor becomes an actual stressor and triggers a stress response. In other words, the jump from potential stressor to stress response does not happen automatically. Your mind determines how threatening a potential stressor really is and assesses the coping resources you have to handle it. Since viewing stress in this way begins with your perception of threat and your ability to cope, you can short-circuit the stress response by accurately measuring the threat that actually represents a potential stressor and your ability to cope. Most people overestimate the threat posed by potential stressors and underestimate their ability to cope. Even if you’re like most people in this regard, you can LEARN HOW to improve your ability to gauge threat and your ability to meet it more accurately by mastering certain cognitive and behavioral skills.

Cognitive skills revolve around rethinking or changing the way you think about potential stressors. They focus on improving your mind’s ability to think more clearly about potential stressors, the threat they actually pose, and your ability to cope with them. Behavioral skills teach you how to relax your body and release tension, how to reduce excess demands on your time and life, and how to set and achieve goals based on your values ​​and what is most important to you in life. life. Both sets of skills will help you feel less threatened by potential stressors and more able to cope with them.

The five R’s for coping with stress

I have incorporated both cognitive and behavioral skills into an approach to managing stress that is based on helping you more accurately assess threat and develop a personal toolbox of coping strategies to deal with stressors. The approach I’ve used with thousands of students and clients revolves around a five-tier defense system against stress called the Five Rs of Coping. Each “R” represents a different approach to reducing threat and improving coping. the five Rs; ReThink, Relax, Release, Reduce, and Rearrange, synergistically combine to give you a more flexible stress coping system that can be used to combat any type of stressor you face.


There are three components to rethinking your stress. The first involves understanding how your mind works when you’re stressed. It is based on the principles of Relational Framework Theory (RFT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The second examines how your values, goals, and views about your life are related to your stress. It also emphasizes the importance of clarifying your values ​​and setting value-based goals. The third component is learning to harness the power of your mind to handle stressful thinking.


The relaxed state and the stressed state are incompatible. You can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time. This “R” revolves around learning four proven relaxation strategies that will help you put your body into a relaxed state that is incompatible with stress.


The stress response results in the mobilization of tension and energy. A simple but effective way to manage stress is to use light, moderate, vigorous and cathartic physical activity to dissipate the tension and energy mobilized during the stress response.


Challenge is a concept that has replaced the notion of good stress or what Selye called “eustress”. You can turn potential stressors into challenges by finding your optimal level of demand and stimulation. This is the point where you are involved in just the right amount of different activities to be challenged by the demands of your life, not stressed by them.


Stress transactions do not take place in a vacuum. They are influenced by your general level of health at the time of your exposure to potential stressors. Reorganize helps you manage stress by showing you how to incorporate resilient, stress-reducing health habits into your daily routine.

Developing a Personal Stress Management Plan

Since stress is such a personal phenomenon determined by how your mind views the threat and your ability to cope with it, your stress management plan needs to be tailored to this. Each “R” in the five R’s framework contains several different strategies for managing stress. You can choose strategies from each of the Five R’s to develop a multi-level self-defense system against stress that you can use to manage all of your potential stressors.

The next seven articles in this series will show you how. I hope you will continue the series and start taking charge of your stress.

To be honest,

Dr Rich Blonna

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