Reneau Peurifoy
From Anxiety, Phobias & Panic

Stress is simply another word used to describe the triggering of the fight or flight response. The effects of stress can be positive or negative. One example of positive stress is the excitement an experienced musician feels just before a performance. In this case, the fight or flight response helps improve the performance. Another example is the excitement of being in love.

Negative stress can be short term (such as the fear, pressure, and need for quick decisions produced when a car suddenly swerves into your path) or long term (such as the stress you might feel in a complex, high-pressure job). Too much stress, especially over a long period of time, can drain energy, cause undue wear and tear on the body, and make you vulnerable to illness and premature aging. Pictures of presidents before and after four years of one of the most stressful jobs on the planet provide a vivid example of this fact.

Stress can be divided into two major types: physical and psychological. Physical stress is created by physical demands on the body such as those caused by accidents, illness, chemical toxins, a demanding work schedule, or prolonged psychological stress. Psychological stress is created by mental or emotional demands on the body. Psychological stress can simply be the result of physical stress. It is, however more often caused by mental or emotional demands from personal beliefs, family, work, or friends.

This lesson focuses on psychological stress. The four basic types of psychological stress are defined as follows:
Pressure: An internal or external demand to complete a task or activity either within a limited time or in a specific manner.

  • Frustration: The blocking of needs or wants.
  • Conflict: The need to make a choice between two or more competing alternatives.
  • Anxiety/Fear: One of two basic emotional responses to a perceived threat (the other is anger).

There are three important points about stress that need to be understood in order to develop a complete approach to stress management. First, stress involves the triggering of the fight or flight response and the release of energy that is not actually needed to cope with an external situation. As explained in Lesson 1, this is what generates the symptoms of anxiety.

Second, your body responds to any thought as though the thought concerns an event occurring in the present. It does not matter whether the thought is about the past, present, or future. This is why a vivid thought accompanied by strong emotion about a past negative experience or a possible future problem triggers the fight or flight response.

Third, people who experience the prolonged stress of severe anxiety usually have beliefs, attitudes, and habitual thinking patterns that tend to perpetuate the stress. This important point is dealt with in detail later in the program.

The process of reducing daily stress is usually referred to as stress management. The word management is of particular importance. Your goal is not to eliminate stress. This is impossible if you are to live a normal, healthy life. Your goal is to manage stress so it does not prevent you from living the life you want.

What Is Stress?