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What is Stress? Todd A. Hoover, MD, DHt Stress is hard. Stress is everywhere. You cannot escape from stress.

I am feeling so stressed, I cannot even think. But what is stress? From a biological standpoint, stress is any force that causes an organism (like a human being) to be moved out of homeostasis (the balance and harmonious function of your system). Everything that is currently pushing on your body is a type of stress. Gravity, the current temperature, the meal you just ate, the argument you had with a friend, unfinished business with your spouse or colleague might be stresses that are affecting your system at this very moment. Soare they good or bad? In actuality, no stress is really good or bad. Gravity is not good or bad. The time of day is not good or bad. But our perceptions and preferences make any stress automatically categorized as a good or bad stress. And where does this automatic categorization come from? All of our past conditioning and experiences come together at the moment of perception of a new stress and decide that this experience is welcome or not. To better understand, consider what it would be like to live in a stress-free environment. Your body would need to be in a neutral, buoyant state. The temperature would be perfectly constant. You would not receive any psychological changes like conversations or arguments. There would be no pain, but no pleasure either. Everything would be neutral. I believe over time you would become a jellyfish. Without stress, there is no struggle to adapt. There could be no growth or learning. For example, imagine you are a teenager and you are fortunate enough to consider buying your first car. You go to the used car lot. There are so many choices, and they are all so expensive. You cannot decide. After going back and forth in your head many times, you decide it is all too much. You ask your father to step in, make the decision for you and finish the deal. You now have a car, but you backed down from the stress. You did not

gain any particular knowledge or experience from the episode. And the next time you decide to purchase a car, it is highly likely that the difficulty and level of stress you feel will be even greater. The body operates in much the same way. Large studies of children who have ear infections show that children who received antibiotics on day one of the infection were three times more likely to get another infection compared to those who did not get antibiotics at all. In other words, when the doctor stepped in and bought the car for the child rescuing them from the bacteria, the child did not grow any stronger. When the child worked through the stress of the infection, the immune system became stronger. They learned to fight off ear infections. In much the same way, we have seen that when children are raised in germ free or very clean environments, they are more likely to develop allergies and asthma than other children. Without the stress of some dirt and germs, the body does not grow properly. The immune system must learn as we grow. Some stresses in our environment are different than others. The most important factors include the severity of the stress, the duration of the stress, and the relative strength of the individual. When a stress is severe like the death of a loved one, or certain kinds of infection like polio, nearly everyone will be affected. And the effects will be somewhat similar for all people. For example, we know that grief follows a certain pattern. It is a shared human experience and we process that grief in very similar ways. When a stress is weaker, it may not affect everyone. Stronger and more healthy people are resistant to these types of stress. Flu, for example, is sometimes a weaker kind of stress. Some people will get the flu in a given year, while others do not. Generally, the very young, the very old, and the infirmed are at the highest risk for these types of stresses. I hope you can begin to see that stress is really nothing personal. You can help protect your health by avoiding severe and prolonged stresses. If you are generally healthy, many stresses are best confronted head on as an opportunity to learn and grow. But if your health has been compromised, it is better if you are more cautious and protective of your body, mind, and soul.