Stress and Emotional Intelligence


Stress is a term that was first used in a biological / psychological context in the 1930s and continues to this day to be a common and easily recognized, yet misused term.

The term stress was borrowed from the field of physics and engineering. As a biological and psychological expression, the broader meaning of stress was adopted to explain the body’s response to added demand – much like the considerations given to a structure and its capacity to withstand both routine and extreme conditions.  Predicting the endurance of a bridge spanning a small creek or a wide body of water, human psychological and biological stressors can cover a wide variety of phenomena, from mild irritation to overwhelming breakdown.

Stress limit might reference the extent to which an organism is capable of effectively acting upon real or imagined mental, emotional or physical challenges.  You may have noticed that nearly everyone has a unique stress limit.  Of course there is an average and expected human stress response to most harmful stimuli, i.e., snakes, polar bears, hungry lions.  But there are often those psychological stressors that are more or less endured or suffered depending on the individual experiencing them.  Some, for example, may experience disrespect with great fortitude and endurance, while others may perceive disrespect as a greater threat and respond in quite the opposite.

Psychological stressors are often dependent upon perception and interpretation of threatening phenomena.  Perception (or thought) activates the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic response of the autonomic nervous system may be described as feeling a sense of rest and peace.  The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, often referred to as the fight-flight-or-freeze response, depends on the perception (the stimulus that causes stress) of threat and danger.  If the human organism perceives threat, the autonomic nervous system prompts the sympathetic nervous response and releases neurochemicals and stress hormones into the bloodstream, including adrenaline and cortisol, activating the body’s emergency protection response.

There are three phases or the stress response.

Alarm. When and individual perceives threat the body will enter a state of alarm. During this stage, adrenaline will be produced in order to bring about the fight-or-flight response. There is also some activation of the HPA axis, producing cortisol. If reasonable means of addressing the stressors are found in this stage, the stress will subside.  This stage may be described as episodic stress and may be short-livedFor example, if you are driving and have a tussle with a fellow motorist, your stress level may be increased.  Then minutes after resolving your differences, however, you will return to balance and hardly remember the disagreement.

Resistance. If the stressors persists, it becomes necessary to attempt some means of coping with the stress. Although the body begins to try to adapt to the strains or demands of the environment, the body cannot keep this up indefinitely, so its resources are gradually depleted.  This stage may be described as long-term stress and normally requires active intervention to alleviate.  For example, if you receive a poor rating on your employee evaluation, and you believe you have been irreparably harmed, you may experience a longer, more protracted period of stress.

Exhaustion. At this point, all of the body’s resources are eventually depleted and the body is unable to maintain normal function. If stage three is extended, long-term damage to the body’s immune system as well as other illnesses including ulcers, depression, diabetes, trouble with the digestive system, or even cardiovascular problems, along with other mental illnesses may result.  If you find yourself going to bed with thoughts of failure, anger, rage or fear related to some real or imagined event in your life, night after night, waking (if you were able to sleep at all) in the morning with the same thoughts, having the same thoughts all day and into the night, you may be in this stage of the stress response.

The misuse of the term stress may be in identifying the source of the stressors.  Identification of the source of stress is essential to doing something to overcome it.

“IT is very stressful!”

“SHE is making me stressed!”

“THIS is too stressful for me!”

“I can’t meet this deadline.  IT’S going to kill me!  I am sure to FAIL!”

These perceptions and thoughts can result in making a person more vulnerable to exhaustion. It may be true that stressors that threaten one’s physical safety, such as those stressors that result from exposure to wild animals and poisonous spiders, psychological stress is more often a result of one’s own thinking and perceiving.

The kind of stress found in modern life is often psychological and can be better addressed through education. Learning to think and perceive differently can go a long way to reducing one’s experiences with stress.  Recognizing that no one makes you stressed other than you and your own thoughts may result in avoiding longterm exposure to the noxious hormones that will likely result in mental and physical illness.

It will take the force of will to do this.

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11 responses

  1. Pingback: Stress and Emotional Intelligence | eitheory.com

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