Stress generally refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure, on the one hand, and the body's response to it, on the other, which involves multiple systems, from metabolism to muscles to memory. Through hormonal signaling, the perception of danger sets off an automatic response system, known as the fight-or-flight response, that prepares all animals to meet a challenge or flee from it. A stressful event —whether an external phenomenon like the sudden appearance of a snake on your path or an internal event like fear of losing your job when the boss yells at you—triggers a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the body, speeding heartbeat and the circulation of blood, mobilizing fat and sugar for fast energy, focusing attention, preparing muscles for action, and more. It generally takes some time for the body to calm down after the stress response has been triggered.

Lifesaving as the stress response is, it was meant to solve short-term, life-threatening problems, not extended difficulties such as daily traffic jams or marital problems. Prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological effects, including heart disease and depression.

Over the last few decades, a rising tide of studies has demonstrated the value of regularly engaging in activities that blunt the stress response, from meditation to yoga to strenuous physical activity. Since the stress response begins in the brain with the perception of stress, researchers are now looking into what may be a most basic, and effective, way to defuse stress—by changing perception of certain types of situations so that they are not seen as stressful in the first place. Studies show that helping people see certain experiences—such as final exams—as demanding rather than dire, protects them from the negative effects of stress while delivering its positive effects, especially focused attention and speedier information processing. Changing the stress mindset not only minimizes the effects of stress, studies show, it enhances performance and productivity.

Recent posts on Stress

Coping With the Daily Barrage of Upsetting News

"Vicarious trauma" from watching too much news may cause changes in thoughts, difficulty concentrating, inability to stop thinking about the events

The Psychology of Religion

By Andy Tix Ph.D. on December 14, 2017 in The Pursuit of Peace
What explains why some individuals are more religious than others? Scientists interested in the psychology of religion seek answers.
Gerd Altman/Creative Commons

The Brain Under (Sexual) Attack

Is the brain’s response to being attacked basically the same, whether it’s undergone sexual assault, physical assault, or enemy fire in military combat?

Medical Marijuana for PTSD?

By Robert T Muller Ph.D. on December 14, 2017 in Talking About Trauma
Combined with other therapies, medical marijuana may help those with PTSD.

Love Isn’t Enough

By Iben Sandahl on December 14, 2017 in The Danish Way
There are many factors creating turmoil, insecurity, and stress in our children’s lives. One is the many inputs children take in every day.
photo by Susan Pollak

The Japanese Garden: A Place of Refuge

By Susan M. Pollak MTS, Ed.D., on December 13, 2017 in The Art of Now
Can a Japanese garden help us find serenity and perspective during the holidays?

Can Coping With Stress Help You Live Longer?

By Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. on December 13, 2017 in Media Spotlight
How does chronic stress affect life expectancy in people already dealing with serious health problems? New research examines the stress-mortality connection.

Holiday Stress

By Michael Karson Ph.D., J.D. on December 13, 2017 in Feeling Our Way
A major source of stress in life comes from finding yourself in a role you can’t pull off.

Losing Weight in a Weight-Loss Resort: Will It Stay Off?

Aren't you already looking to getting away for some healthful pampering? Preparation is about more than packing outfits; it's also about seeing the maintenance of re-entry.

Five Ways to Overcome Entrepreneurial Anxiety

By Chloe Brotheridge on December 13, 2017 in A Calmer You
The life of an entrepreneur can be tough - it's not all fun, games and working from home in your sweats. It's often fraught with with specific stressors and challenges.

Can Exponential Tech Enhance Early Childhood Education?

By Tim Leberecht on December 12, 2017 in The Romance of Work
When it comes to AR, Blockchain, or AI, most of us feel like pre-schoolers. So I learned a lot at a recent weekend that brought together education experts with tech leaders.

Seven In-the-Moment Tools to Lessen Anxiety

By Andrea Bonior Ph.D. on December 12, 2017 in Friendship 2.0
Are your tools for managing your stress and anxiety getting stale? It's time to try something new.

Mental Health and the Holidays

By James F. Zender Ph.D. on December 12, 2017 in The New Normal
Tips for surviving the holidays.

Exposure to Heat Can Improve Mental Well-Being

Are you dreading being alone this holiday season? Schedule in some hot baths.

Feeling Stressed About the Future? You Are Not Alone

Six ideas to take charge of what you can control and focus your energies there.

New Study Finds Meditation With Walking Reduces Anxiety

By Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D. on December 10, 2017 in Urban Survival
A new study finds that combining meditation before or after a walk reduces anxiety more than just walking by itself.

Tips for Keeping the Holidays Peaceful for the Kids

By Azmaira H. Maker Ph.D. on December 10, 2017 in Helping Kids Cope
Can you keep the holidays joyful for your kids? Tips and tools for married and divorced families.

The Toll of Adult Acne

By Matt Traube, MFT on December 10, 2017 in Healthy Mind, Healthy Skin
Is adult acne limiting your life?
author's photo

Nourish Your Brain in Five Minutes a Day

Your quality of life depends on the circulation in your brain.

The Demography of Aging

Ever wonder why nearly 75 percent of our longevity has so little to do with our genetics or health care?

What We Know About the Holiday Blues

The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, but they are likely to have different effects than you might think.

Why We Kill, According to Motivational Science

By Bobby Hoffman Ph.D. on December 07, 2017 in Motivate!
Do you think your basic psychological needs are different from those of a killer?
Wikimedia Commons

Not Talkative? Not Emotional? That’s Okay, and Here’s Why.

By Michael S. Scheeringa M.D. on December 07, 2017 in Stress Relief
If you have PTSD, when you talk about your traumatic memories, do you fall into the categories of Expressive, Avoidant, Undemonstrative, or Fabricated?

Ten Steps to a Resilient Holiday Season

Have the intention to make this season jolly.

How Culture Affects Depression

By Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D. on December 06, 2017 in Between Cultures
The meaning and symptoms of depression can vary around the world. So can the ways people cope with it.

The New Science of Successfully Breaking Bad Habits

By Christopher Bergland on December 06, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
The Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) coalition is on a mission to help people break bad habits and successfully make behavioral changes that will lead to longer, healthier lives.

The Dangers of Homophobia

By Jennifer O’Brien Ph.D. on December 06, 2017 in All Things LGBTQ
Exploring the negative impact of discrimination, prejudice, and stigma on the mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.

Suffering From Holiday Overwhelm?

Don't let unrealistic expectations for the holiday season get you down. Take a lesson from Mrs. Claus, settle in, and enjoy.

Why You Should Party Like It’s 1899

By Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D. on December 05, 2017 in How of Happiness
If you’re stressed out, consider this: 150 years from now, no one on earth today will still be living

Final Exam Stress? Five Ways to Finish Finals Strong

By Zack Carter Ph.D. on December 04, 2017 in Clear Communication
Before the eggnog and ugly Christmas sweaters, you must get through final exams. Avoiding these common final exam prep blind spots might help your grades.