What is stress exactly?

Stress is an abnormal alertness (and high rate of bodily energy drain) that is felt by an individual to be required in order to respond to the demands placed on them from their environment.

Stress can generally be felt from negative situations (distress) or positive situations (eustress). Below I will only consider distress.

An environment is stressful to a particular person if it contains stressors: perceived dangers or risks. In this modern world, stressors particularly include various forms of social risk such as:

  • risk of embarrassment (ex: making an inaccurate negative first impression on someone of high potential importance, such as on a first date or first meeting of a new boss),
  • social rejection (refusal of an other to permit a heightening of closeness sought by a subject, such as when one partner wants to elevate a date to a close romantic partner [such as to a boyfriend/girlfriend], to an exclusive romantic relationship, or to marriage),
  • social disconnection (refusal for further communication, usually due to excessive boundary violations and related anger; stonewalling), or
  • social abandonment (an important person decides to leave you or a group you lead because they are disgruntled and circumstances do not allow you to assuage their concerns sufficiently; physically walking away from someone, usually as part of a flight response to an extreme stressor).

Stress serves to motivate one into action to avoid an oncoming threat of pain (whether it be physical or social). Thus, even though it isn’t fun to be under stress, the feeling of stress is useful to get oneself out of a bad situation or to modify a situation to no longer be bad.

Common responses to stress are to fight or to flight. It’s worth noting that “fighting” includes not just the application of anger or physical violence but also more adaptive strategies such as having difficult conversations with an other to change their mind/perspective about something or more generally to influence an other to change their behavior.

A unexpected appearance of the feeling of stress is an intuitive emotional signal that there may be an incoming danger which hasn’t been fully processed yet. Processing aids such as sleep, journaling, or meditation are recommended at that point to identify what the new stressor is, and to consider possible responses.

Some individuals who have had chronic very difficult (or highly stressful) experiences in the past may have developed triggers, or especial sensitivities to the potential risks of certain situations. Women (and female-presenting individuals) in particular may have be subjected to various forms of sexual harassment such as:

  • unwanted repeated attempts to initiate conversation,
  • unwanted repeated date requests,
  • unwanted (“innocent”) groping, or
  • unwanted proposition

especially from relative strangers.

Consequently I find the female population as a whole to be more vigilant about their safety from sexually threatening situations, as compared to the male population (from my perspective as a male). I as a male am not especially concerned about my physical safety, but many of my close female friends are.

Very extreme stress which the subject feels powerless to avoid leads to resignment, paralyzing depression, or disassociation. It’s an approximation of the “play dead” response when a literal bear is in front of you and you cannot outrun it.1

That’s all I have to say about stress. Hopefully something here was insightful to you.

Further Reading

  1. Playing dead apparently is an effective technique to survive if you encounter an angry bear and all other measures have failed.