eClass 5: Stress and Emotional Intelligence

3060893791_b4015ba15e_o We’re social creatures, and the life best lived often depends on our ability to create and maintain healthy relationships. Success, happiness, and the ability to give and receive love all hinge on our relationship skills. Most of us do a good job with relationships at the start. But why do we so often stumble down the road? Why do relationships develop into such stressful problems? Can emotional intelligence help?

Emotions are the building blocks of each relationship in our lives, and the power of those emotions cannot be overstated. Runaway emotions can override our thoughts and profoundly influence our behavior. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, control, and effectively communicate our own emotions, and to recognize the emotions of other people. Emotional intelligence skills enable us to use emotional building blocks to construct a solid foundation for communication. Well-developed emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in all areas of life (and particularly in relationships) than the traditional measurement of high cognitive intelligence, or IQ.

At the foundation for all verbal and nonverbal communication, emotional intelligence can:
•    Empower us to build healthy new relationships
•    Help us strengthen existing relationships
•    Help us better understand other people
•    Help us better understand ourselves
•    Enhance our ability to communicate effectively

A Simple EQ Test

What is your current EQ level? Most of us have relationship problems at times with coworkers, acquaintances, friends, relatives, or other people about whom we care. Our emotional intelligence is a set of key relationship skills that help us establish strong relationships and deal with relationship problems.

Find your emotional intelligence skill level by answering “true” or “false” to the questions in this quick relationship quiz.

1.    I hold eye contact with the person to whom I am speaking.
2.    I am comfortable with pauses when others are experiencing emotion.
3.    I sense when someone feels troubled before being told.
4.    I am comfortable with my feelings of sadness, joy, anger, and fear.
5.    I pay attention to my emotions when making decisions.
6.    I have no problem expressing my emotions to others.
7.    I can reduce my stress to a comfortable level.
8.    I enjoy laughing, playing, or kidding around.
9.    I don’t feel threatened by disagreements.
10.    When others are speaking, I listen to them rather than working on my reply.

Answering “true” to at least 7 of these questions indicates a good grasp of the skills that will strengthen relationships and help avoid relationship problems. Less than 7 “true” answers indicates that there is a need for additional skills building to raise emotional intelligence ability. It is important to learn the key skills to use in improving our current relationships, and to forge strong new ones—in both our personal life and the workplace.

The 5 Crucial EQ Skills

While every relationship is unique, there are five areas of emotional intelligence that are of vital importance to building and maintaining healthy relationships:

1.    The ability to manage stress in relationships

Stress shuts down our ability to feel, to think rationally, and to be emotionally available to another person, essentially blocking good communication until both parties feel safe enough to focus on one another. This damages the relationship. Being able to regulate stress allows us to remain emotionally available. The first step in communicating with emotional intelligence is recognizing when stress levels are out of control and returning quickly, whenever possible, to a relaxed and energized state of awareness.

2.    The ability to recognize and manage emotions

Emotional exchanges hold the communication process together. These exchanges are triggered by basic emotions, including anger, sadness, fear, joy, and disgust. To communicate in a way that grabs or engages others, we need to access our emotions. However, our emotions may be distorted, or unavailable, due to the influence of our earliest childhood relationships (chronic stress, i.e. high allostatic load). But they can and must be restored.

3.    The ability to communicate nonverbally

The most powerful forms of communication contain no words, and take place at a much faster rate than speech. Using nonverbal communication is the way to attract others’ attention and keep relationships on track. Eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gesture, touch, intensity, timing, pace, and sounds that convey understanding engage the brain and influence others much more than our words alone.

4.    The ability to use humor and play in relationships

Playfulness and humor help us navigate and rise above difficult and embarrassing issues. Mutually shared positive experiences also lift us up, help us find inner resources needed to cope with disappointment and heartbreak, and give us the will to maintain a positive connection to our work and our loved ones. Humor can be a powerful stress reduction and relaxation technique.

5.    The ability to resolve conflicts in relationships

The way we respond to differences and disagreements in personal and professional relationships can create hostility and irreparable rifts, or it can initiate the building of safety and trust. Our capacity to take conflict in stride and to forgive easily is supported by our ability to manage stress, to be emotionally available, to communicate nonverbally, and to laugh easily.

Emotional intelligence skills can have a dramatic effect on our relationships at home and at work. As we acquire each one of these abilities, we will increase our overall EQ level and our ability to master the next skill. In the end, we will get to know a newly empowered individual—our social self—and become very comfortable with our ability to attract the respect and affection of others.

Seeing Stress Anew Between Two Covers

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A fresh perspective on stress doesn’t come easy, given the explosion of self-help books and manuals on the subject that have been published in the last few years. Reading something truly illuminating and new about stress and how to manage it is a rare find. One of the few books that manages to be informative, practical and refreshingly new at the same time is Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness by Dr. Edward Charlesworth and Dr. Ronald Nathan, first published in 1982 and now in its fourth edition.

A pocket-sized 400+ pages little manual of treasures, the book includes chapters that explain stress in everyday language, teach relaxation in an engaging style, address the issue of special stressors, and puts it all together in a captivating and surprisingly simple stress management formula that is sure to be feasible by just about anyone. It earns the nod as Stresshacker Recommended book for this week.

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Stress, As Seen Through the Eye of Science

Bazille at Stresshacker.comWhen science looks at stress, the focus is on the body/mind interaction or, more precisely, on its psychophysiological mechanisms. Traveling back in time from our present condition to conception, we can see that our genes and the environment in which we grow up (in which our genes are expressed) determine how we respond to stress as adults. Our genetic and environmental differences (the nature or nurture of who we are) help explain how individuals exposed to the same stressful situation can have an entirely different reaction. Some can adapt successfully to the stressor (albeit not without discomfort), while others experience more severe immediate trauma and long-term emotional problems, such as PTSD.

During specific developmental periods, such as infancy, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, or maturity, certain stressors are almost certain to occur and are understood to be typical and appropriate to the process of maturation and change. The earliest such stressor is the effect of caregiving styles, which stems from the parents’ psychological state. An attentive and nurturing style produces vastly different effects on the child’s later adaptation to stress than a harsh, unforgiving or neglectful one. In adolescence, patterns of behavior and emotional reactivity—including the stress reaction—begin to crystallize and become fully set in early adulthood.

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Do You Know the Answer to These 10 Critical Questions About Stress?

vanGogh_1888_YellowHouseWhat questions come to mind when we think about stress depends on our relationship with it. If we consider stress as our mortal enemy, then our questions will revolve around the fear of its effects, ways of getting rid of it or at least greatly reducing it, and how we can best distract our mind and tame our symptoms. If, on the other hand, we consider stress as our ally, a friend that warns us when something or someone requires our attention by turning on certain body signals, then our questions will be entirely different. They will revolve around ways of using it to our advantage, toward understanding its precious and vital function, and how best to accept and honor its purpose. Here are the 10 most important questions about stress.

10 Questions About Stress

  1. Is stress always bad?
    No, not always. However stress can be bad, even dangerously bad. It starts out in childhood, as we become aware of the world and its dangers. If it is misunderstood, not explained, ignored or abused, stress can grow with us into something to be feared, avoided, to run from. It can become a constant yet unwanted companion, albeit a greatly misunderstood one. A relationship with stress is thus set up that is entirely adversarial. Its power as a warning system and as a motivator is overlooked. Stress is always bad when, in this way, it becomes a disease.
  2. What is the prevalence of stress in humans?
    It is 100%. Every man, woman and child who ever lived, now lives or will ever live experiences stress. This is not because we are cursed with it, but because we are blessed by its helpful action. In the presence of any stressor, real, imagined or impending, our body instinctively mobilizes for action, helping us better protect and defend ourselves, our loved ones, our property and our values. Without it, we would be inert, uncaring, detached and defenseless individuals.
  3. What are the variations and severity of stress?
    There are two kinds of stress: the stress reaction and chronic stress. The stress reaction is the immediate arousal that occurs in the presence of danger; it rises rapidly, peaks, and subsides after a time; afterwards, the mind and body return to their normal relaxed state. The stress reaction can be more or less intense, and more or less prolonged, depending on the severity of the stressor and on its resolution. Chronic stress is simply a persistence of the stress reaction, which continues at or near its peak without return to the normal relaxed state. The severity of chronic stress depends on the stressor that first triggered it and the continuing stressors that maintain it, and on the lack of any real resolution. Chronic stress is what most people refer to when they complain of suffering from stress.

    A day without stress is like, you know, night. –Anonymous

  4. Can chronic stress be prevented?
    Yes, stress can be prevented from becoming chronic, especially in children and young adults. Adults and elderly people have a more difficult time preventing stress from becoming chronic. What is most helpful in prevention is understanding its function and learning to appreciate its value. People who do best are the ones who view a stress-free life not only as the absence of symptoms, but as one that is rich in exercise, balanced nutrition, effective time management, good decision-making skills, appropriate releases of energy and emotion, and strong relationships.
  5. What are the most common stress triggers?
    The most frequent and severe stressors, or stress triggers, are associated with our interpersonal relationships (beginnings, ongoing difficulties, losses) and our physical health. Others that can be very severe but less common are natural disasters, accidents, conflict, or crime. In general, change is a stressor, as are most transitions from one phase of life or age to the next. Work and financial demands are also frequently associated with stress reactions.
  6. Are there ways for parents to reduce the risk of their children developing chronic stress? 
    Yes, through educating themselves about the function, benefits and dangers of stress, and passing this knowledge along to their children. There is no better time to learn about how to accept and make the best use of the stress reaction than in childhood and young adolescence, although it can be learned at any age.
  7. What are the risks associated with stress? 
    The risks associated with stress are minimal if the stress reaction is allowed to occur and take its normal course, and if stressors are addressed and resolved in a timely manner. Chronic stress, however, carries biological, psychological and social consequences. It can result in severe illness, especially to the cardiovascular and immune systems. It can significantly worsen the prognosis of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and many others. Lastly, chronic stress can have a significantly adverse impact on relationships, at work and at home, by augmenting the effects of anger, fatigue, or irritability. It can also diminish productivity and lead to poor decision-making.
  8. Can stress be cured? 
    No, the stress reaction cannot be cured because stress itself is not a disease. Stress is a natural and helpful reaction to a danger that mobilizes our defenses. It is impossible to “cure” stress if it means attempting to eliminate it; it would be tantamount to trying to eliminate fear, or joy, or surprise from our lives. On the other hand, chronic stress must be addressed and treated adequately to avoid its most serious consequences to our health, our mind, and our relationships.
  9. What questions should I ask my physician about stress?
    The two most important questions to ask are 1) How seriously has chronic stress affected my physical health (heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, and digestive system being the most vulnerable), and 2) What changes do I need to make to reduce my chronic stress back to a normal stress reaction.
  10. What can I do to reduce my risk of chronic stress?
    There are many different stress management programs available, perhaps even too many to consider them all. Often, lack of success with them prevents their continued application. Often lack of time or motivation are the problem. Often, acute stress itself prevents us from being able to choose an adequate treatment. In many cases, it is advisable to get some external help that facilitates the process. In those cases, a good coach is the ingredient that makes it possible to discover, develop and make the best use of our natural ability to manage stress.

How Severe Is Stress in America?

Battistero at Stresshacker.comAccording to the latest APA (American Psychological Association) survey, nearly half (42 percent) of Americans are reporting that their stress has increased, as compared to the previous year’s survey. Half of Americans say that they are increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs. Eight out of 10 say that the economy is a significant cause of stress. Women are most likely to report stress related to the current economic climate.

Frequent Symptoms

More than half of all adults report that they lay awake at night because of stress. More people report fatigue (53 percent), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent) and lying awake at night (52 percent) as a result of stress, in addition to other symptoms including lack of interest or motivation, feeling depressed or sad, headaches and muscular tension. Other reported symptoms include changes in appetite, stomach aches, intestinal problems, nervousness, and excessive worry.

The Doctor Knows

Two-thirds (66 percent) of adults living in the U.S. have been told by a health care provider that they have one or more chronic conditions, most commonly high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The vast majority of adults indicated that a health care provider recommended lifestyle and behavior changes (70 percent).

Treatment … of Sorts

Almost one-fifth of Americans report drinking alcohol to manage their stress (18 percent), and 16 percent report smoking. Many people rely on sedentary activities to manage their stress. Forty-three percent say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods because of stress. A third (33 percent) cited their own lack of willpower as the reason they were unsuccessful, in addition to not having enough time (20 percent) and lack of confidence (14 percent). 14 percent of adults report they are too stressed to make any changes at all.

What is Your Biggest Stressor?

What worries you the most right now? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Check out Stresshacker’s StressWise program for tips and coaching, online webinars, and downloads for making sense of stress.

Stress That Can Save Your Life

TableMountain_EN-US2081400154Can the body’s natural response to stress be harnessed to combat heart failure? The results of a study published online in the June issue of the journal Circulation Research appear to support this hypothesis. Scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that two experimental drugs have the potential to restore pumping strength to failing hearts in part by harnessing the fight-or-flight response that makes the heart beat stronger. At the center of this finding is the excitatory hormone adrenalin, which normally maintains the heart’s pumping strength and stimulates the heart to beat with greater force during a stress crisis. The newly identified drugs ensure that adrenalin’s ability to increase heartbeat strength is maintained, and not thwarted, as it is typical in heart failure patients.

The #1 Reason Stress Is My Friend

TheStresshacker_142x160 Stress has been my friend for years. Not always a pleasant friend, and often an uncomfortable one—even downright painful, occasionally. Many times stress has come around with bad news, many times with good news, and always when something new, unexpected, or different was happening or about to happen.

Nowadays, stress and I know each other well but I must confess that when we first met I wasn’t very impressed. For a long time I considered the chances of having a good relationship with stress quite remote. In fact, I thought of it more as an enemy, and a dangerous one to boot. I know now that my bad attitude toward stress and my refusal to accept its friendship was simply because I did not know any better. Once I got to know stress, its function, its benefits, and the advantages that it had in store for me, our friendship became rock solid.

You may ask who would even think of calling stress a friend. I bet I know where this question is coming from: stress has a bad reputation. The reputation of something that needs to be reduced, eliminated, cured—in other words, a disease. And one can’t be friends with a disease, right? I agree, one can’t. For as much as I try to be kind and understanding to an illness, I can’t really say that it would be possible to be friends with it. So, what gives?

Well, you see, that’s really the point. Stress is not a disease. It is an alarm system. A sophisticated warning mechanism that alerts me to the fact that something or someone requires my attention. The ability that stress gives me to identify and become alarmed by threats and challenges in my environment is an essential element of survival and adaptation. This is true for me, for you and for all humans and animals. That is the #1 reason I am proud and grateful to call stress my friend. I don’t know what I would do without it.

Imagine what would happen if stress wasn’t around. If threats and challenges provoked no reaction whatsoever in me. A bus could be coming down the pike headed straight for me and I wouldn’t have an immediate instinctive reaction to it. I may be about to be attacked by road bandits, and I would placidly saunter along, oblivious to the danger. My body would continue to be calm, my muscles relaxed, my heart beating normally, my priorities elsewhere.

But, since stress is there for me, I become immediately mobilized against my attacker and I can make a quick, almost instantaneous decision to step aside, run away, attack or defend myself, with all my senses fully alerted, and my body primed and ready for activity. It takes stress only a fraction of a second to start waking all my systems up and to mobilize my resources.

Every time there is potential danger, be it financial, interpersonal, physical, psychological, or anything I think might be harmful to me, stress is there. And even when there is something wonderful and new that I might miss if I weren’t paying attention, stress is there. Stress is my friend, the one that helps me pay attention in all situations when something unexpected happens, or when something I expected does not happen. It is also there for me to give me the ability to deal with something new, when something is missing, when there is an imbalance, or when there is a physical threat to me or to the people and animals I care about.

Oh, and one more thing that stress does for me: the stress reaction acts as a safety system that automatically assigns the highest priority to a serious and sudden threat, that helps me sort quickly through what is important and urgent to me, and what is not.

Thank you, friend!

eClass 4: Best and Worst Food For Stress

Italy_Tuscany2 How, when, and what we eat tells a lot about who we are. It also says a lot about how well we handle our stress reaction. Food can help or hurt our coping abilities and thus make a difference in how well we respond to stressors.

Food intake is one of the critical factors ensuring adequate growth and development in all species. Just ask my puppy dog where food ranks on his daily list of priorities! In particular, brain development is sensitive to specific nutrient intake such as proteins and fats, which are important for cell membrane formation and myelinization.

A surprising amount of the stress we may experience on a daily basis can be caused by the chemicals we consume in our food. By eating, drinking or inhaling certain substances we can put our bodies under elevated chemical stress. Similarly, if we are eating an unbalanced diet we may be stressing our bodies by depriving them of essential nutrients.

Eating too much of certain high-calorie foods for a long period is a leading cause of obesity. How much food is consumed as a stress reliever? Gaining too much weight puts our heart and lungs under stress, overloads our organs and reduces stamina. It may also significantly shorten our lives.

Stress reactions are a pervasive factor in everyday life that can critically affect our development and functioning. Severe and prolonged exposure to stressors can have a negative effect on our balance mechanisms.

Let’s look at some of the most important effects of food on our psychological state right after the jump.

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How Do I Feel About It? Emotion As Information

oropa_sanct Emotion is information. Almost without exception, humans use their feelings to make judgments and decisions. Decisions are often made simply by asking ourselves, “How do I feel about it?” Most individuals do this feeling-based evaluation of significant aspects of their environment almost automatically. It is not infrequent that someone will rely almost entirely on emotion in making even very significant decisions.

Before discussing whether this is good or bad, it is undeniable that the information provided by emotions is about value—that is, about whether something or someone can be appraised in a positive or negative way.

Emotion as information can be illustrated as the means by which such positive or negative value is conveyed internally to ourselves, just in the same way as facial expressions of emotion convey the same type of information to others. Additionally, emotional appraisal is generally much more immediate, i.e. faster, than cognitive (reasoned) appraisal. In other words, we are capable of “feeling” positive or negative about something or someone much faster and earlier than we can “understand” or “evaluate cognitively” their real worth. This innate capability is well known to all of us as having a gut feeling, feeling it in one’s stomach, having a sixth sense, and many other such metaphors in every human language.

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eClass 3: Acute and Chronic Stress

Stress can affect us immediately (acute stress) and over time (chronic stress).

Acute (short-term) stress is the body’s immediate reaction to any situation that seems demanding or dangerous, as an instinctive reaction that goes beyond a normal state of alertness and wakefulness.

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Tension is often the first signal of acute stress. Tense muscles are tight and feel "hard" to the touch. A tense mind makes us feel jumpy, irritable, and unable to concentrate. This is usually a signal that something about a situation, a relationship, or a condition requires our attention.

Stress acts like the light on the dashboard that starts to glow amber and may turn to red. Addressing the contingency has the effect of exercising control over it, and may provide immediate comfort and prevent the long-term effects of stress.

Common symptoms of acute stress indicate a rapid arousal of the body in response to the perceived threat:

  • Rapid heartbeat (increased blood flow)
  • Headache (increased blood flow to the brain and/or pericranial muscular tension)
  • Stiff neck and/or tight shoulders (muscular tension)

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Stress and the Flow of Time

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.
Henry Van Dyke

The passage of time’s objective and subjective dimensions are probably one of the most difficult dichotomies to comprehend. How can time be a quantifiable, exact dimension and at the same time be so easily manipulated by our emotions?  Is it time that changes according to who perceives it, or is the perceiver who is somehow capable of modifying time’s allegedly immutable length?

tehachapi flowers Most of us frequently experience a slowing down or a speeding up of time. Time seems to slow down in times of boredom, but also in times when a significant stressor seems to burden us constantly with “no end in sight.” Time appears to “stand still” in situations of grave danger or great disaster.

There is also the widely reported but little studied notion that time speeds up as we age, whereby plenty of older men and women are frequently under the impression that the days and years of their lives are just “slipping away.” And who hasn’t heard a teenager complain that it takes “forever” to the time of graduation, to a driver’s license, to next summer, or event just to the end of the school week?

The Stress of Fast Time or Slow Time

The perception of time in these circumstances, when it is either felt as being too slow or too fast, is a stressor. Its consequences are visible in the harried, hurried, worried feeling of not having enough of it. Or they are seen in the bored, unmotivated, debilitating feeling of not knowing what to do with it. Google returns about 192 million results for the keywords time management. The widespread idea that “time is money,” originally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, has turned into a modus operandi on Wall Street, Silicon Valley and all other business-relevant addresses.

But there is a type of time perception that is actively sought by everyone and which often seems to elude us. It is a distorted sense of time, just like the ones I mentioned above, but unlike them it is a distortion that feels wonderful. This time perception is flow, also known as “the zone” or “the groove” or “on the ball.” Read more after the jump.

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Stress: The Misunderstood Messenger

Stress has a bad reputation. It is largely undeserved. Stress itself is not the problem. The stressor (of which stress reaction is the messenger) is the problem. Moreover, there is more than one kind of stress: the good stress that motivates and the unmanaged stress that damages.

Unmanaged stress is generally understood as a bad outcome, a mental disorder from which we suffer either in acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) form. However, we believe that all stress is bad and pathological because that’s what we are being told over and over.

Many times a stressor takes us by surprise. But many more times we can see it coming, we can expect it to happen, we can see the warning signs. Too often the warning signs are ignored or, worse, are turned off so that they won’t bother us anymore. Many choose to turn them off by

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eClass 2: Coping and Risk Factors in Stress Responses

Lion-Frieze-from-the-Palace-of-Darius-I-mid Coping is positive response outcome expectancies. This means that the individual expects that he or she will be able to handle the situation with a positive result. In these situations, there is a low level of subjective health complaints and low levels of psychophysiological, psycho endocrine, and psycho immune arousal[i].

Coping can be divided into two general categories:

  • Problem-focused coping: those strategies aimed at doing something to solve the problem.
  • Emotion-focused coping: its goal is emotion-regulation.
Helplessness and Hopelessness

When it is impossible for the individual to establish coping, other expectancies may develop. When the individual learns that there are no relationships between anything the individual can do and the outcome, we refer to this as helplessness. Overmier & Seligman found that dogs with previous experience with inescapable shocks did not learn avoidance tasks[ii]. They found that this state of “helplessness” generalized to situations where control is possible. Helplessness occurs when the perceived probability of avoiding the aversive stimulus with a response is the same as for no response. In other words, the response is without any perceived consequence for the occurrence of the aversive event. The organism has no control. This expectancy has been accepted as a model for anxiety and depression[iii].

Hopelessness is even worse. This term is used for an acquired expectancy that most or all responses lead to negative results. Hopelessness is more directly opposite of coping than helplessness, since it is negative response outcome expectancy. There is control, responses have effects, but they are all negative. The negative outcome is his or her fault since the individual has control. This introduces the element of guilt, which may make hopelessness an even better model for depression than helplessness.

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Stresshack #7: Just Enough Anxiety

K2fromBroadPeak Too much anxiety forces impulsive action. When the choice between fight or flight is invariably fight, personal power and sheer determination can make things happen. Hastily taking charge of the situation however can also be a sign of anxiety brought on by low self esteem, insecurity and fear of failure. Emotional decision making prompted by anxiety, anger, or fear often has the result of producing change but also fostering unpredictability and chaos.

Too much anxiety often sabotages a person’s achievements. There is no balance in the approach to problem-solving and either too much energy is devoted to the task, or inadequate resources are mustered. The drive toward success generates a pathological focus that can quickly lead to exhaustion. In some cases, the organism simply shuts down, in other cases it is maintained in operation through artificial means such as drugs or alcohol.

Too little anxiety creates an avoidance of challenges and a drive toward comfort.  Often these individuals are quite comfortable in true and tried approaches to problem-solving and are loath to try anything new. In many cases, a short and quick fix is applied to challenges, without much thought or conviction. Far from being healthy, too little anxiety lowers an individual’s guard against potential threats, physical or psychological, by instilling a false sense of security and of foolish invulnerability.

Just enough anxiety and we feel the right level of motivation toward change, while not losing sight of the need for adequate preparation, adequate rest, and balance. We accept the incontrovertible fact that too much or too little of anything, including anxiety, can impede learning, stunt growth, endanger health.  Striving for success is important, as are solving problems and facing challenges as they arise. The right dose of anxiety (the good stress that mobilizes our resources) is just what it takes to not only meet these demands, but to thrive.

eClass 1: A Primer on Stress

Stress results from an imbalance between demands and resources[i]

Stress is the psychological, physiological and behavioral response by an individual when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands, which, over time, leads to ill-health[ii]

Stress occurs when pressure exceeds our perceived ability to cope.

Stress is a normal physical response to events that make us feel threatened or upset our balance in some way. When we sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting us. When working properly, it helps us stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergencies, stress can save our lives – giving us extra strength to defend ourselves, for example, or spurring us to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.

The stress response also helps us rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps us on our toes during a presentation at work, sharpens our concentration when we are attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives us to study for an exam when we would rather be watching TV.

But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to our health, our mood, our productivity, our relationships, and our quality of life.

The Physiological Basis of Stress

When we perceive a threat, our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action. Read more