No Stress Is Best

Stress is a huge part of our everyday lives, and it seems to be every where — at home, at school, at work. So how does its inescapable presence affect our mental health, attitude, and performance?

The Science of Stress

Stress is hard to detect, because what causes stress for one person may be enjoyable for the next and it appears in different forms. The stress that is most easily detected and measured includes three major components: a physiological response, a desire to avoid the situation, and a loss of control. The human body’s defense system is built for “immediate, but passing danger.” When a caveman saw a saber-toothed tiger, for example, his heart started to race, thanks to the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This release ignites the fight-or-flight response (the brain’s way of helping the body fight to stay alive).

Thanks to evolution, our stress triggers have become much less “passing.” Instead of an enocunter with a sharp-toothed jungle cat, most of us stress over tests, relationships, money, etc. Instead of lasting moments, our stress lasts days, months, and even years. Long-term stress affects your brain, cardiovascular system, and immune system, increasing your risk for heart attack, stroke, memory loss, and depression. The severity of the stress, the length of exposure, and your body’s ability to handle stress, all determine whether or not stress is doing permanent damage to your body.

Stressful Environments

Stress at home affects almost everyone, from babies to the elderly. That stress can cause stress in other areas of our lives as well, like school and work. Conversely, extreme stress from work or school, can cause us to feel overwhelmed, tired, or depressed at home.

Stress at home can come from almost anything, since it is where we spend most of our time. Illness, divorce, and arguing among parents or siblings are some of the most common stress causing situations. Children whose parents constantly fight have been shown to have more difficulty regulating their emotions, soothing themselves, and focusing their attention. These children are also poorer academic performers than children who are not subjected to such constant stress at home. The stronger the degree of conflict at home, the greater the stress affects a child’s academic performance.

Stress at home also causes stress at work, and affects workers’ performance and success. The American Stress Institute estimates that American businesses lose close to $300 billion dollars a year due to work-related stress (which often stems from stress at home). Costs include health-related issues, worker compensation bills, employee turnover, and absenteeism. The stress you experience (expectations for your work is high and/or you have no control over whether you perform well or not, the balance between stimulation in boredom and activity at your job, and the condition of your home life all affect the amount of stress you experience at work.

The Importance of Managing Stress

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Our stress triggers may not be as tangible as a deadly predator, but they are still serious and can be very frightening. Because stress can cause declines in several areas of our physical and mental health and performance in school and work, it is important to learn to manage your stress and to know when to seek outside help. Open communication with family members, teachers, and employers can be helpful in maintaining peaceful environments and cutting back on stress. If this does not seem to help, do not be afraid to seek help from a professional counselor. You only get one mind and body, take care of it!


Medina, John. Brain Rules. 2nd ed. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2014. Print.

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