What is Stress?

Researchers have defined stress differently to refer to the combination of interaction of various stimuli (stressors) and responses that our body attempts in coping to maintain biochemical constancy. (Homeostasis) Stress is operationally defined when physical damage is determined to be the result of the bodies general over adaptation to the stressors. It is important to keep in mind we cannot see stress per se, but only the results of the combination of stressors and responses the body makes in its adaptation.

 What do you think about the following questions?  How is stress different from simply nervous tension?  How is stress different from homeostasis?  Can stress, or should stress, be avoided entirely?  Why or why not? Explain your reasoning.  Is all damage to the body a result of stress? How could we determine if the damage is a result of stress?  What research questions, or questions in general, still need to be answered in regards to stress? [1]

You may use any or all parts of my sample answer below. Be sure and put quotation marks around any or all words that you use verbatim. If you use other sources, then provide the definition of the term,  cite the sources, and provide an example to support your statements.


 Question :How is stress different from simply nervous tension?

Answer: Stress and nervous tension must be defined in order to compare or contrast their similarities or differences. As the instructor has pointed out in this lesson the following sentence may succinctly define the construct stress as follows: " stress is operationally defined when physical damage is determined to be the result of the bodies general over adaptation to the stressors." Dr. Brian Luke Seaward refers to the term of stress as coined from the field of physics which originally meant applying a force or tension to an object. [2]

A common dictionary would define " tension" as referring to a tightly, stretched taut condition, such as a taut muscle. The adjective "nervous", presumable, refers to a description of the nerves or bundles of fibers interconnecting the central nervous system and the organs of the body. I found no clear delineation for the use of the words "nervous tension".  In the vernacular, the words, "nervous tension" as the word "stress" can be ambiguous and refer to almost any condition which a persons thinks as negative or distressful. Much like a ghost, the terms mean many things to different people, depending upon the interpretation or influence that people have attributed to the constructs themselves. In this case both words might be used interchangeably.

The principal difference would be that "stress" is a coined word originating from the field of physics which was intended to convey specific empirically measured damage to the organism or systems. The general over-adaptation, for example, of a singer in  over-tightening up the vocal chords might  inflict damage to the them.  Nervous tension, on the other hand, would simply be the singer's  tightening up the vocal chords in order to sing  the high notes in the concert performance.

How is stress different form homeostasis?

Using the aforementioned definition of stress, I would think that homeostasis was clearly different from "stress" as it refers to the complete calmness rest as indicted by a resting pulse rate, low blood pressure, and shallow breathing as referenced in the text by Seaward on page 466.


Can stress, or should stress, be avoided entirely?

This is sort of a conundrum.  The answer is both yes and no. It depends on the definition of the word" stress". If used as specifically in the example of the singer above then the answer is yes. If it is meant to be used as an ambiguous term for what ever a person in life doesn't like, then the answer is no.


Why or why not? Explain  your reasoning.

My explanation  and reasoning would be  that if the word "stress" is used in a very ambiguous and general way, then life could be thought of as stressful,  therefore, stress could not be avoided. On the other hand, if "stress" is to refer to a specific over adaptation of a response to a particular set of conditions, then the answer is that yes, stress can be avoided.

 Is all damage to the body a result of stress?

In the definition that I have used to refer to stress, yes, all damage
to an organism is stress related.

 How could we determine if the damage is a result of stress?

We could perform an autopsy after death and see what damage was inflicted as a result of the force of stress as I defined. If, for example, the damage to the adrenal gland was done as the result of an over active secretion of adrenaline, then clearly stress was a factor.


 What research questions, or questions in general, still need to be answered in regards to stress?

The lack of clarity and consensus in the research on stress clearly points to a more rigorous research and experimentation as to what exactly is meant by "stress" and whether or not it is an essential part of life itself.

  1. Hans Selye,  The Stress of Life ,New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.,1978, pages 62-63
 2. Brian Luke Seaward, Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-being, 3rd,ed.,Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, page 4

E-mail: rbrehm@msn.com  Copyright 1998  [Robert Brehm]. All rights reserved.