Stress, what is it?

Stress and Balance

The Stress Response, according to Seyle (1956) is a signal to us that an event has occurred that is not expected or did not play out as we expected (or planned).

Our brain is quite simple really, it is like a big information storage facility. In a situation our brain does a quick google search., However, it looks for ANY information that possibly matches the current situation. For example, if I was searching for shoes, google would show me all the shoes you can wear on your feet, but, what if I was looking for horse shoes?

Let’s say when you were young, you had a grumpy teacher who always seemed angry. When he was angry he would slam the ruler on the desk, and then the whole class knew to be quiet. Lets imagine you are walking around the shops looking for some clothes, when you hear a noise. The noise sounds exactly like the ruler the teacher slammed onto the desk. What would your mind do? It only has that one piece of information to represent with the sound, so it will immediately prepare you for an angry teacher. However, you later find out that it was not a ruler, or an angry teacher, it was a shelf falling down.

What this tells us is that the information in our brain is reliant on the information it stores. That is, your experience and your interpretation of that experience. Your interpretation or perception is the important word. Two people can watch the exact same event, and recall it as if it were two entirely different events – because they interpret or perceive it differently.


If we are able to cope with the stressor, perhaps, absorb what is happening, understand it, or have an alternative plan of action – a problem, solution or direction will remove the stress. and we can continue. This means the stressful situation is over and we have nothing to worry about. We would like all our stressful situations to be like this, wouldn’t we?

If we are unable to cope with or mange the stress, perhaps one of the following will happen.

  • Défense (flight response) – fidgeting, shaking or moving legs, looking at the door or a way out, palpitations
  • Angry (fight response) – anxious, overwhelming, present your self as big, superiority, voice louder and deeper
  • Quiet (freeze response) – shrink in size, avoid eye contact – as if you are no longer there, voice softens or shakes or slows

You may think these reactions only happen in a serious or traumatic stress, however this is not correct. Lets have a look at this example, you are late for a meeting, the traffic lights are out and traffic is slow, someone cuts in front of you, the only available parking is far from the meeting, having walked half way you realise you forgot something important in the car, and have to go back.

How would you react to situations? Would you be in flight, fight or freeze?

Caremens, G. (2018). Brain Academy – Sharpen Your Mind. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Nov. 2018].
Scrimali, T. (2012). Neuroscience-based Cognitive Therapy: New Methods for Assessment, Treatment, and Self-regulation. John Wiley & Sons.
Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life.

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