1 The Bermuda Triangle

3 Stress and emotional competence


When people describe themselves as being stressed, they usually mean the nervous agitation they experience under excessive demands-most com- monly in the areas of work, family, relationships, finances or health. But sensations of nervous tension do not define stress-nor, strictly speaking, are they always perceived when people are stressed. Stress, as we will define it, is not a matter of subjective feeling. It is a measurable set of objective physiological events in the body, involving the brain, the hormonal appa- ratus, the immune system and many other organs. Both animals and peo- ple can experience stress with no awareness of its presence.

Definition of stress

What, then, is stress? Selye-who coined the word in its presen usage and who described with mock pride how der stress, le stress and l stress entered the German, French and Italian languages respectively- conceived of stress as a biological process, a wide-ranging set of event in the body, irrespective of cause or of subjective awareness. Stress con- sists of the internal alterations-visible or not that occur when the organism perceives a threat to its existence or well-being. While nerwartension may be a component of stress, one can be stressed without feel- ing tension. On the other hand, it is possible to feel tension without activating the physiological mechanisms of stress.

In searching for a word to capture the meaning of the physical changes he observed in his experiments, Selye “stumbled upon the term stress, which had long been used in common English, and particularly in engineering, to denote the effects of a force acting against a resistance.” He gives the example of changes induced in a stretched rubber band or in a steel spring under pressure. These changes may be noted with the naked eye or may be evident only on microscopic examination.

Selye’s analogies illustrate an important point: excessive stress occurs when the demands made on an organism exceed that organism’s rea- sonable capacities to fulfill them. The rubber band snaps, the spring becomes deformed. The stress response can be set off by physical dam- age, either by infection or injury. It can also be triggered by emotional trauma or just by the threat of such trauma, even if purely imaginary. Physiological stress responses can be evoked when the threat is outside conscious awareness or even when the individual may believe himself to be stressed in a “good” way.

4 Buried Alive

5 Never good enough