What is Stress?

Businessman solutions the problem. Isolated on white background

Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows. So said the man who coined the word stress as we know and use it today, psychologist Hans Selye. Because stress is different for each of us, it is difficult to define, much less measure, and even though most of us do recognize at least some of our own stress related symptoms, the tendency is to ignore them and ‘power through’ until they become too blatant to ignore.

Unfortunately stress can also have damaging effects on our health that show no signs or symptoms until it is too late to reverse. Either way, whether we are somewhat aware or not, this type of stress is chronic and is also known as low grade stress for the very reason that it’s not necessarily outwardly apparent, either to ourselves or to others. Chronic, low grade stress tends to be internalised and recurring, often found lurking just below the surface of our day-to-day awareness, a persistent uneasiness, vague worries or preoccupation that may come and go without even being fully registered, causing a continuous release of damaging stress hormones into our system. The longer this continues without being addressed, the harder it is to correct, not only because our physical health breaks down, but also because our ability to make necessary changes is compromised, developing as we do the ‘habits’ of chronic stress and unhealthy ‘coping’ mechanisms.

This is best seen in the results of over three decades of brain research which has discovered effects of stress on the actual brain, finding disturbing evidence that the brain rewires itself to form new neurological pathways to accommodate a state of low-grade, constant stress. While this is disturbing indeed, it also gives us more opportunities to identify whether we are allowing low-grade stress to impact us and our lives, as we can now attune ourselves to indicators at an earlier stage, before we develop physical ailments and a trip to our GP is necessitated! Following are some early indicators of low-grade stress:

  • A reduced ability to focus
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Increased Irritability and frustration
  • Reduced memory and attention span
  • Weakened discernment
  • Escalating difficulty coping with ambiguity
  • Declining ability for decision-making
  • Lowered self-confidence
  • Impaired communication
  • Reduced care
  • Non-specific health issues

If you experience three or more from this list, it may be a clue that you are living with low-grade stress. As Selye suggested, stress is an individual experience, we do not all respond in the same way to the same events, so there is no one pat solution for everyone.


However, we all have to begin to self-correct with self-awareness, so here’s a suggestion to start with: Right now drop your attention into your body. Do you feel any tension anywhere? Are you breathing fully? If you are breathing shallowly or holding your breath, start by exhaling. Then take a deep breath and as you exhale, relax those parts of your body where you feel any tension. You may want to stand up to get the full benefit of the deep breathing as a seated position can restrict the lungs. Take a moment to do this several times a day and interrupt any noticeably stressful moment with it. You’ll find your awareness of your stress will increase the more you take these moments. With more self-awareness and developing a better understanding of low grade stress itself you may discover that actually you know best what your stress is – especially within the context of your life.

After more that twenty years of helping people manage stress, I have found that once an understanding of one’s own stress and emotions increases there is a natural desire to develop skills to take charge of it all, and that’s when changes start to happen and success can occur!

Calmer Clinics specialises in helping clients take charge of their stress, on all levels. At Calmer Clinics I also offer specialised one-on-one stress management coaching programmes, tailored to your individual needs and specific circumstances.

For more information, contact me at Jennifer@AppliedEmotionalMastery.com

By Jennifer Day

There are several clinicians at Calmer Clinics who offer Stress Management approaches. For more details contact info@calmerclinics.com