What is Stress?

One of the biggest mistakes people make is jumping to the conclusion that, because they feel stressed, something bad must be happening. Too much of a good thing can leave people feeling stressed or even just a good thing that is not part of one’s routine.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale will indicate how stressful even positive events like getting married, a job promotion, or taking a vacation can be. All good, but outside of our routine and, therefore, taxing to the system.

The Cleveland Clinic puts it simply: “Stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in physical, emotional and intellectual responses.” Keyword: Changes, for better and for worse:

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop.

Physical symptoms include:

Aches and pains.
Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
High blood pressure.
Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
Stomach or digestive problems.
Trouble having sex.
Weak immune system.

Emotional and mental symptoms can include:

Anxiety or irritability.
Panic attacks.

Unhealthy behaviors can include:

Drinking alcohol too much or too often
Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet browsing.
Using drugs.
Stress can be prolonged when there is insufficient support or attention to it existing at all.

Why Is Stress Downplayed?

According to the American Psychological Association Stress in America 2023 report, 81% reported their physical health as good or better even though 66% had been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Downplaying their own stress, 67% participants also reported that other people don’t seem much interested in what they may be going through either.

The tagline on this report, A Nation Recovering from Collective Trauma, gives us a hint that whatever might ail us now pales in comparison with what we went through during the pandemic. Add to that financial, racial, climate and other forms of global strife around the world, and who are we to complain about feeling anxious or down? And who even cares?

And then there are those who spent a childhood listening to their parents telling them to ‘suck it up and deal’ who, therefore in a vacuum typically underplay (or overplay) the life stresses they may bear.

Not good, because unattended stress can become chronic with all of the physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral symptoms we are better off without.

What Can We Do?

Well, for starters, let’s not minimize symptoms that really do call for our attention, and perhaps professional attention too. Then, as I have written before, there is a lot we can do to prevent our wandering minds from making things worse. Here again:

Scientists may refer to it as ‘stimulus independent’ or ‘default network’ thinking. Mindfulness tutors may liken the wandering mind to a bunch of drunken monkeys, or a 2-year-old who is winning and wreaking havoc all over the house. Whatever we call it, we do it a lot….

So who’s in charge here? Shouldn’t it be us? It’s not like the mind is bad. Just needs some discipline. After all, mind wandering can be a very nice break from the stresses of the day, and can make good space for planning and creativity that more intense focus on a task cannot. In this way, some amount of daydreaming can make us more, not less, productive than we might otherwise be.

Too often, though, the mind wanders off on a fool’s errand to resolve the unresolved (unresolvable?) whatever it is…in our past, present, future. When this happens then we are worrying and wasting our time. Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s in the past. What If’s in the future. What Now’s in the present. Brain drainers. So what can we do?

One thing we can do is get control of the mind and put it on other things. A new study found that diverting attention away from ourselves e.g., by “helping others, being with friends, gratitude, meditating,” contributes to our well-being — if we keep it up. Similar to going to the gym, it cannot be a one-time anything, but an ongoing way of living in a healthier, happier way.

Practice, Practice, Practice, see what happens… and for help with this or something else, Contact Me at [email protected]

With Love,


Photo by Freepik

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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