Stress: a powerful source of motivation

Stress: a powerful source of motivation


Stress: What is it?

How is stress useful?

What causes stress?

How can stress be relieved and managed?

Stress: what is it?

Stress is a label for a broad category of physical responses. A few types of stress response can be normal temporary increases in stress, occasional episodes of hysterical over-reactions, chronic elevations, as well as the other extreme, like when an organism is unusually unresponsive because of using prescription drugs to impair the body’s normal response of stress. If you are open to relating to stress as an important and even beneficial process, this material is for you.

Let’s begin now to calmly explore stress. Have you ever seen someone and thought “that person looks very stressed! Usually they are much more relaxed than they look now. I wonder… what is going on?”

We can think of stress as a measurable physical pattern. That pattern involves chemicals that we can call “stress hormones.” Further, specific patterns of physical tension (in muscles) are involved in stress and relaxation (stress relief).

knot of stress

Imagine a cat experiencing stress. The distressed cat may want to make itself look bigger by extending it’s hairs, arching it’s back, and even raising it’s tail. The cat intentionally displays the signals of a threat.

It is through electrical changes in skin produce that we produce results like “hair raising” when scared or  goosebumps due to cold. Electricity from within the body or outside of the body can produce the raising of hair.

If you have ever heard of a “lie detector test,” those tests actually measure specific physical changes, like changes in the electrical properties of skin and other tissue. Different stress tests can precisely measure changes in skin voltage, sweating, chest breathing, abdominal breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.


The tests measure the stress response of the person who is being questioned while connected to the measurement device called a polygraph machine. With some questions, stress levels may be notably higher (or lower).


For instance, in the test result displayed below, the test subject was asked “did you ever lie about someone to get even?” At the time of that question, the red line jumps way up, indicating a sudden change in blood pressure.

polygraph test shows stress response to question

In the image below, the circles on the chart indicate where the polygraph specialist detected a tightening of a certain muscle. The contraction of muscles can block the flow of breathing, thus blocking or slowing down the display of distress.


In fact, polygraphs and other devices can measure physical tension of someone whether or not they are being asked questions. Even someone who is sleeping will have changes in physical tension, such as while having a nightmare.

Other situations in which it is typical to carefully monitor stress levels are during surgery or in other extreme medical emergencies. Of course, stress levels can also be monitored while someone is watching different kinds of presentations, like a new horror movie, a classic comedy, or an instructional program on landscape painting.

So, what is stress? Stress is a label for a broad category of physical responses. By the word “response,” we mean a way of responding to a particular perception which is identified as important. Next, let’s explore how stress can be useful in recognizing what is important to us.

How is stress useful?

Which is more important: to identify potential risks or potential opportunities? Imagine driving a car on a crowded highway. Maybe you know that you are close to the entrance of the business that is your chosen destination. However, suddenly you see a flash of brake lights, then the sound of a siren. Which is more important: potential risks or potential opportunities?

(to be continued…)



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