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To Stress or Not to Stress, That is the Question…

Alison Muir

Psychological Skills Mentor.

You would be forgiven for thinking that nothing good comes from stress and therefore it should be avoided at all costs. In fact, you may have occasionally thought “This stress is killing me” when times were particularly challenging.

Yet if you look up the definition of stress according to the World Health Organisation, you will find that stress is a normal part of living; it’s how we respond to stress that makes a difference.

“Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural Human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way we respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being.”

So, what causes stress in the first place?

The first thing to say is that what causes you stress may not be the same as what causes someone else stress – it’s personal. However, some common themes are:

  • Financial problems
  • Work
  • Personal relationships
  • Parenting and/or caregiving
  • Daily life and busyness
  • Health

It’s clear from this list that you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid most, if not all, of these stress triggers at some point in your life. But rather than throw your hands up in the air and give up, consider the list again from the perspective of the things that can make life meaningful.

Imagine what life would be like without having a job to go to, personal relationships, family, or a life without responsibilities and activity.


Just like stress, research shows that too much boredom can be bad for your health too!

Rather than assuming that all stress is bad, accepting stress as a normal part of life and recognizing that it is often linked to the things that make life meaningful for you means that being able to manage your response to stress is key.

Let’s take a look at the three stages of a stress reaction, according to The Chimp Model:

The alerting stage: This is when your Chimp, which is the more emotional and irrational part of your mind, sends an alarm signal to your Human, which is the more rational part of your mind. The Chimp is trying to protect you from danger, but it can be overactive and cause you to feel anxious and stressed. It does this by releasing chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline throughout the body and the mind, which make you feel uncomfortable. It is priming you to act.

The resilience stage: This is when your Human takes control and assesses the situation. Your Human can use logic and reason to calm down your Chimp and help you find a solution to the problem that caused the alert. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) temporarily reduces cortisol levels and importantly counters some of the effects of cortisol whilst helping your mind to grow stronger from stressful experiences. If you can deal with whatever caused the alert in the first place, DHEA will return you to a steady state.

The stress stage: If your Human is unable to resolve the issue during the resilience phase, your Chimp will take over again, and you will enter the stress stage. In this stage, you may start to have feelings of anxiety, worry, overwhelm, tiredness, chest pains, headaches, and start being irritable or using unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Your Chimp will take over because it wants to protect you from danger, but it doesn’t always make the best decisions for your long-term well-being.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but it’s how we respond to it that makes all the difference.

By using The Chimp Model as a foundation for understanding our emotional responses to stress, we can gain more control over our reactions and learn to manage our stress in more effective ways.

Remember, stress can be a positive force in our lives, as long as we use it as a signal to take action and grow stronger. By embracing stress and using it to challenge ourselves, we can achieve great things and live a more fulfilling life.


So how can you respond to stress effectively and avoid reaching the stress stage?

Firstly recognise when you’ve entered the initial alerting phase (those feelings of discomfort) and form a plan. To do this, you need to clarify what’s causing the alert to sound (which may not be the most obvious thing) so that you can come up with a plan that addresses that issue.

In order to create a plan, you’ll need to work with your Human to:

  • Understand the reality and facts of the situation
  • Use your values to guide your decision-making and approach
  • Bring perspective and remind you of the bigger picture

So the next time you feel stressed, don’t let your Chimp take over. Instead, take a deep breath, acknowledge your feelings, and engage your Human to come up with a plan that aligns with your values and helps you achieve your goals. With practice and patience, you can learn to manage stress in a way that promotes growth and well-being, and become the best version of yourself.

Perspetive Values

So, to stress, or not to stress is not really the question.

The question is, how are you choosing to respond to stress and can you do it better?

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