American comedienne Lily Tomlin once said, “Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with with.” In other words, except for psychopaths, we’re all subject to stress to some degree or other. And there’s no questioning the fact that we live in stressful times. According to studies at the US National Institutes of Health, approximately 90 percent of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by stress.
But what exactly is stress? According to stress expert Hans Selye, M.D., in his book, Stress without Distress, “Stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” Selye goes on to emphasize that stress is not something to be avoided. Actually, the total absence of stress would denote death. A healthy level of stress can be very energizing. Indeed this is the physiological role of stress; to trigger the cliche “fight or flight” mechanism our Paleolithic forebears needed to find an intruder or run from that sabre-tooth tiger. The fuel for the “fight or flight” reaction is cortisol, a corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland. It increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.