Gabor Maté

“The experience of stress has three components. The first is the event, physical or emotional, that the organism interprets as threatening. This is the stress stimulus, also called the stressor. The second element is the processing system that experiences and interprets the meaning of the stressor. In the case of human beings, this processing system is the nervous system, in particular the brain. The final constituent is the stress response, which consists of the various physiological and behavioural adjustments made as a reaction to a perceived threat.

We see immediately that the definition of a stressor depends on the processing system that assigns meaning to it. The shock of an earthquake is a direct threat to many organisms, though not to a bacterium. The loss of a job is more acutely stressful to a salaried employee whose family lives month to month than to an executive who receives a golden handshake. Equally important is the personality and current psychological state of the individual on whom the stressor is acting. The executive whose financial security is assured when he is terminated may still experience severe stress if his self-esteem and sense of purpose were completely bound up with his position in the company, compared with a colleague who finds greater value in family, social interests or spiritual pursuits. The loss of employment will be perceived as a major threat by the one, while the other may see it as an opportunity.

There is no uniform and universal relationship between a stressor and the stress response. Each stress event is singular and is experienced in the present, but it also has its resonance from the past. The intensity of the stress experience and its long-term consequences depend on many factors unique to each individual. What defines stress for each of us is a matter of personal disposition and, even more, of personal history. Selye discovered that the biology of stress predominantly affected three types of tissues or organs in the body: in the hormonal system, visible changes occurred in the adrenal glands; in the immune system, stress affected the spleen, the thymus and the lymph glands; and the intestinal lining of the digestive system. Rats autopsied after stress had enlarged adrenals, shrunken lymph organs and ulcerated intestines.”


Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress
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When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Maté
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