There Is A Difference Between ‘Stress’ And ‘Stressors,’ And You Need To Know What It Is

The statistics about stress these days are shocking. 77% of adults report regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress, and an estimated 75% to 90% of visits to primary care physicians are stress-related. That’s a big deal, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is stress?

The hormones released when you feel stressed, such as cortisol and adrenaline, put your body into fight or flight mode. Activity in the advanced decision-making part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) is reduced, and your immune system and digestion are inhibited. Basically, if you need to escape a predator, you’re good to go, but any ability to make complex decisions is extremely crippled. And while it’s fine for your immune system to sit on the sideline for a single play, serious trouble can arise when it’s out for the whole game. High and prolonged levels of cortisol cause negative symptoms, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.

What are stressors?

Most people identify the stress in their lives as something outside of themselves that they have no control over. The top two reported causes of stress are work and money – not things you can easily avoid. Read that again, though, and note the phrases “causes of stress.” Things that cause stress are “stressors,” and stress is your personal reaction to those stressors. That’s why what stresses some people out is a piece of cake for others!

So how does knowing the difference help?

To paraphrase Einstein, you can’t solve a problem on the level of the problem. It’s impossible to avoid all stressors – sometimes you don’t even know what they are until they hit you in the face – but you CAN affect your reaction to stressors. I’m not talking about “taking a step back” or “pausing to breathe.” Both are good advice, but easier said than done in the heat of the moment!

Rather, I’m talking about something that you can add to your daily routine that will allow you to naturally react in a calmer, more peaceful way. Research shows that during 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation practice, cortisol levels drop by 30%. Reducing cortisol levels in the body is great for both physical and mental health, even resulting in fewer hospitalizations among TM practitioners compared to a control group.

Watch the video below to hear Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum and Dr. Pamela Peeke discuss stress and the TM technique on HuffPost Live.