Stress Threshold

Our Constitutional Nature

Hans Selye (the father of stress studies) once wrote of the rabbit and the turtle. Some of us approach life more like a rabbit, running from place to place, nibbling when we can, shooting off in all directions. Others approach life more like a turtle, proceeding methodically from point to point with careful attention to detail, taking things one at a time. Both extremes are healthy. What is unhealthy, or stressful, is trying to be different from our nature. For example, the rabbit says to her or his turtle spouse, "You never want to go anywhere or do anything." The turtle, feeling guilty, decides to become a rabbit for the night and go barhopping with the rabbit spouse. That, Selye says, is what causes stress- being untrue to our nature.

Our Conditioning

We all have our limit, our "breaking point", the point at which we will be tripped into a "fight, flight or freeze" state.  Our constitutional nature determines a set point for this threshold. However, this set point is often lowered (it now takes less to evoke a stress response) by past conditioning.  We have more resources than ever to raise our stress threshold level, including setting it somewhat above that determined by our constitutional nature. Read Nature and Nuture below for further understanding.


The role of our genetic traits

While "Nuture" or environment play a huge part in our health and wellbeing, we cannot ignore our genetic susceptibilities. When it comes to stress, where we fall on the genetic spectrum between having "harm avoidance" genes on one end and "risk taking" or novelty seeking genes on the other determines what our threshold level is to "perceived" stress.

Knowing this about ourselves can help us determine life paths that our least likely to lead to chronic stress states. For example, those towards the harm avoidance end of the spectrum would not do well working on Wall Street, while those with a tendency towards risk taking would suffer working a quiet desk job.


The role of environment

We are largely conditioned by beliefs and fears about life and ourselves that we learned from our parents or had instilled in us by early influences, which are then reinforced over the years.

This conditioning results in cellular memory reactive patterns that can be triggered by any number of daily events, often leading neurologically to "perceived" stress and an overreaction given the circumstances.

We now have more tools and therapies than ever before to help clear early conditioning and to help us deal effectively with our daily levels of stress.

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