Stress is not the sole domain of the superpowerful or the emergency-room surgeon. You don't have to be working long hours or dealing with issues of life and death to feel stressed, or to feel like your work-life balance is out of whack: Everything from our computers to our kids and daily commute can cause us to feel overwhelmed and initiate a change in our bodies.
Dr. Sonia Lupien, director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal, believes the idea of stress has been confused with being vigorous, and as a result is glorified and misunderstood. To explain the conditions that trigger a physical reaction in our brains, she uses a simple acronym: NUTS.
According to her, the brain will start to release stress hormones if a situation is more than one of the following: novel, unpredictable, threatening - either to your survival or your ego - and something over which you don't have a sense of control.
This response is evolutionary, and the brain reacts the same way it always has. For cavemen, the stress response would have kicked in at the site of an angry predator. Today, it will start when you realize you won't make it to your child's daycare pickup on time.
Combatting these feelings is not easy and begins with resilience. Just knowing you have a Plan B for any problem can often reduce the brain's physical response to stress. But too often, Dr. Lupien says, people see relaxation as the anecdote for stress.
"Going to the spa this weekend will not mean the guy who threatens your ego every morning at the office will disappear," she said. "He will still be there on Monday morning waiting for you."