Relationship between stimulus and stress

Post By: Published on: December 21, 2016 Reading time: 6 minutes

What is stress?

Stress has been defined in many ways

# Dr. Hans Selye: (Father of modern Stress theory) “the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it”

# Lazarus: “The response of the body when pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope”.

What this means,


Change management

  • Firstly, in any situation, the primary impulse / stimulus is received by the amygdala, a small pea sized organ behind the eyes and between the ears for evaluation of threat.
  • Next, when the amygdala perceives threat, it triggers the hypothalamus which, transmits the threat to the adrenal glands through the pituitary gland.
  • As a result, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream, activating the sympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to react to meet the threat.

How do we respond to stimulus?

First, all stimuli enter the body through the sensory system or “jñānendriya, comprising of,

  • Cakṣu – eye / sight.
  • Śrotra – ear / hearing.
  • Ghrāṇa – nose / smell.
  • Rasana – tongue / taste.
  • Spārśana – skin / touch.

Secondly, the stimuli are collated at the center of cognition or manas. This is the somatosensory cortex of the brain. The information also goes to the amygdala for evaluation of threat.

Third, since all stimuli are potential sources of stress, each stimulus gets evaluated by the amygdala which is a repository of experience or anubhava. Both good and bad experiences are stored here as well as the somatosensory cortex and this is our conditioning or dharma.

Lastly, the incoming information is processed in the brain and compared with dharma (natural state or conditioning) using logic stored in the memory which is called buddhi (intelligence).

After this, the person processes a reaction through the motor organs (karmendriya).

  • Vac – speech / tongue
  • Pāṇi – hands
  • Pāda – feet
  • Pāyu – anus
  • Upastha – genitals

What is the relationship between stress and the Self?

  • First, all stimuli initiate change. Also, the first reaction to change is “fear” on account of a perceived danger to the existence of the Self or asmitā (self-worth) by the change.
  • Consequently, change causes confusion/ anxiety/ resistance which is known as tamas.
  • Subsequently, the stimulus enters the amygdala and is compared with the resident conditioning (dharma). Also, depending on the impact of the change on the sense of Self (asmitā), the response is either withdrawal (tamas) or passion (rajas). So, this is also known as “fight” or “flight” response.
  • Subsequently, a response and feedback loop is initiated and this leads to better understanding of the stimulus. This results in homeostasis or sattva.
  • This balance is ever changing and the process is called attribute or guṇa.

The body responds by:

  • First, there is increased heart rate & blood pressure to get more blood to muscles & brain.
  • Next, faster breathing increases oxygen inflow into the body.
  • Also, blood vessels in the muscles get dilated to prepare them for action.
  • Additionally, there is auditory exclusion & tunnel vision for sharper focus.
  • Dilation of the eyes and sensitivity of the sense organs increease ability to assess the situation and act quickly.
  • Moreover, there is inhibition of erection.
  • In fact, to increase energy levels, there is an increased level of blood sugar, fats and cholesterol.
  • Finally, there is a decrease in blood flow to skin/ digestive tract/ kidneys & liver to divert blood to musculo-skeletal system.
  • Lastly, there is an increased level of platelets and blood clotting elements to prevent haemorrhage in case of injury

What are the indicators of stress?

  • Physical: fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle aches/stiffness (especially neck, shoulders and low back), heart palpitations, chest pains, abdominal cramps, nausea, trembling, cold extremities, flushing or sweating and frequent colds.
  • Intellectual: Decreased concentration and memory, indecisiveness, mind racing or going blank, confusion, loss of sense of humour.
  • Emotional: anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, worry, fear, irritability, impatience, short temper, nervousness (nail-biting, foot-tapping), increased eating, yelling, swearing, blaming.

What happens after the threat passes?

  • Firstly. lessons are stored in the amygdala for future use; the experience changes personal values (svadharma) on account of awareness of the situation (vijñāna) and its impact on the awareness of our identity (jñāna) and this consequently reflects as changes to our behaviour.
  • Often, we are able to manage some parts of the situation, but not all elements. Also, there may not be enough time, or our conditioning may lack the capability to find a solution. This leads to sustained perception of threat and we begin to experience physical, intellectual or emotional discomfort.
  • Finally, the body which has gone into a state of alert now needs to come back to normal. This may be possible if there is enough time for the system to assimilate the learning and work out the adrenaline. But we often find ourselves confronting multiple situations with different coping requirements in each situation which results in prolonged states of arousal that, over time, damages the body.
  • Importantly, the chemicals released by the pituitary, the adrenals, the hypothalamus, the thyroid etc., are life-saving chemicals that inhibit routine functions to provide the drive to face danger. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals damages vital organs, leading to reduced resistance of the immune system, hypertension, psychiatric illnesses, and stomach ailments, etc., which over time result in other psychosomatic problems that affect different parts of our body.

Points to ponder about stress,

Internal Tags: Conditioning or DharmaSelf Awareness or Asmita,  Guna in Bhagawat Gita chapter 14

External Tags: Hypothalalmic-Pituitary-Adrenal activity)

Share your opinion and experiences regarding stress,

  • How do we recognise a stress situation? 
  • Is anxiety hard to manage? Why? Are all forms of stress hard to manage? 
  • How do we recognise elements of our behaviour? 
  • Is giving up bad? What happens when we give up? 
  • What is fear of failure? 
  • Does prayer help when we are afraid? 
  • Can we really control events or are we mostly reacting to them? 
  • Is fear of death a stressor or a motivator? 
  • Can one get stressed when feeling motivated? 
  • Is environmental degradation a source of stress? 
  • Can lack of education become a stressor? 
  • Is anxiety impulsive or pre-meditated? 
  • When is it hard to admit that you are stressed? 
  • How do you recognise that you are stressed?
  • How do you recognise that your coping actions are not adequate?
  • Is it possible to recognise an anxious person?
  • How do you recognise your value system orconditioning (svadharma)?
  • What would svatantra mean for your team, your company, your state or country.

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