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Stress Part 1: Stimuli vs. Thresholds and Why Good Things Go Bad

By Dr. Molly Casey

Stress Thresholds

Stress is all around us. We all experience it and it affects our health. Prior to the worldwide pandemic, life for many was moving at an all-time fast pace. Asking “how are you,” often brought a common answer: “Busy.”

With “busy” comes stress. Because stress has a huge effect on your health and quality of life (likely more than you think), it is wise to learn more about stress and its impact on you.

Let’s start by understanding what stress is and where our focus should be to modulate its effects.


Stress is any stimuli that causes a physical, mental, or emotional strain. Stress, in and of itself, is not bad. The amount of stress and the way you and your body respond to the stress is the issue.

Is It All bad? The Cycle

Is all stress bad? No. Remember that stress is any stimuli that causes tension. We should stop looking at stress where the focus is on the stimuli, but rather shift it to how the body adapts to it. One particular stressor for you can have a totally different effect on someone else; it’s not about the stimuli but rather about your body’s reaction to the stimuli.

Exercise is a strain on the physical body but it is healthy because your body performs the actions, rests, and recovers, and builds muscle or cardio strength; it integrates those benefits into daily life.

Here’s an example. By doing squats three times a week, your body will eventually get stronger and you’ll be able to add more weight. You’ll likely find that you can grab that Tuupperware on the bottom shelf under the counter without crazy strain on your body on your creaky knees. This is an example of “eustress,” or positive stress, in which your body adapts positively. Your quality of life improves.

Conversely, take the same exercise with no rest between days -- too much weight, maybe too many sets, and perhaps poor form -- and your body will not adapt optimally. The “healthy” gym routine now becomes a “dis-stress” as your body begins to break down as a result. Maybe you pull a muscle, maybe you can’t perform daily tasks as well, maybe you suffer nagging injuries .. and so on. Your body doesn’t adapt optimally, it drains you mentally and you suffer emotionally. The body exceeded its threshold to a stimuli that would normally be positive, yet reacted negatively.

This example works the same for emotional, mental, professional, and relationship and family stress. You can be wildly passionate about your work -- it can fuel you and give you energy -- but a threshold can be passed that can turn into something that starts to drain, deplete, and wear on you.

Change your focus in life regarding stress to start assessing these thresholds whether physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Health Is a Process

Health is a journey, a process, not a place. You can’t arrive at good health and rest on your laurels. This journey takes work, which includes looking at your levels of stress, decreasing it when possible, and mitigating its effects if decreasing the stimuli is not possible.

Although it may initially feel hard, understand that doing so, and experiencing the results in your life, will feed, fuel and energize you.

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