Stress In Modern Life

July 15, 1970

Report Outline
Mental Stress: Its Causes and Effects
Progress Toward Understanding Stress
Search for Ways to Cope With Stress
Special Focus

Mental Stress: Its Causes and Effects

Emotional Strains Arising From Age of Turmoil

Conditions of stress face us no matter which way we turn. War, crime, revolt of youth, drug use, sex problems, crowding, crises at home and at work—all these things produce tension, frustration and harassment at a level that often approaches the threshold of toleration. W. H. Auden calls our era the age of anxiety. Others use labels like rat race and the “stoned age” to describe our society and these times. The average citizen's hopes for a serene life are blasted time and again. Cherished values are battered, religious leaders give currency to Nietzsche's notion that God is dead, computers depersonalize many of life's interchanges, and doctors generate moral complexities by prolonging life artificially and transplanting human organs. Alienation increases and the problems of attaining peace, justice, orderly change and a clean environment grow more complex.

Stress, however, is not all bad. If not excessive, it can serve a useful purpose, such as preparing an individual to meet a threat or fulfilling his need for adventure. Even extreme stress can be constructive if it enables an individual to act effectively for survival, Samuel Silverman, a psychiatrist, contends that stress is not only useful but necessary. “A certain amount of stimulation and excitation—of the right kind and under the right conditions—appears to be necessary for the maintenance of a healthy ‘psychophysical tone’.” Stress stimulates physical and mental work, helping the person challenge difficult problems.

Stress is thought to be needed even for the ordinary pleasures of living. Dr. Harry J. Johnson, a prominent mental hygienist, contends that “Life without stress is like soup without salt.” Moreover, the physiological side effects of pleasurable stress need not be harmful. Dr. Hans Selye, a professor of psychology at McGill University, wrote that “A game of tennis or even a passionate kiss can produce considerable stress without conspicuous damage. Chicago psychoanalyst Karen Horney has explored the shadow area between good and harmful stress. “Riding a roller-coaster with some apprehension may make it more thrilling,” she observed, “whereas doing it with strong anxiety will make it a torture.” The achievement in our lives of a beneficial and not excessive exposure to stress requires a deeper knowledge than most people have of themselves and the challenges they face. It requires a knowledge of the causes and effects of stress, of the machinery by which the body and mind attempt to cope with stress, and of controls and outlets.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Aug. 03, 2018  Loneliness and Social Isolation
Feb. 12, 2010  Sleep Deprivation
Dec. 06, 2002  Homework Debate
Aug. 04, 1995  Job Stress
Jun. 23, 1995  Repetitive Stress Injuries
Aug. 14, 1992  Work, Family and Stress
Aug. 13, 1982  Pressures on Youth
Nov. 28, 1980  Stress Management
Jul. 15, 1970  Stress In Modern Life
Mental Health