Rethinking Stress: A Conceptual Framework

Hi everyone, Joseph here. Today I wanted to address the idea of stress from a fresh perspective, one that clarifies stress as both a pathology (disease), and internal injury. However, my ultimate goal in writing this article is to address a systemic, pervasive mindset that plagues my own mindset and that of almost all of my friends.

To put things in perspective, I’ll give you a brief summary of my motivations for writing this particular article.

  • Daniel Kim, my good friend, has introduced me to a novel social construct for thinking about stress. On my search for a clear and concise categorization of different stressors, I found almost nothing written that addressed the problem clearly. This stands in stark contrast to other fields like immunology, where categorization of problems is integral to understanding. Thus, as it stands currently, the study of stress is both highly qualitative, and in my opinion, insufficiently studied.
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Figure 1: Notice that both pathologies are treated via acknowledgement. I do not claim to understand how individuals personally respond to challenges (from stressors).
  • The treatment of stress and mental disorder is more effectively treated with with follow-up and treatment. Furthermore, “all the evidence suggests that we do not need to identify more cases of depression in primary care, but rather, increase the effectiveness of our management of those that have been identified.” (Kessler et. al 2005). Thus, there is precedence for general practitioners or potential general practitioners to recognize their own patients’ need for treatment.
  • The idea of stress is highly stigmatized. In a prior article (Failure: Today and Forever), I’ve previously addressed failure not only as an integral motivating internal force for learning, but also as a taboo among acquaintances .
  • Finally, I hate the fact that it is socially unacceptable in competitive environments to show signs of stress. The condition is so prevalent that my boss has dubbed it the Berkeley “OK”. Students plagued by work, lab, classes, or some combination of the three, are conditioned to verbalize that they are unaffected by the constant stressors around them. This is frankly unacceptable, but I also recognize that it is a systemic problem that I also buy into as well.

In other words, stress is an endemic problem that presents with serious repercussions in our day to day lives. While some may argue that we can adapt and habituate to higher and higher levels of stress, this is clearly not the case. Physiological effects exist at a deeper fundamental genetic level than most of us consider everyday.

For instance, acetylation, an addition of an acetyl group to a molecule, has been observed in the hippocampi of mice that respond to mazes with more movement. [1] Thus, it is possible that there are actual biomarkers or individual variation in chemical structures that lead to differences in how different individuals experience stress. The differential acetylation of hippocampi is why I don’t believe stress is attributable to personality and individual experiences alone. Presumably, this could be an intuitive reason why people don’t share their personal experiences of stress, as people may have an inherent understanding that their experiences from others. [2]

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Figure 2: The process of acetylation, notice that this is a physical process that may contribute to how individuals experience stress [3]

In conclusion, I believe that stress is NOT just dictated by an individual’s personality. Furthermore, every individual has experienced the stigma attached to appearing stressed among peers. The perpetuation of  this attitude makes it difficult to discuss stress with others and I believe that this conditioning is fundamentally flawed. Finally, I hope that this article gives you a new framework for thinking about stress in your daily life.

Your friend,


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