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Before 1950 the Word ‘Stress’ Didn’t Exist

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The discovery of ‘stress’, by a man who meant to say ‘strain’.

stress, strain, discovery, word, hans selye

It’s hard to imagine people describing their regular days not using the word ‘stress’. We hear and read it everywhere nowadays. Yet it is a very young word, 63 years to be exact. Scientist Hans Selye ‘discovered’ the condition after wondering about it since medical school.

There was a certain condition Selye (1907-1982) recognized in all people that were suffering from any disease. They just looked ill and felt ill, what was that? Selye started to study and describe this state and concluded that it is a response of the body to demands placed upon it.

Selye first wrote the word down in 1950, and later published a now famous book called ‘the stress of life’. He not only associates disease with stress. He also mentions ‘stressors’ like emotional upsets, exposure to extremes of temperature, and anoxia.

Altough stress affects blood pressure, body temperature, blood sugar level, blood clotting, osmotic pressure and tissue hydration, stress can be a good thing according to Selye. Especially for people like him, who “wouldn’t exist without work”, as Selye himself explains in the following video.

According to an old friend of Selye, Paul J. Rosh, the scientist was a remarkable man. He woke up everyday at 5.00, dove into his little pool in the basement and then biked six miles to his work. There he spent 10 to 14 hours, day in day out.

Selye spoke at least eight languages fluently. Although he wished he had spoken better English. Then he would have called his discovery ‘strain’ instead of ‘stress’, as he writes to Rosh.

Since the birth of ‘stress’, the word has been adopted in this form in many languages, including those without the Roman alphabet. But the concept now isn’t the same as in the ’50s. According to research institute Heartmath stress changed a lot in the last twenty years. In the past it were events that caused stress, now we get stressed out more by our own perceptions of these events.

Photo: Flickr, giuseppesavo

Source: stress.org, heartmath

Reference:
GROLLMAN, A. (1951). The Physiology and Pathology of Exposure to Stress. Hans Selye. Montreal, Canada: Acta Endoerinologica, 1950. 1,025 pp. $14.00 Science, 113 (2938), 462-463 DOI: 10.1126/science.113.2938.462-a

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