Hans Selye is considered the first researcher who was able to assign a meaning to a syndrome he discovered which was destroying productivity in business and was causing burnout in many people. Selye complained several times that if his knowledge of English had been more precise, he would have gone down in history as the father of the “strain” concept.
Although Selye was fluent in at least eight languages, including English, and could converse in another half dozen, his choice of “stress” to describe the non-specific response syndrome he discovered, was unfortunate. He had used “stress” in his initial letter to the Editor of Nature in 1936, who suggested that it be deleted since this implied nervous strain and substituted alarm reaction. He was also unaware that stress had been used for centuries in physics to explain elasticity, the property of a material that allows it to resume its original size and shape after having been compressed or stretched by an external force. As expressed in Hooke’s Law of 1658, the magnitude of an external force, or stress, produces a proportional amount of deformation, or strain, in a malleable metal.
This created considerable confusion when his research had to be translated into foreign languages. There was no suitable word or phrase that could convey what he meant, since he was really describing strain. In 1946, when he was asked to give an address at the prestigious Collège de France, where Bernard and Pasteur had been friendly rivals, the academicians responsible for maintaining the purity of the French language struggled with this problem for several days, and subsequently decided that a new word would have to be created. Apparently, the male chauvinists prevailed, and le stress was born, quickly followed by el stress, il stress, lo stress, der stress in other European languages, and similar neologisms in Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Stress is one of the very few words that are preserved in English in languages that do not use the Roman alphabet. Selye was fond of sending colleagues and friends’ cards containing his advice on how to conduct their professional and personal lives, as illustrated below:
S tress management: How do you react during stressful situations? No wonder you’re stressed. You’re doing more with fewer resources every day at work, and deadlines lurk around every corner. When you get home, you take out your frustrations on your family. Weekends are booked solid with household chores and errands. It’s been months since you spent an evening alone with your partner. There are very few days off where you can get away from the stressors. So how do you handle it? Understanding how you currently respond to stress — for better or worse — is the foundation for successful future stress management.
Evaluating how you deal with stress is the first step in effective stress management. Look for these behavior patterns. Reactions to stress vary.
Some people seem to take everything in stride. Their naturally laid-back attitudes shine through in every …