Hans Selye’s book The Stress of Life remains a classic in the field. Selye was among the first to articulate a theory of how stress works in the body and backed up his theory with extensive experimentation that demonstrated the role of various hormones in the stress response. The work has percolated thoroughly into our body of knowledge. We all now know what it means to be “stressed.”
The bulk of the book is taken up with detailed explanations of the General Adaptation Syndrome and the Local Adaptation Syndrome that make up the stress response. Most of us probably don’t need this much detail, particularly about some of the grimmer experimental methods that brought us this information.
The last section of the book offered some ideas on how to cope with stress to maximize our positive challenge (eustress) and minimize destructive tension (stress). I was hoping for something more than was on offer. Selye suggests that we each need to find our individual balance and our right work, that we need to make mindful choices to avoid wasting our limited supply of adaptation energy, and that we ought to seek a meaningful existence. None of this is bad advice, but it’s not particularly helpful, either.
As an introduction to the concepts and mechanisms of stress, the book succeeds, but may not be suitable for all readers.