“Happiness is a choice. Youcan choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s yourchoice whether you let it affect you or not.” -Valerie Bertinelli.STRESSHave you ever found yourselfin a situation where your to-do list seems endless, deadlines are fastapproaching and you find yourself saying ‘Eek! I feel stressed!’? But what isstress really, and how does it affect us?WHAT IS STRESS?If you were to ask a dozenpeople to define stress, you would likely get 12 different answers to yourrequest. The reason for this is that there is no definition of stress thateveryone agrees on, what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or havelittle effect on others and we all react to stress differently.
Stress refersto experiencing events that are perceived as endangering one’s physical orpsychological well-being. These events are usually referred to as stressors,and people’s reaction to them are termed as stress responses.Stress is primarily aphysical response. When stressed, your body responds as though you are indanger, it releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline,cortisol and norepinephrine. These chemicals speed up your heart, make youbreathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This energy and strength can bea good thing if stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a badthing, if stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outletfor this extra energy and strength.WHAT CAUSES STRESS?Countless events causestress.
Some are major changes affecting large number of people – events suchas war, nuclear accidents and earthquakes. Others are major changes in life ofan individual – for instance, moving to a new area, changing jobs, gettingmarried, losing a friend suffering a serious illness. Everyday hassles can alsobe experienced as stressors – getting struct in traffic, arguing withprofessor, losing your wallet. They only last a short time. Other stressors arechronic: They go on for an extended period, even indefinitely, as when you arein an unsatisfying marriage. Over time, chronic stress can lead to severehealth problems. Finally, the source of stress can be within the individual, inthe form of conflicting motives and desires.Events that are perceived asstressful usually fall into one or more of the following categories, of coursethe degree to which an event is stressful differs for each individual:· Traumatic Events: The most obvious sources of stressare traumatic events – situations of extreme danger that are outside the rangeof usual human experience.
· Uncontrollable Events: The more uncontrollable anevent seems, the more likely it is to be perceived as stressful. Majoruncontrollable events include the death of a loved one etc. Minoruncontrollable events include such things as having a friend refuse to acceptyour apology for some misdeed etc.· Unpredictable Events: Unpredictable events are alsooften perceived as stressful. The degree to which we know if and when an eventwill occur – also effects its stressfulness. Being able to predict the occurrence of a stressful event – even if theindividual cannot control it – usually reduces the severity of the stress.· Events that represent major changes in lifecircumstances: Any life change that requires numerous readjustments can beperceived as stressful.
The following scale by Holmes and Rahe ranks lifeevents from most stressful to least stressful: · Internal Conflicts: stress can also be brought aboutby internal conflicts – unresolved issues that may be either conscious orunconscious. Conflict occurs when a person must choose between incompatible, ormutually exclusive goals or courses. Many of the things people desire prove tobe incompatible, hence cause stress.
Conflicts may also arise whentwo inner needs or motives are in opposition. In our society, the conflictsthat are most pervasive and difficult to resolve generally occur between thefollowing motives:INDEPENDENCE VERSUSDEPENDENCE: Particularly when we are faced with a difficult situation, we maywant someone to take care of us and solve our problems. But we are taught thatwe must stand on our own.
At other timeswe may wish for independence, but circumstances force us to remain dependent.INTIMACY VERSUS ISOLATION:The desire to be close to another person and to share our innermost thoughtsand emotions may conflict with the fear of being hurt or rejected if we exposetoo much of ourselves. COOPERATION VERSUSCOMPETITON: Our society emphasizes competition and success. Competition beginsin early childhood among siblings, continues through school, and culminates inbusiness and professional rivalry. At the same time, we are urged to cooperateand to help others.EXPRESSION OF IMPULSES VERSUSMORAL SSTANDARDS: Impulses must be regulated to some degree in all societies.Much of childhood learning involves internalizing cultural restrictions onimpulses. Sex and aggression are two areas in which our impulses frequentlycome into conflict with moral standards and violation of these standards cangenerate feelings of guilt.
These four areas present thegreatest potential for serious conflict. Trying to find a workable compromisebetween opposing motives can create considerable stress.HEALTHSigns and symptoms of stress overloadThe most dangerous thingabout stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. Itstarts to feel familiar — even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affectingyou, even as it takes a heavy toll.
That’s why it’s important to be aware ofthe common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS:· Depression or general unhappiness· Anxiety and agitation· Moodiness, irritability, or anger· Feeling overwhelmed· Loneliness and isolation· Other mental or emotional health problemsCOGNITIVE SYMPTOMS: Memory problems Inability to concentrate Poor judgment Seeing only the negative Anxious or racing thoughts Constant worryingPHYSICAL SYMPTOMS:· Aches and pains· Diarrhea or constipation· Nausea, dizziness· Chest pain, rapid heart rate· Loss of sex drive· Frequent colds or fluBEHAVIORAL SYMPTOMS:· Eating more or less· Sleeping too much or too little· Withdrawing from others· Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities· Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax· Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTIONS TO STRESSStressful situations produceemotional reactions ranging from exhilaration to anxiety, anger, discouragementand depression.AnxietyThe most common response to stressoris anxiety. People who live through events that are beyond normal range ofhuman suffering (rape, kidnapping) sometimes develop a severe set of anxiety-relatedsymptoms known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).There are four sets ofsymptoms of PTSD. The first set represents a deep detachment from everydaylife.
The second set is a repeated reliving of the trauma. The third set ofsymptoms includes sleep disturbances, difficulty in concentrating and overalertness. Another symptom of PTSD beside these three core sets is survivor ofguilt – some people feel terribly guilty about surviving a trauma.
Traumas caused by humans,such as sexual or physical assault, are more likely to cause PTSD than naturaldisasters.Anger and AggressionAnother common reaction to astressful situation is anger, which may lead to aggression. People often becomeangry and exhibit aggressive behavior when they experience frustration. Apathy and DepressionAlthough aggression is afrequent response to stress, the opposite response, withdrawal and apathy, isalso common. If the stressful conditions continue and the individual is unableto cope with them, apathy may deepen into depression. Some people suffering fromapathy or depression develop learned helplessness, which is characterized bypassivity and inaction and an inability to see opportunities to control theirenvironment. For example, women whose husbands beat them frequently may not tryto escape.COGNITIVE REACTIONS TO STRESSIn addition to emotionalreactions, people often show substantial cognitive impairment when faced withserious stressors.
They find it hard to concentrate and to organize theirthought logically. They may be easily distracted. They may be easilydistracted. As a result, their performance on tasks, particularly complextasks, tends to deteriorate.PHYSIOLOGICAL REACTIONS TO STRESSThe body reacts to stressorsby initiating a complex sequence of responses.
If the perceived threat isresolved quickly, these emergency responses subside, but if the stressfulsituation continues, a different set of internal responses occur as we attemptto adopt.Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the bodyThe body reacts to stresswith the fight-or-flight response. Whenyou feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood ofstress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body foremergency action.
Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressurerises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changesincrease your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance yourfocus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.How stress affects health?The attempts to adapt to thecontinued presence of stressors may deplete the body resources and make itvulnerable to illness.Chronic stress can lead tophysical disorders such as ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease. Itmay also impair the immune system, decreasing the body’s ability to fight invadingbacteria and viruses. Indeed, doctors estimate that emotional stress plays animportant role in more than half of all medical problems.
HEALTH-RELATED HABBITSWhen we are stressed we aremore likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, and this may lead toillness. Engaging in unhealthy behaviorsmay also increase a person’s subjective sense of stress. People under stresscease normal exercise routine. Excessive drinking or smoking may also induce lethargy,fatigue, and a mild or moderate sense of depression that makes it difficult toovercome stressful situations or just keep up with the demands of everydaylife. Similarly, people who do not get enough sleep show impairments in memory,learning, logical reasoning, arithmetic skills, complex verbal processing anddecision making.
COPING SKILLSThe emotions and physiologicalarousal created by stressful situations are highly uncomfortable, and this discomfortmotivate the individual to do something to alleviate it. The term coping is usedto refer to the process by which a person attempts to manage stressful demands,and it takes two major forms.