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. Minor uncontrollableevents include such things as having a friend refuse to accept your apology forsome 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 tostressor is anxiety. People who live through events that are beyond normalrange of human suffering (rape, kidnapping) sometimes develop a severe set ofanxiety-related symptoms 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 sufferingfrom apathy or depression develop learned helplessness, which is characterizedby passivity and inaction and an inability to see opportunities to controltheir environment. For example, women whose husbands beat them frequently maynot try to 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 easily distracted.
As a result, their performance on tasks, particularly complex tasks, tends todeteriorate.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 fightinvading bacteria and viruses.
Indeed, doctors estimate that emotional stressplays an important role in more than half of all medical problems.HEALTH-RELATED BEHAVIORSWhen 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 inducelethargy, fatigue, and a mild or moderate sense of depression that makes itdifficult to overcome stressful situations or just keep up with the demands ofeveryday life.
Similarly, people who do not get enough sleep show impairmentsin memory, learning, logical reasoning, arithmetic skills, complex verbalprocessing and decision making.COPING SKILLSThe emotions andphysiological arousal created by stressful situations are highly uncomfortable,and this discomfort motivate the individual to do something to alleviate it.The term coping is used to refer to the process by which a person attempts tomanage stressful demands, and it takes two major forms.Problem-focused Coping:Problem-focused copingtargets the causes of stress in practical ways which tackles the problem orstressful situation that is causing stress, consequently directly reducing thestress.Problem focused strategiesaim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor, including:· Problem-solving.· Time-management.
· Obtaining instrumental social support.Emotion-focused Coping:Emotion-focused copinginvolves trying to reduce the negative emotional responses associated withstress such as embarrassment, fear, anxiety, depression, excitement andfrustration. This may be the only realistic option when the source of stress isoutside the person’s control.Drug therapy can be seen asemotion focused coping as it focuses on the arousal caused by stress not theproblem. Other emotion focused coping techniques include:· Distraction, e.g.
keeping yourself busy to take yourmind off the issue.· Emotional disclosure. This involves expressing strongemotions by talking or writing about negative events which precipitated thoseemotions.· Praying for guidance and strength.· Meditation, e.g. mindfulness.· Eating more, e.
g. comfort food.· Journaling, e.
g. writing a gratitude diary.· Cognitive reappraisal. This is a form of cognitivechange that involves construing a potentially emotion-eliciting situation in away that changes its emotional impact Suppressing (stopping/inhibition of)negative thoughts or emotions. Suppressing emotions over an extended period oftime compromises immune competence and leads to poor physical health.However, A meta-analysisrevealed emotion-focused strategies are often less effective than usingproblem-focused methods in relation to health outcomes.
People who take activesteps to solve problems are less likely to experience depression and illnessfollowing negative life events. People who use rumination or avoidancestrategies to cope with negative emotions show longer and more severe distressafter negative events than people who seek social support or reappraise anevent to cope with their emotions.MANAGING STRESSIn addition to seekingpositive social support in times of stress, people can also learn other techniquesto reduce the negative effect of stress on the body and the mind. Following aresome behavioral and cognitive techniques to manage stress:BEHAVIORAL TECHNIQUESAmong the behavioraltechniques that help people control their psychological responses to stressfulsituations are biofeedback, relaxation training, meditation and aerobicexercise.Biofeedback:Most often, biofeedback helps people control their stress response, byrealizing when it’s underway and employing relaxation techniques like deepbreathing, visualizations, and meditation to calm their physiological arousal.Many of the benefits of biofeedback simply come from the increased relaxationin your body and the lack of a chronically triggered fight-or-flight response.
Because chronic stress can be a trigger for many negative health symptoms, thiscan offer a significant and palpable improvement in the way people feel and howtheir bodies function.By helping you learn how yourbody is currently functioning, biofeedback can help you to know what to change.Also, by showing you in ‘real time’ which relaxation techniques are working andwhich aren’t, you’re able to more easily grasp effective ways to relax yourbody’s physiology and incorporate healthier habits into your lifestyle.Relaxation Training: No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteractits detrimental effects by learning how to produce the relaxation response, astate of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response.
Therelaxation response puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mindback into a state of equilibrium.When the relaxation responseis activated, your:· heart rate slows down· breathing becomes slower and deeper· blood pressure drops or stabilizes· muscles relax· blood flow to the brain increasesIn addition to its calmingphysical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus,combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities,and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap thesebenefits with regular practice.Meditation:Meditation can wipe away the day’s stress, bringing with it inner peace. Meditationhas been practiced for thousands of years.
Meditation originally was meant tohelp deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. Thesedays, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction. Meditationis considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine.
Meditation canproduce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.During meditation, you focusyour attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may becrowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhancedphysical and emotional well-being.
Exercise: Another factor that is important in controlling stressis physical fitness. Individuals who regularly engage in aerobic exercise showsignificantly lower heart rates and blood pressure in response to stressfulsituations than others.COGNITIVE TECHNIQUES:Cognitive-behavioraltherapists use cognitive techniques to help people reduce their stress and dealwith mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, according to theMayo Clinic. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a short-term therapy that focuseson how people’s thoughts affect their emotions and behaviors. Understandingthis concept helps people learn how to combat negative thinking and decreasestress.
Finally, Techniques forstress management can be gained from self-help books, online resources, or byattending a stress management course. A counselor or psychotherapist canconnect an individual who has stress with personal development courses orindividual and group therapy sessions. ALL THE BEST!”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.