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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stress- A Part of Daily Life

Existence is a gradually becoming a very complicated process. In the olden days, life was much simpler. People were bothered with the day to day proceedings. They did not have much complicated life styles. Their unhappiness was much more basic. Maybe it stemmed from lack of money or resources, or the illness of relatives etc. The word ‘stress was virtually unknown at that time. These days, every few sentence includes the word stress in it. Most people do not quite realize what exactly it is.
The word 'stress' is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy". A situation or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual. In medical terms 'stress' is defined as an alteration of the body's homeostasis. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life.
A 'stress' condition seems 'relative' in nature. Extreme stress conditions, psychologists say, are detrimental to human health but in moderation stress is normal and, in many cases, proves useful. Stress, nonetheless, is synonymous with negative conditions.
"Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."
—Thomas Jefferson
The events that provoke stress are called stressors, and they cover a whole assortment of situations - everything from absolute physical danger to making a class presentation.
The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to produce more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, putting our muscles on alert. Pupils dilate to improve vision. The liver releases some of its stored glucose to increase the body's energy. And sweat is produced to cool the body. All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment.
This natural reaction is known as the stress response. Stress in certain circumstances may be experienced positively. Eustress, for example, can be an adaptive response prompting the activation of internal resources to meet challenges and achieve goals. But the stress response can also cause problems when it overreacts or fails to turn off and reset itself properly.
Good Stress and Bad Stress
The stress response (also called the fight or flight response) is critical during emergency situations, such as when a driver has to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. It can also be activated in a milder form at a time when the pressure's on but there's no actual danger - like stepping up to take the foul shot that could win the game, getting ready to go to a big dance, or sitting down for a final exam. A little of this stress can help keep you on your toes, ready to rise to a challenge. And the nervous system quickly returns to its normal state, standing by to respond again when needed.
But stress doesn't always happen in response to things that are immediate or that are over quickly. Ongoing or long-term events, like coping with a divorce or moving to a new neighborhood or school, can cause stress, too. Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that's hard on people. The nervous system senses continued pressure and may remain slightly activated and continue to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period. This can wear out the body's reserves, leave a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, weaken the body's immune system, and cause other problems.
Although just enough stress can be a good thing, stress overload is a different story - too much stress isn't good for anyone. For example, feeling a little stress about a test that's coming up can motivate you to study hard. But stressing out too much over the test can make it hard to concentrate on the material you need to learn.
Pressures that are too intense or last too long, or troubles that are shouldered alone, can cause people to feel stress overload. Here are some of the things that can overwhelm the body's ability to cope if they continue for a long time:
  • being bullied or exposed to violence or injury
  • relationship stress, family conflicts, or the heavy emotions that can accompany a broken heart or the death of a loved one
  • ongoing problems with schoolwork related to a learning disability or other problems, such as ADHD (usually once the problem is recognized and the person is given the right learning support the stress disappears)
  • Overcrowded schedules, not having enough time to rest and relax, and always being on the go.
  • Problems in the work place, rivalry with colleagues.
Some stressful situations can be extreme and may require special attention and care. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very strong stress reaction that can develop in people who have lived through an extremely traumatic event, such as a serious car accident, a natural disaster like an earthquake, or an assault like rape.
Some people have anxiety problems that can cause them to overreact to stress, making even small difficulties seem like crises. If a person frequently feels tense, upset, worried, or stressed, it may be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety problems usually need attention, and many people turn to professional counselors for help in overcoming them.
People who are experiencing stress overload may notice some of the following signs:
  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • a feeling of being constantly pressured, hassled, and hurried
  • irritability and moodiness
  • physical symptoms, such as stomach problems, headaches, or even chest pain
  • allergic reactions, such as eczema or asthma
  • problems sleeping
  • drinking too much, smoking, overeating, or doing drugs
  • sadness or depression
Experiences of stress differ from person to person. Some people become angry and act out their stress or take it out on others. Some people internalize it and develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems. And some people who have a chronic illness like blood pressure, blood sugar, arthritis etc may find that the symptoms of their illness flare up under an overload of stress.
Stress-management skills work best when they're used regularly, not just when the pressure's on. Knowing how to "de-stress" and doing it when things are relatively calm can help one get through challenging circumstances that may arise. Here are some things that can help keep stress under control.
  • Taking a stand against over scheduling: If one is feeling stressed, one must consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones which are most important.
  • Being realistic. It is not necessary to be perfect. No one is. And expecting others to be perfect can add to one’s stress level, too. It also puts a lot of pressure on them. If one needs help on something, one should ask for it.
  • Getting a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep one’s body and mind in great shape, making one better equipped to deal with any negative stressors. Because the biological "sleep clock" shifts during adolescence, many teens prefer staying up a little later at night and sleeping a little later in the morning. But if one stays up late and still needs to get up early, one may not get all the hours of sleep one needs.
  • Learn to relax .The body's natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. It's your body's opposite of stress, and it creates a sense of well-being and calm. The chemical benefits of the relaxation response can be activated simply by relaxing. You can help trigger the relaxation response by learning simple breathing exercises and then using them when you're caught up in stressful situations. And ensure you stay relaxed by building time into your schedule for activities that are calming and pleasurable: reading a good book or making time for a hobby, spending time with your pet, or just taking a relaxing bath.
  • Treat your body well. Experts agree that getting regular exercise helps people manage stress. (Excessive or compulsive exercise can contribute to stress, though, so as in all things, use moderation.) And eat well to help your body get the right fuel to function at its best. It's easy when you're stressed out to eat on the run or eat junk food or fast food. But under stressful conditions, the body needs its vitamins and minerals more than ever. Some people may turn to substance abuse as a way to ease tension. Although alcohol or drugs may seem to lift the stress temporarily, relying on them to cope with stress actually promotes more stress because it wears down the body's ability to bounce back.
  • Watch what you're thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best of stressful circumstances. Even if you're out of practice, or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits.
  • Solve the little problems. Learning to solve everyday problems can give you a sense of control. But avoiding them can leave you feeling like you have little control and that just adds to stress. Develop skills to calmly look at a problem, figure out options, and take some action toward a solution. Feeling capable of solving little problems builds the inner confidence to move on to life's bigger ones - and it can serve you well in times of stress.
Some people are very resilient under stressful situations. They're cool under pressure and able to handle problems as they come up. They are very well balanced and capable.
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Dr Sayani Basu has started her career since 1999. Being a student of Psychology her research area is Ego psychology, stress, and aggression (towards self and others). Her research was on female Homicide Convicts and Para Suicide Patients. After working in various NGO’s she is currently working as a Senior Lecturer in an eminent Business School in Calcutta. The topics that she teaches are Organization Behavior, Psychology, Human Resource Management, Values and Ethics.

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