STRESSHave you ever found yourselfin a situation where your to-do list appears to be unlimited, due dates arequick, drawing nearer and you end up saying ‘Eek! I’m so stressed out!’? Butwhat is stress really, and how does it affect us?WHAT IS STRESS?If you were to ask twelveindividuals 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 concedes to, what is distressing for one individual might bepleasurable or have little impact on others and we all react to stressdifferently. Stress refers to experiencing events that are perceived asendangering one’s physical or psychological well-being. These events areusually referred to as stressors, and people’s reaction to them are termed asstress 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.

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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 also be within theindividual, in the 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 conflicts thatare 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, suchas 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 STRESSCognitive ImpairmentIn 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 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 stress ceasenormal 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:A person can focus on thespecific problem or situation that has arisen, trying to find some way ofchanging it or avoiding it in the future.

This is called problem-focusedcoping.  Problem focused strategies aimto remove or reduce the cause of the stressor.There are many strategies forsolving problems. First, you must define the problem. Then you can generatealternate solutions and weigh the costs and benefits of the alternatives. Eventually,you must choose between alternative solutions and then act upon your choice. Problem-focusedstrategies can also be directed inward: You can change something about yourselfinstead of changing the environment. You can change your goals, findalternative sources of gratification, or learn new skills in inward direct strategies.

How skillfully people employ these strategies depends on their range ofexperiences and capacity for self-control.Emotion-focused Coping:A person can also focus on alleviatingthe emotions associated with the stressful situation, even if the situation itselfcannot be changed. This is called emotion-focused coping. People engage inemotion-focused coping to prevent their negative emotions from overwhelmingthem and making them unable to take action to solve their problems.

They alsouse emotion-focused coping when a problem is uncontrollable.We try to cope with ournegative emotions in many ways. Some researchers have divided these intobehavioral strategies and cognitive strategies. Behavioral strategies includeengaging in physical exercise, using drugs, venting anger, and seekingemotional support from friends. Cognitive strategies include temporarilysetting the problem aside (“I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about”) andreducing the threat by changing the meaning of the situation (“I decided thather friendship wasn’t that important to me”). Cognitive strategies often involvereappraising the situation.

Obviously, we would expect some behavioral andcognitive strategies to be adaptive and others (such as drinking heavily) to merelycause more stress. One strategy that appears tohelp people adjust emotionally and physically to a stressor is seekingemotional support from others. The quality of social support a person receives afterexperiencing a trauma strongly influences the impact of that support on theindividual’s health. Conflicted social relationships may affect physical healththrough the immune system.Some people engage in moremaladaptive way of coping with negative emotions: They simply deny that theyhave any negative emotions and push those emotions out of conscious awareness,a strategy known as repressive coping.

People who engage in repressive copingtend to show more autonomic nervous activity in response to stressors thanpeople who do not engage in repressive coping. Repressing important aspects ofone’s identity may also be harmful to one’s health. In contrast, talking about negativeemotions and important issues in one’s life appears to have positive effects onhealth. Studies show that encouraging people to reveal personal traumas in diariesor essays improves their health. Writing is helpful because it assists people infinding meaning in the events that happen to them and helps them understandthem.

Finding meaning and understanding then reduces the negative emotionspeople feel about events and may therefore reduce the physiological wear and tearassociated with chronic negative emotions.People who use rumination oravoidance strategies to cope with negative emotions show longer and more severedistress after negative events than people who seek social support orreappraise an event to cope with their emotions.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.MANAGING STRESSIn addition to seekingpositive social support in times of stress, people can also learn othertechniques to reduce the negative effect of stress on the body and the mind.Following are some 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:In biofeedback training, individuals receive information about an aspect oftheir physiological state and then attempt to alter that state.

For example, ina procedure for learning to control tension headaches, electrodes are attachedto the participants forehead so that any movement in the forehead muscle can beelectronically detected, amplified and fed back to the person as an auditorysignal. The signal, or tone increases in pitch when the muscle contracts anddecreases when it relaxes. By learning to control the pitch of the tone, the individuallearns to keep the muscles relaxed. After 4 to 8 weeks of biofeedback training,the participant learns to recognize the on set of tension and to reduce itwithout feedback from the machine.Relaxation Training: Relaxation training involves teaching peopletechniques to deeply relax their muscles and slow down and focus theirthoughts. Physiological processes that are controlled by the autonomic nervoussystem, such as heart rate and blood pressure, have traditionally been assumedto be automatic and not under voluntary control. However, laboratory studieshave demonstrated that people can learn to modify heart rate and blood pressure.

The results of these studies have led to relaxation procedures for treatingpatients with high blood pressures (hypertension).Reviews of numerous studiesusing biofeedback and relaxation training to control headaches and hypertensionconclude that the most important variable is learning how to relax. Some peoplemay learn to relax faster when they receive biofeedback.

Others may learn torelax equally well when they receive training in muscle relaxation without anyspecific biofeedback. The usefulness of relaxation training seems to depend onthe individual. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regularpractice.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. It isconsidered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. It can produce a deepstate 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.However, a leading researcherin this field contends that the same effects can be achieved through simplerest. Resting may produce stress-reduction effects similar to those produced bymeditation.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. Physically fit people are much less likely to become physicallyill following stressful events than people who are not fit.COGNITIVE TECHNIQUES:An additional approach tostress management focuses on changing the individual’s cognitive response tostressful situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapists use cognitive techniquesto help people reduce their stress and deal with mental health problems such asdepression and anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a short-term therapythat focuses on how people’s thoughts affect their emotions and behaviors.Understanding this concept helps people learn how to combat negative thinkingand decrease stress.

Biofeedback, relaxationtraining, exercise, meditation, and cognitive therapy have all proved useful inhelping people control their physiological and emotional responses to stress.Finally, Techniques forstress management can also be gained from self-help books, online resources, orby attending 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.