Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge or demand — whether they are real or perceived. It is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. It is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are faced with a situation or demand that we feel we cannot manage or control. The demand can come from work, relationship, financial pressure and other situations.
When you feel threatened, worried or anxious, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight” or the stress response.
TYPES OF STRESS
Stress may be acute or chronic. Stress may be described as acute when it is short-termed, like when you feel under pressure to complete an assignment before a deadline. Such short bursts of stress can be positive as they help to keep you motivated and ready to avoid danger or meet a deadline. Stress therefore helps the body adjust to new situations. Chronic stress, on the other hand, refers to stress that develops over a long period of time. This may be in reaction to dysfunctional family, unhappy relationship, traumatic experiences among others.
WHAT CAUSES STRESS?
A number of issues could bring about stress in one’s life. Factors that lead to stress are referred to as stressors. There are three types of stressors namely routine stressors – these include work, childcare, financial responsibility; sudden stressors – these include disruptive changes such as death of a loved one, job loss among others; traumatic stressors – due to extreme trauma, severe accident, environmental disaster, war.
WHEN DOES STRESS BECOME A PROBLEM?
Stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation, there are too many stressors at a time and when the body becomes easily triggered to respond to stressors.
FACTORS THAT CAN LEAD TO STRESS
Without being exhaustive, the following factors could bring about stress:
1. Unrealistic expectations or goals. When individuals try to define their expectations or goals, using the parameters set by others. The desperation to meet the set goals would naturally induce stress. Such individuals will feel under lots of pressure.
Shame can induce stress. When an individual feels a sense of lack of self- worth, such an individual becomes anxious and desperate to be like others whom he or she feels are better. This brings unnecessary stress to the individual.
Undue worry about situations has a tendency to become a source of stress.
A feeling of helplessness or hopelessness can result in stress. When you have the feeling that you do not have much or any control over the outcome of a situation it could be frustrating and stressful.
Having responsibilities that one finds menacingly overwhelming. More often than not this comes from the substitution of illusions for reality.
It may sound ironic, but it is true that not having enough work, activities to engage in could cause stress.
Indolence/idleness can have serious negative effects on some persons.
Inability to cope with academics, academic failure, unrealistic expectations of parents and significant others about children’s academic performance can lead to academic stress in the children.
Death of a loved one
Divorce, separation from a loved one, dysfunctional family relationships can be psychologically demanding and stressful.
Increase in financial obligation
Some personality types are more prone to stress than the others.
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
(how to recognise stress in self and others)
Emotional Symptoms-: Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody, feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty relaxing, feeling bad about yourself, feeling lonely, worthless and depressed, avoiding others
Physical Symptoms-: Headaches, low energy, upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation and nausea, muscular aches and pains, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, loss of sexual desire, nervousness, ringing in the ears.
Cognitive Symptoms-: Constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness and disorganisation, inability to focus, poor judgement, pessimism
Behavioural symptoms-: Changes in appetite-either eating too much or low appetite, procrastination, avoiding responsibilities, increased use of drugs particularly psychoactive drugs.
Stress has several other side-effects on the body. When these happen, you will need the services a medical doctor. These include high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, depression, anxiety, asthma, arthritis, decreased immunity. However, stress can be managed so that it does not get to the level of causing physiological damages.
HOW TO MANAGE STRESS
First, you must realise that there is no stress-free life. There will always be stress, it is your ability to cope that will make the difference.
Set realistic goals for yourself. Recognise your limits. Accept that you are not perfect and cannot control everything in your life. Keep your sense of humour. Laughter is good for relaxation.
Re-balance work and home – have quality time for relaxation and rest on a regular basis.
Exercise regularly. Walk a distance each day. Several walks from one end of a small compound to the other can make up for long distance walks. This helps relax your body and mind.
Eat regular balanced meals, eliminate or drastically reduce intake of psychoactive substances such as, alcohols and stimulants.
Connect with supportive people. This is critical to our wellbeing and particularly the ability to deal with stress. Speak out and connect with others.
Pick up a hobby and carve out time for it.
Relax your muscles, deliberately – take a hot bath, enjoy a massage, have enough sleep.
Take a break. Listen to your favourite music, read a book, meditate, pray.
Figure out the stress triggers and eliminate or reduce them. Keep a stress journal i.e. make a note of when you become most anxious or what brings it on and find ways to eliminate or reduce them.
Practice positive self-talk.
Having stress symptoms? Can’t eliminate the stressors? Feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts? Talk to a counsellor today. Get an outlet for negative thoughts and feelings that can reduce stress, as well as help maintain your mental health.
(Courtesy: UNIBEN Guidance and Counselling Centre)