Have you ever found yourself
in a situation where your to-do list seems endless, deadlines are fast
approaching and you find yourself saying ‘Eek! I feel stressed!’? But what is
stress really, and how does it affect us?
WHAT IS STRESS?
If you were to ask a dozen
people to define stress, you would likely get 12 different answers to your
request. The reason for this is that there is no definition of stress that
everyone agrees on, what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have
little effect on others and we all react to stress differently. Stress refers
to experiencing events that are perceived as endangering one’s physical or
psychological well-being. These events are usually referred to as stressors,
and people’s reaction to them are termed as stress responses.
Stress is primarily a
physical response. When stressed, your body responds as though you are in
danger, it releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline,
cortisol and norepinephrine. These chemicals speed up your heart, make you
breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This energy and strength can be
a good thing if stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad
thing, if stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet
for this extra energy and strength.
WHAT CAUSES STRESS?
Countless events cause
stress. Some are major changes affecting large number of people – events such
as war, nuclear accidents and earthquakes. Others are major changes in life of
an individual – for instance, moving to a new area, changing jobs, getting
married, losing a friend suffering a serious illness. Everyday hassles can also
be experienced as stressors – getting struct in traffic, arguing with
professor, losing your wallet. They only last a short time. Other stressors are
chronic: They go on for an extended period, even indefinitely, as when you are
in an unsatisfying marriage. Over time, chronic stress can lead to severe
health problems. Finally, the source of stress can be within the individual, in
the form of conflicting motives and desires.
Events that are perceived as
stressful usually fall into one or more of the following categories, of course
the degree to which an event is stressful differs for each individual:
· Traumatic Events: The most obvious sources of stress
are traumatic events – situations of extreme danger that are outside the range
of usual human experience.
· Uncontrollable Events: The more uncontrollable an
event seems, the more likely it is to be perceived as stressful. Major
uncontrollable events include the death of a loved one etc. Minor
uncontrollable events include such things as having a friend refuse to accept
your apology for some misdeed etc.
· Unpredictable Events: Unpredictable events are also
often perceived as stressful. The degree to which we know if and when an event
will occur – also effects its stressfulness.
Being able to predict the occurrence of a stressful event – even if the
individual cannot control it – usually reduces the severity of the stress.
· Events that represent major changes in life
circumstances: Any life change that requires numerous readjustments can be
perceived as stressful. The following scale by Holmes and Rahe ranks life
events from most stressful to least stressful:
· Internal Conflicts: stress can also be brought about
by internal conflicts – unresolved issues that may be either conscious or
unconscious. Conflict occurs when a person must choose between incompatible, or
mutually exclusive goals or courses. Many of the things people desire prove to
be incompatible, hence cause stress.
Conflicts may also arise when
two inner needs or motives are in opposition. In our society, the conflicts
that are most pervasive and difficult to resolve generally occur between the
DEPENDENCE: Particularly when we are faced with a difficult situation, we may
want someone to take care of us and solve our problems. But we are taught that
we must stand on our own. At other times
we 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 thoughts
and emotions may conflict with the fear of being hurt or rejected if we expose
too much of ourselves.
COMPETITON: Our society emphasizes competition and success. Competition begins
in early childhood among siblings, continues through school, and culminates in
business and professional rivalry. At the same time, we are urged to cooperate
and to help others.
EXPRESSION OF IMPULSES VERSUS
MORAL SSTANDARDS: Impulses must be regulated to some degree in all societies.
Much of childhood learning involves internalizing cultural restrictions on
impulses. Sex and aggression are two areas in which our impulses frequently
come into conflict with moral standards and violation of these standards can
generate feelings of guilt.
These four areas present the
greatest potential for serious conflict. Trying to find a workable compromise
between opposing motives can create considerable stress.