What is stress? Stress is the feeling of not being able to cope. It is the excessive pressure felt around the temple that develops into a seething headache, the increased heart rate, sweating and inability to relax or to stop thinking about a problem. In its most severe form, when the body and mind are under immense pressure, it can result in panic attacks, blackouts, even complete mental or physical shut down. We feel stress when under pressure at work, when relationships at home are unsettled, when something is challenging, threatening or just different, when we overexert or overtire ourselves, or when we are generally feeling uncomfortable. Stress is the demand made on our systems which is not met with effective ways of coping.
A little stress can be healthy, it can increase energy and mental functioning and attitude. But when we become over-stressed problems occur, psychologically and physically. With today’s demands on our time and abilities there is the potential for stress at every turn.
When experiencing stress, or the stressors that cause it, we can either choose to ignore it or adapt to it. Which we choose has as much to do with our basic personalities and inherited attitudes as it has our experiences of the past.
Some of the symptoms of stress include:
– Gastrointestinal problems
– Inability to focus / lack of concentration
– Sexual problems
– Sleep disturbances
– Hypertension (high blood pressure)
– Sweating palms / shaking hands
– Heart problems (tachycardia, palpitations)
– Behavioural irritability
– Disruptive eating patterns
– Increased smoking or alcohol consumption
– Harsh treatment of others
– Compulsive shopping
– Difficulty in communication.
Most people don’t plan how to respond to stress, their reactions just happen without thinking. A person’s reactions largely depend on the situation in handIt may be easier to deal with one stressful situation than with anotherPrioritising which situations you react to and which you don’t involves a number of psychological processesWhether conscious or subconscious, these include:
Assessing your priorities – knowing what is of primary importance and ordering your activities and expectations in light of the energy you are prepared to give to it accordingly.
Stress vulnerability – by envisioning the stressful condition and acting out the anticipated reaction to various stressors you become better prepared for the actual event.
Expectations – viewing the importance of a situation working out for you and the consequences of both positive and negative outcomes with a reality based view.
Stress Avoidance – by ensuring a healthy level of exercise, appropriate eating practices and relaxation techniques you lower your risk for becoming over stressed.
To prevent stress you need to pre-empt these areas and adopt a regime to recharge your emotions, accepting change as a part of life, developing a support system and believing in yourself.
Psychologists have long treated anxiety, phobias, and other psychological conditions characterised by autonomic responses such as sweaty hands, dry mouth, cold feet, tense muscles and accelerated heart beatPsychotherapy and psychology are now the new ‘drug free’ ways to solve problems of stress management, teaching people to reduce their anxiety, lower blood pressure, slow their heart rate, reduce muscular tensions and in other ways control the activity of the autonomic nervous system itself.
Today, stress control takes on a new role as studies indicate that disease processes such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases and other physical disorders may be manifestations of stress to the point of chronic sustained autonomic activity, i.e. being over-stressed.
It is no longer sufficient for health psychologists to simply educate patients about stress. It has become necessary to develop practical methods of controlling stress by using treatment that is psychologically designed to reduce it.