What is stress?
Hans Selye, the renowned expert on this subject and considered the “father” of Stress, defines it as the “wear and tear of living.” The pressure we all face in our
everyday life is stress. There are three sources of stress, called stressors. They are Physical: illness, medications, pollution, environment; Social: loss of a loved one, marital strife, financial problem, etc.; and, Psychological: anxiety, inferiority complex, depression, etc. No one alive is exempt from stress. The only major difference is how one person deals with stress compared to another.
Is stress good or bad?
This depends on the individual. Some people are motivated by stress and perform their best under
pressure. Others buckle down and become useless when confronted with stress. Stress is a normal component of life and all of us should know how to deal with it and manage it properly for a happier and healthier lifestyle. If positively handled, stress could even make us stronger, more efficient and more effective.
Can we have a stress-free environment?
As we have alluded to earlier, no one who lives is free from stress. It is unrealistic to think or dream of a stress-free environment. What is really important is learning how to deal and cope with the stress that we encounter day in and day out.
What causes stress?
As organisms, humans have instincts for comfort, happiness, defense and survival. Stress results when we encounter any situation that will require the achievement or realization of any of those four instincts mentioned above. In an emergency situation, this instinct could be the “fight-or-flight response,” such as defending yourself in a fight, or getting away from a falling object, or running away from a dangerous animal or a speeding car.
How much stress can one take?
This is varies a lot, depending on the individuals involved. Some persons are tougher than others when it comes to handling pressure and stress. There is no computer or gadget that will tell a person how much stress he/she can take before it becomes unbearable. But if it gets too much for that person, it could cause physical symptoms, like a disease. Tolerance to stress is indeed personality-dependent.
What are the signs of stress?
There are many, non-specific, and very common symptoms: tension in shoulders and neck, fist-clenching, headaches, insomnia, stiff neck, back pains, anxiety, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, stomach upset, weight gain or loss, problems with relationships, depression, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, apathy, chest pains, or even heart attack/stroke.
What changes in life are stressful?
Any major change in life can give stress, like an illness, demotion, loss of work, retirement, pregnancy, death in the family, money problems, etc. Even positive things in life can cause certain stress, like a birthday, an anniversary, job promotion, a new baby, winning the lottery, etc. How different situations or events in life are perceived by, and impact, a person totally depends on what type of an individual he/she is. We all know, or heard of, people who can handle stress very well, no matter how traumatic it may be, and also of persons who succumb to minimal pressure all too soon.
How can stress hurt us?
If we do not know how to handle stress that confronts us everyday, then we will be out of control, and stress will overtake and conquer us and our being. If we allow stress to dominate our life, and not fight it and deal with it properly, we will live a very unhappy and unhealthy life.
What is the best strategy to deal with stress?
1. Accept stress as a normal part of our life. Since we cannot eliminate stress, we must learn to accept the reality that stress is here to stay. This will eliminate the useless anger and the frustration of our failure to find and live a stress-free life. Life itself is a challenge and that in itself is stress. So, acceptance is most fundamental. We must also learn to recognize when we are under stress.
2. Set realistic goals and expectations in every aspect of our life.
3. Do not worry about situations beyond our control, like the weather, etc.
4. Learn how to say “NO” and not take on too much commitment and try to do more than what we can do.
5. Approach problems wisely and calmly, and not transform them into a more stressful dilemma. Example: If someone drops a glass of water on the floor, instead of getting very upset about it (which will not “undo” what had happened), the better reaction is to clean up the broken pieces of glass and mop the floor, to prevent a more stressful dilemma, like someone stepping on the broken glasses, or someone slipping and breaking a hip or a leg, etc. The glass is broken and no amount of anger will put it back together as good as new.
6. Be philosophical. Many times, rationalization helps us deal with stress. When exercised appropriately, this defense mechanism in us could see us through many tough events in our life. If recklessly and unwisely done, rationalization can boomerang and lead to more stressful aftermaths. When changes occur in our life, let us consider them a positive challenge for us and not a threat.
7. Learn how to relax often with family and friends, by properly taking breaks and rests at work or in school, mini-vacations on weekends and off days, by taking full vacations at least twice a year. Unwinding and “just doing nothing at home” can go far in maintaining a good mental health. Group sports and social events will help a lot in alleviating stress.
8. Do daily physical exercises (walking, jogging, ballroom dancing, tai chi, tai bo, swimming, tennis, etc.) and meditation. They are essential in helping the body deal and cope with our daily stress by relieving pent-up energy and tension.
9. Have good nutrition (high fiber, low-salt, low-fat/low-cholesterol diet, consisting of fish, vegetables and fruits, and abstinence from red meat and eggs, supplemented with multi-vitamins and minerals), which also helps us cope with stress more effectively.
10. Talk to your family and friends about your stress to vent your frustrations and problems.
11. And, never underestimate the power of prayers for inner peace and spiritual serenity.
12. If you feel stress is becoming unbearable, in spite of the strategy outlined above, seek immediate medical consultation.