The word 'stress' is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy". A condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physiological and psychological functioning of an individual. In medical parlance 'stress' is defined as a perturbation of the body's homeostasis. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life. A 'stress' condition seems 'relative' in nature. Extreme stress conditions, psychologists say, are detrimental to human health but in moderation stress is normal and, in many cases, proves useful. Stress, nonetheless, is synonymous with negative conditions. Today, with the rapid diversification of human activity, we come face to face with numerous causes of stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
"Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."
Dynamics of Stress
In a challenging situation the brain prepares the body for defensive action—the fight or flight response by releasing stress hormones, namely, cortisone and adrenaline. These hormones raise the blood pressure and the body prepares to react to the situation. With a concrete defensive action (fight response) the stress hormones in the blood get used up, entailing reduced stress effects and symptoms of anxiety.
When we fail to counter a stress situation (flight response) the hormones and chemicals remain unreleased in the blood stream for a long period of time. It results in stress related physical symptoms such as tense muscles, unfocused anxiety, dizziness and rapid heartbeats. We all encounter various stressors (causes of stress) in everyday life, which can accumulate, if not released. Subsequently, it compels the mind and body to be in an almost constant alarm-state in preparation to fight or flee. This state of accumulated stress can increase the risk of both acute and chronic psychosomatic illnesses and weaken the immune system.
Stress can cause headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorder, allergies, insomnia, backaches, frequent cold and fatigue to diseases such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer. In fact, Sanjay Chugh, a leading Indian psychologist, says that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of adults visit primary care physicians for stress-related problems. Scary enough. But where do we err?
Just about everybody—men, women, children and even fetuses—suffer from stress. Relationship demands, chronic health problems, pressure at workplaces, traffic snarls, meeting deadlines, growing-up tensions or a sudden bearish trend in the bourse can trigger stress conditions. People react to it in their own ways. In some people, stress-induced adverse feelings and anxieties tend to persist and intensify. Learning to understand and manage stress can prevent the counter effects of stress.
Methods of coping with stress are aplenty. The most significant or sensible way out is a change in lifestyle. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, physical exercises, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, various natural and alternative methods, personal growth techniques, visualization and massage are some of the most effective of the known non-invasive stress busters.
Listing the causes of stress is tricky. There can be innumerable stress factors since different individuals react differently to the same stress conditions. Extreme stress situations for an individual may prove to be mild for another, for yet another person the situations might not qualify as stress symptoms at all. Stress is often termed as a twentieth century syndrome, born out of man's race towards modern progress and its ensuing complexities. For that matter, causes such as a simple flight delay to managing a teenage child at home can put you under stress.
A stress condition can be real or perceived. Yet, our brain reacts the same way to both causes of stress by releasing stress hormones equal to the degree of stress felt. The brain doesn't differentiate between real and imagined stress. It could happen while watching a horror movie or when one is apprehensive of some imminent danger.
Watch your Attitude
It is said that life acts and you react. Our attitude is our reaction to what life hands out to us. A significant amount of stress symptoms can be avoided or aroused by the way we relate to stressors. Stress is created by what we think rather than by what has actually happened. For instance, handling adopted children, adolescents, academic failures, retirements, tax audits or sudden loss of money needs a relaxed attitude, focused will and preparedness to face the quirks of life positively. Otherwise one tends to feel stressed and reacts in anger and frustration. With a better control of attention one can feel that the world is a more congenial place to live in.
Again, in case of a marital conflict, instead of adopting an accusing and frustrating attitude such as—"You made my life hell" or "You are not meeting my emotional needs," the American clinical psychotherapist Willard F. Harley suggests that accepting—" Yes, we have a problem", helps clear the clouds. Failure in adopting a realistic attitude to events creates symptoms of depression and aggravates stress situations.
"Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. I am convinced that life is 10 per cent what happens to me and 90 per cent how I react to it. And so it is with you…" says Charles Swindoll, author and public speaker.
A right attitude can make a resilient person out of us in the face of stressful situations.
Major life events such as a divorce, death, midlife crisis, financial worries, persistent strain of caring for a chronically sick child, nagging health problems or managing a physically or mentally challenged family member can act as potential stressors. Even conditions such as prolonged unemployment or a sudden lay-off from a job can leave you under tremendous stress. One just can't wish away situation. Moreover one has to live through these situations, in the right spirit, to make living a worthwhile experience.
Stress also comes from our personal and social contexts and from our psychological and emotional reactions to such conditioning. Here, our mental and emotional disposition, built over the years, decides whether to accept these situations with a fighting or fleeing spirit. Accordingly, we may either be under harmful influences of stressors or be out of it.
Children and women subjected to mental or physical abuses are known to suffer from tremendous stress symptoms of depression, constant anxiety and burnout.
Though anger, fear and other negative emotional reactions are natural and necessary we need to channel them constructively to create a balanced state in our body and mind.
Stress at work is a relatively new phenomenon of modern lifestyles. The nature of work has gone through drastic changes over the last century and it is still changing at whirlwind speed. They have touched almost all professions, starting from an artist to a surgeon, or a commercial pilot to a sales executive. With change comes stress, inevitably. Professional stress or job stress poses a threat to physical health. Work related stress in the life of organized workers, consequently, affects the health of organizations.
Job stress is a chronic disease caused by conditions in the workplace that negatively affect an individual's performance and/or overall well-being of his body and mind. One or more of a host of physical and mental illnesses manifests job stress. In some cases, job stress can be disabling. In chronic cases a psychiatric consultation is usually required to validate the reason and degree of work related stress.
Working on a project on stress at work, Andy Ellis, Ruskin College, Oxford, UK, has shown in a chart how stress can adversely affect an employee's performance. In the early stages job stress can 'rev up' the body and enhance performance in the workplace, thus the term 'I perform better under pressure'. However, if this condition is allowed to go unchecked and the body is revved up further, the performance ultimately declines and the person's health degenerates.
Causes of Work Stress
Job stress may be caused by a complex set of reasons. Some of the most visible causes of workplace stress are:
Organized workplaces are going through metamorphic changes under intense economic transformations and consequent pressures. Reorganizations, takeovers, mergers, downsizing and other changes have become major stressors for employees, as companies try to live up to the competition to survive. These reformations have put demand on everyone, from a CEO to a mere executive.
High Demand for Performance
Unrealistic expectations, especially in the time of corporate reorganizations, which, sometimes, puts unhealthy and unreasonable pressures on the employee, can be a tremendous source of stress and suffering. Increased workload, extremely long work hours and intense pressure to perform at peak levels all the time for the same pay, can actually leave an employees physically and emotionally drained. Excessive travel and too much time away from family also contribute to an employee's stressors.
The expansion of technology—computers, pagers, cell phones, fax machines and the Internet—has resulted in heightened expectations for productivity, speed and efficiency, increasing pressure on the individual worker to constantly operate at peak performance levels. Workers working with heavy machinery are under constant stress to remain alert. In this case both the worker and their family members live under constant mental stress. There is also the constant pressure to keep up with technological breakthroughs and improvisations, forcing employees to learn new software all the times.
Adjusting to the workplace culture, whether in a new company or not, can be intensely stressful. Making oneself adapt to the various aspects of workplace culture such as communication patterns, hierarchy, dress code if any, workspace and most importantly working and behavioral patterns of the boss as well as the co-workers, can be a lesson of life. Maladjustment to workplace cultures may lead to subtle conflicts with colleagues or even with superiors. In many cases office politics or gossips can be major stress inducers.
Personal or Family Problems
Employees going through personal or family problems tend to carry their worries and anxieties to the workplace. When one is in a depressed mood, his unfocused attention or lack of motivation affects his ability to carry out job responsibilities.
Job Stress and Women
Women may suffer from mental and physical harassment at workplaces, apart from the common job stress. Sexual harassment in workplace has been a major source of worry for women, since long. Women may suffer from tremendous stress such as 'hostile work environment harassment', which is defined in legal terms as 'offensive or intimidating behavior in the workplace'. This can consist of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. These can be a constant source of tension for women in job sectors. Also, subtle discriminations at workplaces, family pressure and societal demands add to these stress factors.
According to Ron Huxley, LMFT: "Nothing describes parenting better than stress!" Stress is defined as any physical or emotional demand that you feel unable to handle. These demands encompass all of the little hassles you experience every day, from the moment you try to get children up for school to the moment you finally get them to bed at night. Even though these daily hassles are often considered trivial, over time, these hassles add up, building in pressure, until you are ready to burst out with anger and frustration.
Whether you stay at home or work, single or married, mother or father, parent of one child or several children—remaining cool, calm and full of energy can be difficult. Some of the common parental stressors are:
• Aggressive children
• Children under performing in school
• Handling stepchildren
• Hyperactive children
• Caring for a physically or mentally challenged child
• Nursing chronically ill child
• Parenting adolescents or teenagers
Parenting can be a pleasurable experience despite its inherent anxieties, worries, frustrations and physical stress. Here is how:
• Accept the fact that stress can't be avoided
• Seek support from near and dear ones or experts
• Plan the day's work
• Communicate more freely with children
• Encourage children to forget failure and help them to strive for better performances
Perhaps it is time to put emphasis on the 'life after birth'. And make it as enjoyable and stress free as it can be. Streamlining one's living pattern and priorities of life is perhaps the most significant step that one can take in order to sidestep stress and its effects.
The first thing is to set one's body clock right to get around crippling stress-effects such as sleep disorders, bowel disorders, nerve perturbation and hormonal dysfunction.
To minimize the effect of stress one has to help oneself to a good sleep. The human body is designed for sleep to come effortlessly. When sleep comes with an effort it is obvious that we're holding on to the day's stresses and reaching out for tomorrow's as well.
Apart from adjusting one's lifestyle to one's body clock, effectively managing time is also an invaluable skill in coping with stress. Knowing when to take the load and when to offload, often goes a long way to maintaining a healthy and balanced existence.
How to Get a goodnight Sleep
— It is imperative to create a tranquil and inviting environs in and around the resting-place to slip into a restful sleep.
— One must make it a point to end the day with a pleasant or relaxing schedule: listening to choice music, reading a light and leisurely book, doing some simple, relaxing exercises, playing with children or watching a fun-filled tele-show.
— It is significant to keep a watch on what you take at dinner, as most of our mind-body anomalies spring from indigestion of food at physical level or indigestion of emotions (irritation, uneasiness et al) at mental level. A rich and heavy dinner close to bedtime can intervene with your sleeping patterns, make you sluggish in the morning and can disrupt your normal diet routine.
—Taking an expert's help for natural product based aromatherapy and Flower Essence therapy can be a useful option against insomnia.
Approximately 20 million prescriptions are written each year for sleeping aids (Archives of Internal Medicine), a number that is dwarfed by the quantity of over-the-counter sedatives sold annually. Though these medications relieve short-term insomnia, medically it is held that these are not helpful in resolving chronic sleep problems. Non-toxic sedatives available over the counter in holistic medicine shops have been proved to be better options for sleep disorders.
A change in attitude such as simple modifications of habits, thought, and behavior patterns often go a long way in reducing stress and tension. Practicing to let go or making a conscious choice not to become angry or upset over trivial matters saves a lot of mental and physical energy. Trying to develop the habit of adopting a humorous view towards life's situations, can take the edge off everyday stressors
Adopting a humorous view towards life's situations can take the edge off everyday stressors. Not being too serious or in a constant alert mode helps maintain the equanimity of mind and promote clear thinking. Being able to laugh stress away is the smartest way to ward off its effects.
A sense of humor also allows us to perceive and appreciate the incongruities of life and provides moments of delight. The emotions we experience directly affect our immune system. The positive emotions can create neurochemical changes that buffer the immunosuppressive effects of stress.
During stress, the adrenal gland releases corticosteroids, which are converted to cortisol in the blood stream. These have an immunosuppressive effect. Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan at Loma Linda University School of Medicine have produced carefully controlled studies showing that the experience of laughter lowers serum cortisol levels, increases the amount and activity of T lymphocytes—the natural killer cells. Laughter also increases the number of T cells that have suppresser receptors.
What Laughter Can Do Against Stress And Its Effects:
• Laughter lowers blood pressure and reduces hypertension.
• It provides good cardiac conditioning especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercise.
• Reduces stress hormones (studies shows, laughter induces reduction of at least four of neuroendocrine hormones—epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone, associated with stress response).
• Laughter cleanses the lungs and body tissues of accumulated stale air as it empties more air than it takes in. It is beneficial for patients suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments.
• It increases muscle flexion, relaxation and fluent blood circulation in body.
• Boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and disease-destroying antibodies called B-cells.
• Laughter triggers the release of endorphins—body's natural painkillers.
Stressed out individuals carry a great deal of physical tension in their bodies. In these cases the natural unblocking effected by yoga postures are helpful. When one rests between postures, abdominal tension is released from the body promoting deep breathing. The benefits of yoga postures (asana), breathing (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) include increased body awareness, release of muscular tension and increased coordination between mind-and body. It helps in better management of stress and ensures an overall feeling of well being. Some custom made yogic techniques include Sudarshan Kriya by Sri Sri Ravishankar, Sahaja Samadhi by Ma Anandmayee and Kriya Yoga by Paramashansa Yogananda—are three widely practiced techniques of yoga devised by three epoch making spiritual gurus.
The ancient therapeutic traditions as well as modern medical research speaks about the intimate relationship between our breathing patterns and our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. They have shown how natural healthy respiration not only increases longevity and supports our overall well-being and self-development, but also helps in medical conditions such as asthma, poor digestion, insomnia, low energy, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks, heart ailments, and many other problems.
How Stress Affects Our Natural Breathing Pattern
With each inhalation, oxygen (pure air) enters into our body and triggers off the transformation of nutrients into fuel. With each exhalation carbon dioxide (toxic air) is eliminated from our body. Presence of oxygen purifies the blood streams and helps invigorate each cell. Sufficient amount of oxygen is required to maintain the vitality of our body organs.
In normal conditions the body follows a natural breathing pattern that is slow and regulated. Under stress when the body shows symptoms such as tightening of muscles, distractions, anxiety, hyperactivity and angry reactions et al, breathing becomes quick and shallow. One tends to hold one's breath, frequently. With restricted breathing inflow of oxygen is restricted. Lungs are unable to exhale the stale airs and residual toxins build up inside the body. Under stress the stiff muscles restrict the circulation of blood. So, even less oxygen comes in and fewer toxins are removed. It affects the healthy regeneration of cells. Medical studies show that the oxygen-starved cells are the major contributing factors in cancer, immunity deficiency, heart disease and strokes. Breathing also affects our state of mind and consequently makes our thinking either confused or clear.
When breathing is slow, deep and full, the lungs work more, the diaphragm moves well, the intercostals, back and abdominal muscle work, drawing in extra oxygen to the blood stream. Increased oxygenation purifies blood and stimulates healthy functioning of cells, glands and muscles.
Hence, a regulated and mindful breathing pattern has been held vital to maintaining the highest level of physical health by yoga. Another positive result of conscious breathing is its calming effect on the emotions, reducing fear and anxiety in the nervous system. Regulated and mindful breathing, dynamic movement of the head, shoulders and arms during the practice of breathing and meditation promote concentration and relaxation.
Benjamin Franklin once said: "The sting of any criticism comes from the truth it contains." It may, however, be difficult for us to take in these truths because of the manner in which they are usually communicated. These are great sources of stress for us in every field of life, such as work place, schools, social gathering and in our own home. But, knowing how to deal with accusations or criticisms may save you from a lot of stress and mental agony.
1. Don't be shocked or offended when someone decides to criticize you. While it may feel like they are trying to hurt you, they may actually be speaking with good intentions.
2. Don't take criticism personally. When someone criticizes you or is angry with you, try to focus on what you did or didn't do and ignore any generalizations or personality attacks that also come along. People can sometimes be vicious and insensitive when they are angry. If you put their viciousness aside, you can still benefit greatly from the feedback they are providing you.
3. If you don't understand the legitimacy of the other person's anger or criticism, ask them to help you better understand their point of view. As long as you are interested in what you can learn from other people's negative comments (instead of arguing against them), they will usually be willing to explain things in greater detail.
Some Do’s and Don’t’s.
1. Never take important decisions while under stress.
2. Learning to create or be part of interactive groups/communities helps in weaning away an individual from stress and its effects. Sharing of personal views, experiences, even getting consultation and involving in meaningful activities play an important role in lessening or managing stress.
3. Planning ahead is the secret of sound financial management without which one can invite a lot of stress . Allocate your income across the categories you need to fund each month. These might include mortgage, clothing, food, holiday, medical,children's education, traveling expenses and so on. Assign a part of your income to each of these categories, regularly.
4. You spend a lot of your life on the road. Do whatever it takes to make the journey a pleasant one. The following attitudes may help make your life on-road safe and enjoyable:
a. Give other motorists the benefit of doubt. The slow driver in front of you could be sick or aged.
b. Travel with someone whose company you enjoy.
c. Listen to a humorous tape or radio station.
d. Listen to music that you really enjoy.
e. Try to figure out what the crazy drivers you encounter are going to do with the extra few minutes that they gain on the journey.
The moral remains that we can work a stress condition to our advantage or protect ourselves from its untoward follow-throughs subject to how we handle a stress situation. The choice is between becoming a slave to the stressful situations of life or using them to our advantage.
Stress can also be on account of being in the wrong job. I had written an article for Life posisitive on this in November'2001. It is called "Don't settle for less than a calling"- http://www.lifepositive.com/Mind/wor...tisfaction.asp
Much as I appreciate your efforts, Peer, reading such a huge article with all the wonderful links may prove stressful. I shall get back after reading through it during the week.
From India, New Delhi