Essay on Stress: It’s Meaning, Effects and Coping with Stress!
Stress is a very common problem being faced today. Every individual will experience stress in one or the other time.
The term stress has many definitions, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have defined stress as “an internal state which can be caused by physical demands of body or by environmental and social situations, which are evaluated as potentially harmful, uncontrollable, or exceeding our resources for coping”.
According to David Fontana “stress is a demand made upon the adaptive capacities of the mind and body”.
These definitions indicate that stress represents those conditions under which individuals have demand made upon them, that they cannot physically or psychologically meet, leading to breakdown at one or other of these levels.
Stress is usually thought of in negative terms. But ii can manifest itself in both positive and negative way. It is said to be positive when the situation offers an opportunity for one, to gain something.
Eustress (the Greek word ‘eu’ means good) is the term used to describe positive stress. It is often viewed as motivator, since in its absence the individual lacks the spirit necessary for peak performance. Distress is the term used to indicate negative stress.
Almost any change in the environment- even a pleasant change such as a joyful trip- demands some coping, and a little stress is useful in helping us to adapt. But beyond some point, stress becomes a ‘distress’.
What acts to produce distress varies from person to person, but some events seem to be stressors for every person.
Examples of stressors are:
1. Injury or infections of the body, dangers in environment, major changes or transitions in life which force us to cope in new ways.
2. Physical stressors like noise, pollutions, climatic changes, etc.
3. Hustles of everyday life centering on work, family, social activities, health and finances.
4. Frustrations and conflicts.
The physical, environmental and social causes of the stress state are termed stressors. Once induced by stressors the internal stress state can then lead to various responses. On the other hand, psychological responses such as anxiety, hopelessness, depression, irritability, and a general feeling of not being able to cope with the world, can result from the stress state.
Stress has a number of immediate effects. If the stressors are maintained, long-term behavioural, physiological, emotional and cognitive effects occur. If these effects hinder adaptation to the environment or create discomfort and distress, they themselves become stressors and, tend to perpetuate a ‘cycle’ of distress.
Example, a patient spends more money on treatment, may experience continued stress even after the cure of the disease, because repayment of debt cause stress for long time in him or a patient whose leg is amputated after accident may continue to worry about it.
On the other hand, many people have developed ways of coping with stressors, so that they are able to respond adaptively. This is the ‘wellness cycle’. Teaching people adaptive ways of handling stress, so as to promote the wellness cycle is an important part of the newly emerging field of behavioural medicine.
Effects of stress:
Stress is not always harmful. In fact, it is recognised that low levels of stress can even helps for better performance. For example, a student can prepare well for forthcoming examination only if he has some stress. However, excess level of stress is undoubtedly harmful.
The effects of stress are divided into three categories:
a. Physiological effects:
Commonly appearing stress related bodily disorders are-peptic ulcers, hypertension, chronic fatigue, hormonal changes, increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, numbness of limbs, heart disease and reduction in immunity, etc.
b. Psychological effects:
Anxiety, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, anger, nervousness, irritability, tension and boredom may be experienced.
c. Behavioural changes:
Decreasing efficiency, making mistakes, inability to take decisions, under eating or overeating, sleeplessness, increased smoking, develop addiction to alcohol and drugs, forgetfulness, hypersensitivity or passiveness, accident proneness and interpersonal difficulties are seen.
Stress is linked to disorders such as cancer and heart disorders. There are several mediating variables that determine whether stress becomes dangerous or not. For example, good coping mechanisms which can help to reduce stress, having good social support, often help in reducing stress.
Perception of stress or how a person views stress is also very important. For example, a person may not perceive a situation as stressful whereas the same situation may be perceived as highly stressful by some other person.
People with personality type ‘A’ are more prone to be affected by stress related disorders like cardiovascular diseases. Personality character like hardiness or emotional stability helps to withstand effects of stress.
Hans Selye, a renowned biological scientist defines stress as the nonspecific response of the body to any demand upon it. He termed the body’s response to stressors the “General Adaptation Syndrome” (GAS).
The GAS consists of 3 stages:
1. Alarm reaction:
It is an emergency response of the body. In this stage prompt responses of the body, many of them mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, prepare us to cope with the stressor here and now.
2. Stage of resistance:
If the stressor continues to be present, the stage of resistance begins, wherein the body resists the effects of the continuous stressor. During this stage certain hormonal responses of the body are an important line of defence in resisting the effects of stressors (For example, release of ACTH).
3. Stage of exhaustion:
In this stage, the body’s capacity to respond to both continuous and new stressors has been seriously compromised. The person will no longer be able to face stressor and he will finally succumb to it. The person may develop psychosomatic illness.
The stress leads to many psychosomatic diseases. Treatment for such diseases involves medical help for the physical problems and, at the same time, attention to the psychological factors producing the stress.
Coping with Stress:
There are different ways of coping with stress such as: confronting (facing), distancing (remoteness), self-control, seeking social support, accepting responsibility, escape or avoid (from the stressor), plan a problem solving strategy and positive reappraisal.
Usually two broad type of coping types are seen- Instrumental coping and Emotional coping.
In instrumental coping, a person focuses on the problem and tries to solve it. In emotional coping, the focus is more on the feelings generated by the problem.
Today, self- help remedies, Do to yourself approaches, weight loss clinics and diets, health foods and physical exercise are being given much attention in mass media. People are actually taking more responsibility to maintain good health.
However, some specific techniques to eliminate or to manage more effectively the inevitable, prolonged stress are as follows:
Good physical exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, riding bicycle, playing soft ball, tennis are necessary to cope with stress.
Whether a person simply takes it easy once in a while or uses specific relaxation techniques such as bio-feedback, or meditation, the intent is to eliminate the immediately stressful situation or manage a prolonged stressful situation more effectively.
Taking it easy may mean curling up with a good book on an easy chair or watching some light programme on television or listening to a light music. Meditation is scientifically proved to be very useful, both physically and mentally to cope with stress.
By deliberately managing the antecedents and the consequence of their own behaviour, people can achieve self-control. Besides managing their own behaviour to reduce stress, people can also become more aware of their limits and of ‘red flags’ that signal trouble ahead. They can avoid people or situations that they know will put them under stress.
Maladaptive strategies, rigid strategies or relying on one type of coping method lead to increase in the stress. Social support helps reduce the effect of stress. People may provide help, advice, material support or moral support that helps to reduce stress.
In addition to the above, psychotherapy (Beck’s cognitive therapy, Ellis’s rational emotive therapy and Meichenbaum’s stress- inoculation training), skill training, environmental changes, Bio-feedback (control of physical signs such as Blood pressure, headache, etc), family therapy, group therapy, hypnosis, yoga, are found to be very useful. Finally, uses of drugs are some of the other strategies adopted in coping with stress.