What is stress?
Dictionary meaning is ‘constraining force’. In psychology stress means a condition in which the state of stability or equilibrium is disturbed. There is eustress and distress. Distress is the most commonly referred to type of stress, having negative implications, whereas eustress is a positive, desirable form of stress. The individual’s experience of stress is called strain. There will be a feeling of tension, mental as well as physical. Stress is a protective mechanism of animals provided by nature. Stress prepares the animal for fight or flight in the presence of a danger.
Stress may be Psychological or Physical
When the task appears to be formidable the individual feels tension. This is psychological stress. There is individual variation in the perception of psychological stress. A task which appears to be formidable to one individual may not appear so to another. Physical stress is caused by pain, diseases and injuries.
Physiology of stress
Adrenal glands, situated on the top of both kidneys, produce three stress hormones, namely adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol. Adrenaline and noradrenalin prepare the body for fight or flight. Muscles become tense. Heart pumps more blood to periphery by increasing heart rate. Brain becomes alert. On the whole the body goes into a state of emergency by the action of these hormones. As soon as the emergency situation is over the adrenal glands produce cortisol to cool down the systems. If stress is continuous there will be sustained presence of cortisol. This reduces the general resistance of the body. It may trigger autoimmune processes resulting in autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
General Adaptation Syndrome
Body and mind get adapted to new situation of continuous stress. Stress hormones are produced incessantly and this causes a condition called general adaptation syndrome. There are three stages of the general adaptation syndrome.
1. Stage of alarm
At first the individual becomes aware of the stress situation with a startle. The body gets ready for fight or flight by producing stress hormones. Individual feels continuous tension and suffers sleeplessness or disturbed sleep with nightmares.
2. Stage of resistance
At this stage actual fight or flight occurs.
3. Stage of exhaustion
Individual gets exhausted out of fight or flight. At this state the third stress hormone cortisol is produced to cool down the systems.
What Are The Stressors?
Sensory Inputs: Bright light and high pitched sound are stressors. The modern man experiences stress due to sound and air pollutions.
Life Events: Life events are the most common stressors. Birth and death, marriage and divorce, menarche and menopause and the corresponding climacterics in males are all stressors. Climacteric is a major turning point or critical biological stage.
Responsibilities: Responsibilities become stressors when there are obstacles such as shortage of funds.
Education: Examinations, academic backwardness and learning disabilities. Career: Promotion, increased workload etc.
Family – lack of adjustment. Male chauvinism and hegemony lead to conflicts in family which cause stress in all members of the family.
Workplace and Society at Large – cheating and insincerity, discrimination and marginalization, intolerance, hostility and aggression cause stress.
Life Style: Extravagance, Alcohol abuse and smoking, late home coming and sleep deprivation.
Early Life Experiences: Child abuses. 1. Physical abuse 2. Sexual abuse 3. Emotional abuse 4.Neglect
Ecological Changes: Frequent climate changes cause stress.
Social Problems: Social unrest and communal clashes
Can We Avoid Stressors?
Yes, we can avoid some stressors like extravagance. Do not accept suggestions from the advertisements. One cannot avoid life events. The stress generated by life events has to be managed.
In daily life an individual moves ahead by overcoming the stressors. This process is called stress management. For example at the time of examination all students feel tension because of the stress of examination. The student tries to overcome stress of examination by allotting more time to revise the lessons. If the preparation is not satisfactory he rationalizes failure or decides no to appear this time. A promoted employee learns new job and prepares for it. If the individual feels that she/he cannot manage the stress, she/he succumbs to mental and physical ailments. If it seems formidable and one feels that she/he cannot move further…. One may think of ending life….
Unmanaged stress affects individual physically and mentally.
1. Feelings: Feels anxious, irritable and moody (depressed).
2. Thoughts: Thoughts of low esteem, failure, bleak future haunts the individual.
3. Faculties: Inability to concentrate. Preoccupation with tasks. Forgetfulness.
4. Behaviours: Acts impulsively, startled easily, clenches fist and teeth, laughs abnormally loud, smokes heavily, abuse of alcohol and drugs. There may be loss of appetite or gluttony.
5. Physical symptoms: Fine tremor, palpitation, dryness of mouth, stuttering and stammering, sweating of palms, frequent micturition, irritable bowels, premenstrual tension and back ache are the physical symptoms associated with unmanaged stress.
Are You Under Stress?
Ask the following questions to yourself.
Do you feel always anxious?
Is decision making delayed?
Can you not take decisions?
Do you feel tense?
Do you feel that you should go away?
Are you always tired throughout the day?
Do you experience sleeplessness?
Are you restless whenever you think of any change?
If answers for at least 4 questions are ‘yes’ you are under stress. What is to be done? See the next post.