Everyday life causes varying degrees of stress which can result in
mild tension or sometimes mental and physical breakdown, so we must take
positive steps to keep pressures to a minimum.
Conflict and stress between ourselves and both our environment and our
fellow men are an inescapable fact of life and one that we learn to live
with. Some forms of stress can be beneficial and some can be
destructive. Stress becomes a problem, however, when we lose the ability
to cope and find ourselves, as a result, suffering from varying degrees
of mental or physical breakdown.
The way stress affects us depends on many factors such as the intensity
of the stress to which we are subjected as against our ability to
contain and adapt to it. And this, in turn, depends on the type of
person one is -- as a result of the character traits inherited at birth,
the experience of one's formative years and the effects of subsequent
successes and failures in coping with life's many ups and downs.
While almost everyone would find losing a job distressing, some people
may suffer from such loss of self-esteem that they find themselves
unable even to look for another job for fear of failure; others, after
getting over the initial blow, will take positive action by either
looking for a similar job, reckoning that their experience is an asset,
or by changing direction, citing their enthusiasm and willingness to
learn as a plus.
SURVIVAL - FIGHT OR FLIGHT?
Interestingly, all human beings share the same reactions to at least one
form of stress -- and that is when our very survival is threatened by,
for instance, an unexpected physical attack.
Fear and panic, forms of sudden intense stress, provoke a chemical and
physical response in the body. Large amounts of the hormone adrenalin
are released directly into the bloodstream and this has the immediate
effect of preparing the body for either 'fight or flight'. The result is
that the person can show unusual 'strength' in fighting off an attacker
or uncharacteristic 'speed' in running away from danger.
WHAT CAUSES STRESS ?
A variety of external events, often beyond one's control, will
invariably cause stress. Most forms of loss are a good example. The
death of a loved one, a job loss and the inability to pursue a hobby or
sport though illness or altered financial circumstances are obvious
Conflicts and arguments both at home and at work are also
stress-inducing, the more so if they are prolonged and unresolved.
On-going and often heated, angry disagreements between parents and
teenage children can be particularly damaging -- especially because both
sides feel strongly that they are in the right. Even activities which
should be pleasurable, such as family holidays, can be a source of
conflict because family members spend much longer than usual in each
other's company, and all may have different expectations of what the
Uncertainty also causes stress and tension. This can occur in the
workplace when people are unclear about what targets they should be
meeting, or when hard work or good ideas go unacknowledged. One of the
most poignant examples of this uncertainty at home is when children are
waiting exam results.
SIGNS OF STRESS
Stress first shows itself in minor physical problems such as recurring
headaches, some indigestion or occasional bowel irregularity and often
restless nights due to 'anxiety' dreams. Women particularly are
sometimes affected by skin problems such as eczema which disappears when
the stress is relieved.
More severe symptoms are obvious in cases of acute stress such as when a
person loses a loved one either because of separation or death. Loss of
appetite and sleeplessness, as well as sudden bouts of weeping and
inability to concentrate, affect the person's everyday life. In such
cases, medical help is usually necessary, if only temporarily, to help
the person through the period of readjustment.
There are a variety of physical illnesses which are undoubtedly related
to stress endured over a fairly long period. Digestive disorders such as
irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion can be stress-related. There is
also good evidence that stress can contribute to stomach or duodenal
ulcers and to high blood pressure which, of course, can lead to heart
attacks and even strokes.
In addition, recent medical research seems to suggest that stress causes
a partial breakdown of the immune system (which normally fights off
infections and keeps abnormal cells in the body under control) so that
people under stress are more likely than others to suffer from viral
infections and may take longer to recover.
There is also evidence that links certain cancers -- for instance,
breast cancer -- with stress. It is possible that the immune system may
be sufficiently damaged by stress to allow cancerous cells to
COPING WITH STRESS
Since stress is unavoidable, what is the best way to cope with it ? Some
stress is relatively short-lived and some is long term, yet in both
instances it is necessary to identify the source of stress and take
positive action to reduce it.
In some instances, this may mean confronting people and expressing
anger, frustration and other pent-up feelings even if it means losing
one's temper. This is particularly so in relationships where much more
is usually gained by clearing the air than is ever lost by the outburst.
In fact, if you are able to express your feelings clearly to others,
then it is more likely that they will take your views into account.
EASING THE BURDEN
When stress is unavoidable and long term, such as that induced by the
chronic or serious illness of a loved one, it is necessary to ease the
burden as much as possible. Seek outside help to deal with some of the
everyday problems of caring for an invalid. While giving all the
emotional support that you can, leave yourself time to relax and to
pursue and activity which not only takes your mind off things but
actually gives you pleasure. Far from being selfish, such actions will
make you better able to cope with the ongoing situation in a positive
and cheerful way which, in turn, will have beneficial effects on the
EVERYDAY STRESS RELIEF
You are better able to deal with stressful events in everyday life if
you eat healthily, take exercise and get plenty of sleep. You should
also avoid too much alcohol, which is a depressant, and too much
caffeine and nicotine, both of which are stimulants. Try to allow some
time each day for rest or relaxation. Some people find yoga or some form
of meditation helpful but, if you enjoy them, a little gardening, a
quiet walk or even watching a favorite television program undisturbed
can be just as beneficial.