Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize. People feel little stress when they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation. They feel great stress when they think they can’t handle the demands put upon them.
Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment. It has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we readjust our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.
As we have seen, positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us. Insufficient stress acts as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or dejected; on the other hand, excessive stress may leave us feeling “tied up in knots”. What we need to do is find the optimal level of stress that will individually motivate but not overwhelm each of us.
There is no single level of stress that is optimal for all people. We are all individual creatures with unique requirements. As such, what is distressing to one may be a joy to another. And even when we agree that a particular event is distressing, we are likely to differ in our physiological and psychological responses to it.
The person who loves to arbitrate disputes and move from job site to job site would be stressed in a job which was stable and routine, whereas the person who thrives under stable conditions would very likely be stressed in a job where duties were highly varied. Also, our personal stress requirements and the amount which we can tolerate before we become distressed changes with our life-styles and our ages.
It has been found that most illness is related to unrelieved stress. If you are experiencing stress symptoms, you have gone beyond your optimal stress level; you need to reduce the stress in your life and/or improve your ability to manage it.
Finding the cause of the anxiety is the first step in resolving a problem with stress. Stress management refers to the effort to control and reduce the tension that occurs with a situation that is considered difficult or unmanageable. Identifying unrelieved stress and being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management. However, all require effort toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
There are three major approaches that we can use to manage stress:
• Action-oriented: In which we seek to confront the problem causing the stress, changing the environment or the situation.
• Emotionally-oriented: In which we do not have the power to change the situation, but we can manage stress by changing our interpretation of the situation and the way we feel about it; and
• Acceptance-oriented: Where something has happened over which we have no power and no emotional control, and where our focus is on surviving the stress.
Stress management involves the effort of a person in making emotional and physical changes. The degree of stress and the desire to make the changes will determine the level of change that will take place.
The attitude of an individual can influence whether a situation or emotion is stressful or not. A person with a negative attitude will often perceive many situations as being stressful. Negative attitude is the predictor of stress, because this type of person is more affected by stress than a person with a more positive attitude.
If the nutritional status of the person is poor, the body is stressed and the person is not able to cope well in a stressful situation. As a result, the person can be more susceptible to infections. A poor nutritional state can be related to unhealthy food choices, inadequate food intake, or an erratic eating schedule. A nutritionally unbalanced eating pattern can result in an inadequate intake of nutrients.
Inadequate physical activity can result in a stressful state for body. Physical activity has both physiological and psychological benefits. A consistent programme of physical activity can contribute to a decrease in depression, if it exists. It also improves the feeling of well-being.
A minimal or total lack of mutually supportive friendships/relationships due to family problems or other social problems in general can cause stress. Social situations can be beyond the coping ability of a stressed person.
When a person has no hobbies or means of relaxation, he may be unable to handle stressful situations because the individual has no outlet for stress.
Warnings & Consequences of Physical Signs of Excess Stress:
Physical warning Physical consequences
Warning and consequences of Mental signs of Excess Stress
Mental warning Mental consequences
Lack of concentration
Loss of memory
Quick to cry
Quick to anger
Excessive worry Loss of self-confidence
Total mental breakdown
Stress by itself can’t hurt anyone. Its how we respond to stress that counts.
Stress is a result of your mental attitude and can pump hormones in your body, which can be profoundly harmful. Yet positive attitude, feelings, and expectations can negate its effects. While stress can destroy! Positive attitude can heal!
1. Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions
• Notice your distress. Don’t ignore it. Don’t gloss over your problems.
• Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
• Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
2. Recognise what you can change
• Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
• Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis)?
• Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the physical premises)?
• Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
3. Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress
• The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger, whether from a physical or emotional threat. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and viewing a difficult situation as a disaster?
• Are you expecting to please everyone?
• Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
• Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
• Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labour on the negative aspects and the “what if’s”.
4. Learn to notice and moderate your physical reactions to stress
• Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
• Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. There are many relaxation techniques viz. Meditation, Trans Meditation, Yoga Nidra, Self Hypnosis. It can help you gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure.
• Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, they alone are not the answer. Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
5. Build your physical reserves
• Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging).
• Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
• Maintain your ideal weight.
• Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants.
• Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
• Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
6. Maintain your emotional reserves
• Look at things more positively, Refocus the negative to be positive, make an effort to stop negative thoughts
• Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships.
• Pursue realistic goals, which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share.
• Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows.
• Always be kind and gentle with yourself – be a friend to yourself.
How can Your Mind Produce Physical Symptoms ?
It is worth spending a little time understanding the way your body works. It is much easier to deal with your problems if you understand exactly what is going on.
We know that nerves transmit and receive messages. Our nervous system controls the functions of our entire body.
Take the simple example of standing. Your muscles have a certain tension in them. If that tension was not there, you would collapse in a heap like a puppet with its strings cut. Messages go from the muscles to indicate the weight which the individual muscles are bearing and messages go back to the muscles to maintain or alter the tension necessary to bear that weight. There is a constant interchange of messages like this that we are not aware of. The system is automatic. If it goes out of balance you could get too much tension. Eventually you would become aware of it. It would be uncomfortable. It could cause pain or a tremor.
Similarly there are many other functions of the nervous system of which we are not aware of. What makes our pupils dilate or contract? What regulates the heart ? What closes off the blood vessels of our skin when we are cold? What makes the muscles of the bowel work more quickly to give as diarrhea ?
All of these functions are controlled by the automatic part of the nervous system. It is aptly called the autonomic nervous system and without which we could do nothing. Normally, it behaves very well and we are not aware of its actions. In times of stress we become all too aware of its workings, and people with anxiety states may be aware of its actions all the time.
The autonomic nervous system doesn’t only work through the nerves in the body. It can work by causing special glands to secrete chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals have actions which are similar to those produced by nervous impulses, except that their effects are felt over the entire body and not in one isolated part.
The most important of these chemicals is adrenalin. It is the body’s immediate answer to stress. It prepares the whole body for action. In the right situation, its release is vital. If it is released in the wrong or inappropriate situation, it can have uncomfortable effects.
Here are some of the actions of adrenalin on different organs. You may be only too familiar with some of them.
Heart: Adrenalin makes the heart beat faster and more strongly
Blood vessels: Arteries have muscles in their walls. This control the amount of blood flowing through them. Adrenalin makes the arteries in the skin contract, directing the blood to other more important places, such as muscles.
Eyes: The muscles in the eye relax and the pupils dilate to facilitate ‘far’ vision.
Muscles: Adrenalin makes all the big muscles in the body become tense.
The digestive system: The bowel is lined by a muscle coat. The muscles in this lining contract in sequence, pushing the contents of the gut through. Adrenalin makes these muscles contract more quickly, speeding up the transport of the bowel contents and in this way ca using diarrhea.
The lungs: The bronchioles, those tubes which carry air into the lungs, have a muscular lining. They dilate to allow more air to enter. The rate at which we breathe speeds up as well.
The pancreas: Insulin production is speeded up. It makes the sugar available to the muscles to fuel sudden action.
Sweat glands: Adrenalin makes your sweat gland operate.
You can see that one hormone has many effects. All of them are essential if you are in danger. It means that you can act quickly. What happens if the adrenalin is produced in just small excess all the time or if it is produced in large amounts at inappropriate times? You can work out from the list of the actions of adrenalin just what the effects might be, and how the individual might feel.
Adrenalin does not act uniformly. It can cause some of its effects without others. This is because the organ is having different receptors, which make them respond in particular ways to the secretion of adrenalin. In some ways, not as yet well understood, adrenalin can cause one muscle to contract more than another. This is why we get a contraction of the muscles of one side of the neck only. Muscles in contraction cause pain, in this case a headache.
It is not important to remember all these details about the way your body works. It is certainly not essential for treatment, but if you understand what is happening to your body you may begin to appreciate why treatment is so difficult. If your anxiety state can be reduced to a group of physical symptoms brought on by the secretion of adrenalin, why can’t it be cured by taking a pill? It is a good question, but unfortunately, there is no pill, which will stop the action of adrenalin.
To understand why, you must remember that an anxiety state is a mixture of a physical and a psychological state. The adrenal glands are under the direct control of the nervous system. In fact they are a part of the nervous system. We are talking about an imbalance rather than a disease. It is a subtle condition, which is difficult to treat medically.
There is no known medication that will control the secretions of the adrenal gland. The glands themselves are tiny and not amenable to surgery. Adrenal is essential to life, but it is produced in small quantities, too small to measure. It is a very potent substance indeed.
In an anxiety state there is nothing wrong with the adrenal gland. The problem is with the way the entire nervous system reacts. Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the nervous system. The basic fault is a psychological one. It is your psyche which has taught your nervous system to over react. There is no point in starting to treat the adrenal gland. It is only doing its job. Like wise the nervous system is only doing what it has learnt to do. Effective treatment must start with our minds.
What we have is a psychological state with physical manifestation. We must treat the whole thing together. There is no other way to proceed.
Rules of the mind
• What you expect you tend to realize.
• Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.
• Every thought or emotion has a psychosomatic reaction.
• An idea programmed into subconscious will remain there until replaced by another idea.
• Each suggestion you accept allows easier acceptance of future suggestions.
• Your body will produce what your mind believes.
• You tend to move in the direction of your most dominant thought.
The Principles of Convincing the Subconscious Mind
• Ideas presented by authority figures
• Intense emotion
An exercise for Self Hypnosis for improving Self-confidence
Sit down, close your eyes and remember a time when you felt really confident.
Picture in your mind what you say, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. Now enhance those images. Make the pictures brighter and bolder, the colours richer, the wounds louder and the feelings stronger.
When you can feel a burst of that confidence quite strongly, carry out a specific action like squeezing your thumb and your middle finger together. That will link in your mind the feeling of confidence with the finger squeeze.
Go through that routine ten times in a row to reinforce that link between your fingers and the feeling of confidence. Eventually it will mean that you will only have to squeeze your fingers together and you will begin to easily remember that confidence.
Now think about the event you want to be confident for, imagine the event going as smoothly and as perfectly as you can while all the time squeezing your thumb and finger together re-triggering that confident feeling.
• You will notice a difference in your confidence this time. Every time you do this you send a very strong message to your unconscious mind that you want to be more confident at that particular time in the future. This is used by some people to wipe-out a life fear of public speaking with this one simple exercise.