Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Stress can be self-controlled

Published:Tuesday | June 23, 2015 | 6:00 AMJennifer Ellison-Brown

Learning to live and get along today is nearly impossible without stress. To succeed in an unpredictable environment that changes every day, working under pressure is what most people now live by. As a result, stress has become one of the most common problems we face and it undermines our ability to stay healthy.

The good news is that stress can be self-controlled. Stress can be accepted as a natural part of daily life. Even though everyone has to deal with it, few people seem to understand it or know how to cope effectively. A certain amount of stress is necessary for performance and well-being. It is difficult to succeed in life without "runs, hits, and errors."

Stress is the non-specific response of the human organism to any demand that is placed on it. In simpler terms, stress is the body's mental, emotional, and physiological response to any situation that is new, threatening, frightening, or exciting.

Stress prepares the organism to react to the stress-causing event or agent, notably the stressor. The problem is how people react to the stress. Many people thrive under stress; others are unable to handle it.

An individual's reaction to stress determines whether it is positive or negative. Ways in which individuals react to stress can be defined as either distress or eustress. With eustress, health and performance continue to improve as stress increases. Conversely, distress refers to the unpleasant or harmful stress under which health and performance begin to deteriorate.

Stress is a fact of modern life. Everyone needs an optimal level of stress that is most conducive to adequate health and performance. When stress levels reach mental, emotional, and physiological limits, it becomes distress, and the person no longer functions effectively.

Chronic distress raises the risk for many health disorders - including coronary heart diseases, hypertension, eating disorders, ulcers, diabetes, asthma, depression, migraine headaches, sleep disorders, and chronic fatigue - and may even play a role in the development of certain types of cancers.

Recognising and overcoming the problem quickly and efficiently is crucial in maintaining emotional and physiological stability.

 

Stress Response

 

Stressors can be pleasant, for example, attending a party (eustress), or unpleasant such as getting a bad grade (distress). The sequence of physical responses associated with the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) is the same for both eustress and distress. It occurs in three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

 

Alarm Stage

 

At this stage, the nervous and endocrine systems activate the 'flight or fright' reaction. During this stage, the body is more susceptible to disease or injury because it is geared up to deal with a crisis. A person in this state may experience headaches, indigestion, anxiety, disrupted sleeping, and eating patterns.

 

Resistance Stage

 

With continued stress, the body develops a new level of homeostasis in which it is more resistant to disease and injury than normal. During the resistance phase, a person can cope with normal life and added stress.

 

Exhaustion Stage

 

Forces during the alarm reaction and maintenance of homeostasis during the resistance stage require a considerable amount of energy. Therefore, if a stressor persists, or others occur in succession, general exhaustion will be the result. This is a life-threatening type of physiological exhaustion characterised by symptoms such as distorted perceptions and disorganised thinking, linking to a variety of health problems.

Researchers have termed long-term wear and tear of stress response the Allostatic Lead. An individual Allostatic Lead depends on factors including genetics, life experiences, and emotional and behavioural responses to stressors. High Allostatic Lead has been linked with heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and reduced brain and immune function. Repeated or long-term stress can have physical, emotional, mental, and behavioural effects, some of which can be very hard to relieve.

 

Physical Effects

 

Excessive perspiration, frequent illnesses, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, high blood pressure, pounding heart, stiff neck, and lower back pain.

 

Emotional Effects

 

Anxiety or edginess, depression, fatigue, impulsiveness, irritability, distrust, guilt, frustration, and jealousy.

 

Behavioural Effects

 

Crying; disrupted eating habits; disrupted sleeping habits; harsh treatment of others; problems communicating; sexual problems; social isolation and increased use of tobacco; alcohol, or other drugs.

 

Mental Effects

 

Boredom, confusion, memory problems, lack of concentration, psychological fatigue, anxiety, poor decision making, and being accident prone.

Are you or anyone you know experiencing some of these effects?