Life without stress cannot be imagined. Psychological stress forms an inseparable part of life. Up to some degree, it may be essential for normal personality development. However if these stresses become too severe may become a cause of major psychopathology, a precipitator or trigger of psychiatric illness, a contributor to considerable mental anguish. It is reported that there is good evidence on the importance of stress on psychopathology in general, although less known about the specific risk and protective mechanisms. Negative or stressful life events more generally have been implicated in the development of a range of disorders, including mood and anxiety disorder. Maltreatment in childhood and in adulthood, including sexual abuse, physical abuse,emotional abuse, domestic violence and bullying, has been linked to the development of mental disorders, through a complex interaction of societal, family, psychological and biological factors. The main risks appear to be from a cumulative combination of such experiences over time, although exposure to a single major trauma can sometimes lead to psychopathology, like PTSD. Resilience to such experiences varies, and a person may be resistant to some forms of experience but susceptible to others. Features associated with variations in resilience include genetic vulnerability, temperamental characteristics, cognitive set, coping patterns, and other experiences.
Stress may be considered as any physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental unrest and that may be a factor in disease causation. Physical and chemical factors that can cause stress include trauma, infections, toxins, illnesses, and injuries of any sort. Emotional causes of stress and tension are numerous and varied. While many people associate the term "stress" with psychological stress, scientists and physicians use this term to denote any force that impairs the stability and balance of bodily function. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength. A mild degree of stress and tension can sometimes be beneficial. For example, feeling mildly stressed when carrying out a project or assignment often compels us to do a good job, focus better, and work energetically. There are two types of stress: eustress ("positive stress") and distress ("negative stress"), roughly meaning challenge and overload. When stress is overwhelming or poorly managed, then it causes negative effects
When a person fears that someone or something may physically hurt him, the body naturally responds with a burst of energy so that he will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). This is survival stress.
Internal stress is one where people make themselves stressed. This often happens when we worry about things we can't control or put ourselves in situations that cause stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren't stressful.
This is a response to things around us that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help to lower stress level.
This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage time or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control. This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage time or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control.
A person's susceptibility to stress can be affected by any or all of these factors, which means that everyone has a different tolerance to stressors. And in respect of certain of these factors, stress susceptibility is not fixed, so each person's stress tolerance level changes over time:
Indicators to prompt investigation for the presence of stress
Physical effects of stress occur mainly through the neuro-endocrino-immunological pathways. Whatever be the nature of the stressor, the basic responses of the body to these are similar. Following are some of the physical effects of stress on our body
Mental effects of stress can manifest in many ways unless recognized and rectified in the proper manner. It is well known that unresolved emotional stress can translate into mental miseries and then into physical illnesses (known as psychosomatic illnesses). Other common mental effects of stress are:
Behavioural effects of stress showcases the way in which a person acts and behaves when under the influence of stress Following are some of the behavioural effects of stress:
It is evident that behavioral effects of stress are very dangerous and can affect interpersonal and social relationships Certain types of chronic and more insidious stress due to loneliness, poverty, bereavement, depression and frustration due to discrimination are associated with impaired immune system resistance to viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and cancer. Stress can have effects on other hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown.
Behavioral effects of stress showcases the way in which a person acts and behaves when under the influence of stress Following are some of the behavioral effects of stress:
Understanding the above concepts are very important in understanding the diseases caused by stress and to create a plan of action for the management of stress and stress induced diseases. At a clinical level, stress in individuals can be assessed scientifically by measuring the levels of two hormones produced by the adrenal glands: cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). To measure stress according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, the number of "Life Change Units" that apply to events in the past year of an individual's life are added and the final score will be given. For example death of spouse gives a score of hundred.
A stress journal can help to identify the regular stressors in the life and the way one deals with them. One should keep track of stress whenever he/she feels stressed in the journal. As one keeps a daily log, he/she will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Improve diet: Group B vitamins and magnesium are important, but potentially so are all the other vitamins. Vitamin C is essential to protect against stress. Vitamin D helps maintain healthy body condition, particularly bones. Adequate intake of minerals are also essential for a healthy body and brain, and so for reducing stress susceptibility Assess the current diet and identify where improvements should be made and commit to those improvements. Avoid baked, canned food ,too much salt, pills and tablets.
Reduce toxin intake: Obviously tobacco, alcohol especially - they might seem to provide temporary relief but they are working against the balance of the body and contributing to stress susceptibility, and therefore increasing stress itself.
Take more exercise: Generally, and at times when feeling very stressed:
Increase self-awareness of personal moods and feelings: Anticipate and take steps to avoid stress build-up before it becomes more serious. Explore and use relaxation methods: They do work if given a chance - yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, massage, a breath of fresh air, anything that works and can be done in the particular situation
Sleep and rest are essential for a healthy life-balance. Napping during the day is also healthy. It recharges and energizes, relaxes, and helps to wipe the brain of pressures and unpleasant feelings
Anger in the workplace is a symptom of stress: Management of anger (and any other unreasonable emotional behavior for that matter) and the stress that causes it, can only be improved if the person wants to change - acceptance, cognizance, commitment. Awareness is the first requirement. Some angry people take pride in their anger and don't want to change; others fail to appreciate the effect on self and others. Anger management is only possible when the angry person accepts and commits to the need to change. Counseling is required to get to the root causes. A person should look objectively and sensitively with the other person at the consequences (for themselves and others) of their anger. Helping angry people to realize that their behavior is destructive and negative is an important first step. Discuss the effects on their health and their family. Get the person to see things from outside themselves. The next anger management step to understand the cause of their angry tendency, which will be a combination of stressors and stress susceptibility factors. The counselor may need several sessions in order to build sufficient trust and rapport.
Source: Dr Sudha Rani, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, Hyderabad