Definition of Stress
“Stress” is the response to the continually changing pressures of life called stressors. Examples are:
- Physical stressors (such as pollution, heat, sickness for example, COVID-19)
- Mental stressors (such as deadlines, financial problems, loss of a job or a loved one)
- Social stressors (such as lockdown, social distancing, stressors in one’s job, friends and family)
- Spiritual stressors (such as churches closing down, external circumstances or internal decisions conflicingt with one’s goals, values and religious beliefs)
Two Types of Stress
Dr. Hans Hugo Bruno Selye, (died 1982), endocrinologist known for his studies of the effects of stress on the human body.]: recognised two types of stress response:
- Distress is a damaging stress response leaving one bored or immobilized by too many things to do.
- Eustress is a stress that compels us to action, resulting in pleasurable or satisfying experiences in life, such as stresses of sports competition, wedding ceremony, etc.
Three Progressive Responses to Stressors
Dr. Hans Selye, the stress pioneer, referred this as the General Adaptation Syndrome with three stages:
- Phase 1: Alarm Phase. Response to a threatening stressor, activating one’s sympathetic nervous system for the fight or flight reaction.
- Phase 2: State of Resistance. The resistance to persistent stressors, and the appearance of coping well.
- Phase 3: State of Exhaustion. Resisting the stressors, causes prolonged expenditure of energy, pushing the person into a state of exhaustion; when the stressors continue to persist, disease or death may be inevitable.
Relationship Between Stress, Survival and Illness
Medical science has discovered that when one feels stressed out from facing challenges, the negative emotions trigger the release of certain hormones and stimulate the nervous system in such a way as to put further stress on the various organs of the body. If these organs are subjected to stress over long periods of time, they become weakened. Once weakened, they are more susceptible to a variety of disease processes.
- Stress may cause the release of adrenaline, making the heart beat more rapidly and powerfully. Such stress may cause one to suffer from heart palpitations (unpleasant awareness of heartbeat).
- When stress hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict, they may augment the effects of hypertension and cause diminished peripheral vascular flow, leading to cold hands and feet.
- Stress may induce shallow and rapid breathing with bronchial dilation, which causes hyper-ventilation and tetany (Overly stimulated nerves cause involuntary muscle cramps and contractions, most often in the hands and feet. But these spasms can extend throughout the body, and even into the larynx, or voice box, causing breathing problems).
- Stress results in diversion of the blood supply away from the digestive system, possibly affecting digestive processes.
- Stress induces a state of increased coagulability (clotting) of the blood which though protective in some circumstances, could have deleterious effects in others.
- Stress causes an increase in blood glucose (to serve as a rapid source of energy); in the diabetically predisposed, chronic stress may lead to the hastening of the onset or exacerbation of diabetes mellitus.
- Stress may cause alterations in gastrointestinal and urinary functions. Some may suffer from urinary frequency and irritable bowel syndrome.
- A stressed person may visit the doctor for numerous physical complaints and may suffer from emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, phobias, cognitive disorders, memory problems, and sleep disorders.
According to statistics from Meridian Stress Management Consultancy in the U.K, almost 180,000 people in the U.K die each year from some form of stress-related illness. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States estimates that stress account about 75% of all doctors visit. MIND UK says 40% are appointments based on Mental Health.
Ways to Determine If There Is Too Much Stress
- Take various Stress tests including the Social Re-adjustment Rating Scale developed by Drs. Thomas H. Holmes and Richard R. Rahe.
- Detect one or more of the following:
- Mental effects (prolonged mental fatigue, confusion including forgetfulness and difficulty in making decision, anxiety including feelings of panic, depression, lower self-worth, lower intellectual functioning, boredom)
- Social effects (procrastination, lack of concern for others, reduced effectiveness in communication, emotional hypersensitivity with a tendency to overact, feelings of isolation with a tendency toward suppressed feelings or withdrawal, loss of control, quick temper, aggression, increased risk-taking behaviour including gambling, increased drug use and abuse
- Spiritual effects (questioning one’s values and faith, losing the meaning and purpose of life, blaming God for problems, abandoning faith, trying to find solution apart from God)
- Physical effects (various stress related diseases due to lowered immunity as mentioned above)
The ABC Principle of Experiencing Stress without Distress
- Aware of the various kinds of stressors
- Balance in integrating the various stress coping keys
- Change in lifestyle.
Three Keys to Successful Stress Management Have Been Identified
- Healthy Lifestyle
- Time Management
Please refer to NEWSTART for other ways to cope with stress.