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MANAGING STRESS

By:
Normah
Wan Kamaran
Moon Zappa


Stress can be best defined as a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems or pressure in our life. In extreme cases, people use meditation as a way of reducing stress. We live in a stressful era, possibly the most stressful period humans have ever experienced.

Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the stress response.

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the

But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it's important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is "too much" differs from person to person. We're all different. Some people are able to roll with the punches, while others seem to crumble in the face of far smaller obstacles or frustrations. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle.

Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics.

Things that influence your stress tolerance level

• Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members can be an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the more lonely and isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
• Your sense of control – It may be easier to take stress in your stride if you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges. If you feel like things are out of your control, you’re likely to have less tolerance for stress.
• Your attitude and outlook – Optimistic people are often more stress-hardy. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, and accept that change is a part of life.
• Your ability to deal with your emotions – You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed by a situation. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity and is a skill that can be learned at any age.
• Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.


Stress describes a person’s physical or emotional response to demands or pressures that they may experience from time to time. There are many causes that lead to this and few common causes of stress include work, money, relationships and illness. These causes will then lead to symptoms which include irritability, difficulty sleeping or relaxing, headaches and muscle tension. Modern day stresses are more likely to be psychological in origin and prolonged in nature (work-related stress, financial worries, inter-personal relationships, chronic illnesses). But they can still set off the body’s alarm mechanism and the associated hormone surge. Over-exposure to those stress hormones can, in turn, have a range of impacts on the body’s systems - brain, cardiovascular, immune, digestive and so on.

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. People normally think of stressors as being negative. For example people being in an exhausting work, having tight job schedule or having ups and downs in a relationship. However, anything that puts high demands or forces a person to adjust themselves also can be stressful. This includes positive events such as preparation to get married, planning of buying a house, going to further study, or even being promoted in a job.

Everyone must bear in mind not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated. For example, when a person worries too much on something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

What causes stress depends, at least in part, on a person perception of it. Something that is stressful to may not faze someone else and they may even enjoy it. For example, waking up on Monday and driving to work may cause a person to feel anxious and tense because it is the first day of the week where people have to go to work. In the other hands, some people may find Monday is enjoyable as it remarks the first day of the week where something new will begin and it gives new hopes.

These are the common causes of stress that has been categorized into two major causes.

Common external causes of stress

• Major life changes
• Work or school
• Relationship difficulties
• Financial problems
• Being too busy
• Children and family


Common internal causes of stress

• Chronic worry
• Pessimism
• Negative self-talk
• Unrealistic expectations/Perfectionism
• Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
• All-or-nothing attitude


Signs and symptoms

If stress continues for a long period of time, it can cause a number of psychological and physical symptoms. Below are the two major groups of sign and symptoms of stress.

Psychological symptoms of stress can include:

• Sleep disturbances
• Difficulty concentrating
• Lack of confidence
• Depression
• Difficulty relaxing
• Difficulty with decision making
• Irritability.


Physical symptoms of stress can include:

• Muscle tension and pain
• Low energy
• Headaches
• Changes in appetite
• Decreased sexual function
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.


In long term, uncontrolled stress is associated with the development of a number of different medical conditions. These will primarily occur as the result of biochemical imbalances that at the end weaken the immune system and over-stimulate the part of the nervous system that regulates heart rate, blood pressure and digestion.

In a long term, the signs or symptoms of stress will show effect such as:

• Hair loss (alopecia)
• Heart palpitations
• Hyperventilation
• Gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and etc
• Worsening skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema and etc.
• High blood pressure
• Recurrent colds and 'flu.


If it is suspected that stress is the cause for psychological or physical illness, a doctor should be consulted. It is very important to monitor a person with such signs. At the stage, the doctor will help to monitor the person and take precautions. Without monitoring, it is afraid that a person with stress could harm themselves.

How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress

Identify the sources of stress in your life

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.

Start a Stress Journal

A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:

• What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure)
• How you felt, both physically and emotionally
• How you acted in response
• What you did to make yourself feel better


Look at how you currently cope with stress

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.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress

These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:

• Smoking
• Drinking too much
• Overeating or undereating
• Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
• Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
• Using pills or drugs to relax
• Sleeping too much
• Procrastinating
• Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
• Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)


Learning healthier ways to manage stress

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

Dealing with Stressful Situations: The Four A’s

Change the situation:

• Avoid the stressor
• Alter the stressor Change your reaction:
• Adapt to the stressor
• Accept the stressor


Stress management strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress

Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.

• Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
• Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
• Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
• Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
• Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.


Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

• Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
• Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
• Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
• Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.


Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

• Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
• Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
• Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
• Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.


Adjusting Your Attitude

How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the hard situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.

Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change

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.

• Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
• Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
• Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend face to face or make an appointment with a therapist. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Opening up is not a sign of weakness and it won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your bond.
• Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.


Healthy ways to relax and recharge

• Go for a walk.
• Spend time in nature.
• Call a good friend.
• Sweat out tension with a good workout.
• Write in your journal.
• Take a long bath.
• Light scented candles.
• Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea.
• Play with a pet.
• Work in your garden.
• Get a massage.
• Curl up with a good book.
• Listen to music.
• Watch a comedy.


Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

• Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
• Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
• Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
• Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.


Stress management strategy #6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle

You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
• Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
• Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
• Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
• Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
• Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.


Conclusion

Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. It can help you win a race or finish an important job on time. But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects on our health. It can weaken your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school. In order to stay healthy and positive in life, we have to adopt a healthy lifestyle and as far as possible we have to know the causes of our stress and able to manage the stress level so that the stress problems do not bothering us.


References:
1)Frey, R. J. (2006) Stress. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, Third Edition. Jacqueline L. Longe, Editor. Farmington Hills, MI. Thomson Gale.
2) MedicineNet (2013) Stress. Foothill Ranch: MedicineNet Inc. - http://www.medicinenet.com/stress/article.htm
3) Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (2011) Stress and how to handle it. Pamphlet. Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Auckland.
4) Bond M. (1988) Stress and Self Awareness: a Guide for Nurses, Heinemann.
5) Handling Stress (1992) The Open University, The Open University Press
6)Steinmetz J. (1980) Managing Stress Before it Manages You, Bull Publishing.
7) stress: A Self-help Guide (1999) Northumberland NHS Trust.
8) Stress Management Training: The Stress Consultancy, Sheffield, Yorkshire
9) Cooper C.L., Cooper R.D., Eaker L.H. (1987) Living with Stress, Penguin.

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