Mind: What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response psychologically and physiologically to events, both positive and negative that upset our personal balance in some way. These events or demands we call stressors as it forces us to adjust or brings an element of change. This impacts our coping skills and capacity to adapt and we experience the body’s biological stress response. The causes of stress are highly individual but can be placed into three broad categories of stressors namely: pressures, frustrations and conflicts. If these
stressors involve central aspects of your life or persist for extended periods of time they are more likely to result in severe distress and disruption of daily functioning with resulting negative physical and emotional impact.
Recognising the Signs
How does stress manifest itself? In a ‘normal’ stress response the physical effects of stress could be lifesaving. This is the ‘flight or fight’ response when experiencing fear or threat where our body releases a rush of adrenaline giving us the impetus we need to fight the threat or fear or to run away.
This is the body’s emergency response. Changes occur in the cardiovascular and metabolic system increasing pulse rate, breathing, blood pressure and sugar levels and blood is diverted to vital organs such as the lungs, heart and muscles. When suffering ongoing stress, the body instigates the ‘flight and fight’ response continuously and we experience a variety of symptoms which generally fall into four categories:
- Physical - our body's response
- Behavioural - the things we do
- Emotional - what we feel
- Psychological - our individual thinking style
Physical - our body's response
- aches and pains
- change in menstrual cycle
- chest pain and/or palpitations
- muscle twitches
- recurrence of previous illnesses/allergies
- skin conditions
- sleep problems
- tightness in chest
- weight loss or gain
Behavioural - the things we do
- change in sleeping patterns
- declining work performance
- drinkers and smokers increase habit
- inability to relax
- inability to express feelings
- loss of appetite
- loss of libido
- over-reacting to issues
- poor time management
- poor judgment
- withdrawing from family and friends
Emotional - what we feel
- decrease in confidence/self-esteem
- feeling helpless
- feelings of guilt
- feelings of shame
- feeling out of control
- increasingly cynical
- lack of enthusiasm
- mood swings
- poor concentration
Psychological - our individual thinking style
- 'I can't cope'
- 'I don't know what to do'
- 'I don't seem to be able to get on top of things'
- 'I keep forgetting where I put things'
- 'I’m a failure'
- 'I should be able to cope'
- 'nobody understands'
- 'what's the point?'
- 'why is everyone getting at me?'
Recognising what stresses us and an awareness of how our symptoms presents, will enable us to take
action to minimise or reduce the stress effect.
If you are experiencing stress symptoms a key step in beginning to address it is to look at the current events that are occurring in your life. Numerous studies point to significant life change events occurring over a short period of time as being potential stress inducers. A popular check for identifying stress was devised by two American psychologists *Holmes and Rahe who created a scale of 43 life events considered to be stressful. They indicate that if you experienced two or more life change events within a 12 month period the greater the risk of you suffering from stress.
Each event is scored according to the degree of stress associated with the activity. According to the scale the top 10 most stressful life events are listed below:
* (Holmes and Rahe (1967) 'The social readjustment rating scale' Psychosomatic Medicine, 11: 213-
- death of a partner
- separation from partner
- death of a close family member
- personal illness or injury
- dismissal from work
- change of job
The Public & Commercial Services Union undertaking research in 2003 produced the following
Achieving Life Balance
- Stress costs the UK economy £8billion per year
- UK Employees work the longest hours in Europe
- 42 percent regularly work more than 48 hours a week
- 60 percent of all work absences in the UK are caused by stress
- 52 percent of employees often find work means they are too tired to enjoy their free time
- 1 in 3 UK residents find their working hours prevent then spending enough time with their
Having a good life balance means looking after our physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing. Rest is an essential part of this. Our culture is results driven. Fuelled by industries obsession with productivity and competitiveness, we are constantly being pushed to perform beyond our boundaries. Indeed our work life balance has been interrupted with the increasing demands of life and the pressure to ‘do more.’ Perhaps your life is bursting at the seams with activity and the juggling of work demands, family commitment and trying to find time for yourself. Take time to pause from the busy treadmill of life.
(Source: “The Stress Factor” by Sharon Platt-McDonald From Mental Wellness Handbook, compiled by Sharon Platt-McDonald, Health Ministries Director, British Union Conference, Seventh Day Adventist Church)
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