FACTS THAT MATTER
Basic features of stress:
Stress is a part of life. Stress is neither a stimulus nor a response but an ongoing transactional process between the individual and the environment.
Life is full of challenges. Such as challenges posed by examination to students, challenges about a carrier, thinking of a child who loses his/her parents, a young woman who loses her husband in an accident or children who are physically or mentally challenged and so on.
All of us try to meet these challenges in our way.
Life challenges are not necessarily stressful. Much depends on how a challenge is viewed. Stress is like electricity which provides energy but too high or too little energy becomes hazardous. Similarly, too much stress or too little stress hurts our well-being, optimum stress is healthy.
Stress has two levels: Eustress-that is good, healthy, positive inspiring and motivating. Distress: It is negative, unhealthy demotivating and causes our body’s wear and tear.
• Nature of stress: The word stress has its origin in the Latin word ‘strictus’, meaning tight or narrow and stringer, the verb meaning to tighten.
These root words reflect the internal feelings of tightness and constriction of muscles and breathing, a common sign of stress.
The reaction of external stressors is called strain.
Stress functions as a cause as well as an effect.
Hans style, the father of modem stress researches, defined stress as the non-specific response of the body to any demand.
Many researchers do not agree with style on his concept of general and non-specific responses. They believe that different individuals may have different characteristic modes of responses.
• Signs and symptoms of stress: There are individual differences in the coping pattern of stress response and therefore the warning signals or signs also vary in their intensity.
The signs of stress are very much dependent on how individual views them or their dimension
i. e. Intensity duration, predictability or complexity.
The warning signs and their manifestation as symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural.
• Life Challenges and adjustment: Life is a big challenge. It presents a continuous chain of the struggle for existence and survival for example if one aspires to join civil services, one works very hard but is not selected one may change one’s goal and feel inclined to join lecturership in any university.
By restoring to such means one protects one’s self from the possible injury to one’s ego, failure or frustration. It is sort of shifting to a more defensive position to face the challenge of circumstances after getting failure in earlier attempts.
This special virtue and strength of the living organism are termed adjustment.
“Adjustment is a process by which living organism maintains a balance between its need and the circumstances that influence the satisfaction of these needs.”
• Different stressors may produce different patterns of stress reaction.
• Stress is embedded in the ongoing process that involves individuals interacting with
their social and cultural environment. Stress is a dynamic mental/cognitive state. It is a disruption in homeostasis/imbalance that gives rise to the resolution of the imbalance/ restoration of homeostasis.
• Perception of stress is dependent on an individual’s cognitive appraisal of events and the resources available to deal with them.
Primary Appraisal: Primary appraisal refers to the perception of a new or changing environment as positive, neutral or negative in its consequences. Negative events are appraised for their possible harm, threat or challenge.
(i) Harm appraisals are the assessment of the damage that has already been done by an event.
(ii) Threat appraisals are the assessment of possible future damage that may be brought about by the event.
(iii) Challenge appraisals are associated with more confident expectations of the ability to cope with the stressful event, the potential to overcome and even profit from the event.
Secondary Appraisal: Secondary appraisal refers to that assessment of one’s coping abilities resources and whether they will be sufficient to meet the harm, threat or challenge of the event. These resources may be mental, physical, personal or social. If he/she thinks one has a positive attitude, health, skills and social support to deal with the crises, he/she will feel less stressed.
Appraisals are very subjective and will depend on many factors:
(i) experience of dealing with such a stressful condition: If one has handled similar situations very successfully in the past, they would be less threatening for him/her.
(ii) Whether the stressful event is perceived as controllable, i.e., whether one has mastery
or control over a situation.
REACTIONS OF STRESS
1. Physiological: Arousal plays a key role in stress-related behaviours.
The hypothalamus initiates action along two pathways:
(i) The first pathway involves the autonomic nervous system. The adrenal gland releases a large number of catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) into the bloodstream. This leads to physiological changes seen in the fight-or-flight response.
(ii) The second pathway involves the pituitary gland which secrets the corticosteroid (cortisol) which provides energy.
2. Emotional reaction of Stress: Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, embarrassment, anger, depression or even denial.
3. Behavioural reaction of Stress: Depending on the nature of the stressful event; confrontative action against the stressor (fight) or withdrawal from the threatening event (flight).
4. Cognitive reaction of Stress: Beliefs about the harm or threat an event poses its causes or controllability. These include responses such as inability to concentrate and intrusive, repetitive or morbid thoughts.
Stresses which people experience also vary in terms of intensity (low intensity vs. high intensity), duration (short term vs. long term), complexity (less complex vs. more complex) and predictability (unexpected vs. predictable).
Types of Stress
A. Physical and Environmental Stress: Demands that change the state of our body
(overexert ourselves physically, lack a nutritious diet, suffer an injury, or fail to get enough sleep).
Environmental stresses are aspects of our surroundings that are often unavoidable such as air pollution, crowding, noise, the heat of the summer, winter cold, disasters.
B. Psychological Stress: These are stresses that we generate ourselves in our minds. These are personal and unique to the person experiencing them and are internal sources of stress. We worry about problems, feel anxiety, or become depressed.
(i) Frustration results from the blocking of needs and motives by something or someone that hinders us from achieving the desired goal (social discrimination, low grades).
(ii) Conflicts may occur between two or more incompatible needs or motives.
(a) Internal pressure stems from beliefs based upon expectations from inside us to ourselves
(b) Social pressure may be brought about by people who make excessive demands on us. Also, there are people with whom we face interpersonal difficulties.
C. Social stress: Social stress is caused due to social interaction.
Social events like death or illness in the family, strained relationships, trouble with neighbours, rapid social change, poverty, discrimination, poor societal conditions are an example of social stress.
SOURCES OF STRESS There vary widely from person to person.
1. Life Events: Major life events can be stressful because they disturb our routine and cause upheaval. If several of these life events that are planned (e.g., moving into a new house) or unpredicted (e.g., the break-up of a long-term relationship) occur within a short period, we find it difficult to cope with them and will be more prone to the symptoms of stress.
2. Hassles: Personal stresses we endure as individuals, due to the happenings in our daily life. These daily hassles may sometimes have devastating consequences for the individual who is often the one coping alone with them as others may not even be aware of them as outsiders.
3. Traumatic Events: Variety of extreme events (fire, train or road accident, robbery, earthquake, tsunami). The effects of these events may occur after some lapse of time and sometimes persist as symptoms of anxiety, flashbacks, dreams and intrusive thoughts, etc. Severe trauma can also strain relationships. Professional help will be needed to cope with them.
Effects of Stress of Psychological Functioning and Health
1. Emotional Effects: Experience mood swings, show erratic behaviour that may alienate them from family and friends, start a vicious circle of decreasing confidence, leading to more serious emotional problems.
2. Physiological Effects: Increases the production of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones produce marked changes in heart rate, blood pressure levels, metabolism and physical activity. Helps us function more effectively when we are under pressure for short periods, it can be extremely damaging to the body in the long-term effects.
3. Cognitive Effects: If pressures due to stress continue, one may suffer from mental overload. This suffering from a high level of stress can rapidly cause individuals to lose their ability to make sound decisions, have poor concentration, and reduced short-term memory capacity.
4. Behavioural Effects: Disrupted sleep patterns, increased absenteeism, reduced work performance.
Burn out: State of physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion.
Stress and health: Stress may play a role in 50 to 70% of all physical illnesses, primarily through its effect on the immense system.
By draining our resources and keeping us off balance physiological, stress upsets our complex internal chemistry.
It may interfere with the efficient operation of our immune system-the mechanism through which our body recognises and destroy potentially harmful substances and intruders such as bacteria, virus and fungi known as antigens. When stress is prolonged, it affects physical health and impairs psychological functioning.
Physical exhaustion fatigue, in a sign of chronic fatigue weakness and low energy. The mental exhaustion appears in the form of irritability, anxiety, feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.
This state of physical emotional and psychological exhaustion is known as burnout which leads to poor health.
General Adaptation Syndrome gave by Hans Style:
1. Alarm Reaction Stage: The presence of a noxious stimulus or stressor leads to activation of the adrenal-pituitary-cortex system. This triggers the release of hormones producing the stress response. Now the individual is ready for fight or flight.
2. Resistance Stage: If stress is prolonged, the resistance stage begins. The parasympathetic nervous system calls for more cautious use of the body’s resources. The organism makes efforts to cope with the threat, through confrontation.
3. Exhaustion stage: Continued exposure to the same stressor or additional stressors drains the body of its resources and leads to the third stage of exhaustion. The physiological systems involved in alarm reaction and resistance become ineffective and susceptibility to stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure becomes more likely.
Criticisms of GAS: Assigning a very limited role to psychological factors in stress.
Psychoneuroimmunology focuses on the links between the mind, the brain, the immune system.
How does the immune system work? The white blood cells (leukocytes) within the immune (antigens) such as viruses leads to the production of antibodies.
(i) T cells: destroy invaders, T-helper cells increase immunological activity (attacked by HIV).
(ii) B cell: produce antibodies.
(iii) Natural killer cells: involved in the fight against both viruses and tumours.
Stress can affect natural killer cell cytotoxicity, which is of major importance in the defence against various infections and cancer. Reduced levels of natural killer cell cytotoxicity have been found in people who are highly stressed. Stressed individuals may be more likely to expose themselves to pathogens, which are agents causing physical illness.
Stress and lifestyle: Researches are indicating that the current leading causes of premature deaths are attributable to a significant degree to characteristics that make up each person’s lifestyle.
Lifestyle refers to the overall patterns of decisions and behaviours that determine health and quality of life.
Stressed individuals may be more likely to expose themselves to pathogens that are agents causing illness. Stressed people have poor nutritional habits, steep less and are likely to engage in smoking and alcohol abuse.
Researches revealed that health-promoting behaviour like a balanced diet, regular exercise, family support etc play important role in good health.
Coping is a dynamic situation-specific reaction to stress. It is a set of concrete responses to stressful situations or events that are intended to resolve the problem and reduce stress.
Endler and Parker:
1. Task-oriented Strategy: Obtaining information about the stressful situation and alternative courses of action and their probable outcome; deciding priorities and acting to deal directly with the stressful situation.
2. Emotion-oriented Strategy: Efforts to maintain hope and to control one’s emotion;
venting feelings of anger and frustration, or deciding that nothing can be done to change
3. Avoidance-oriented Strategy: Denying or minimizing the seriousness of the situation;
conscious suppression of stressful thoughts and their replacement by self-protective ‘
Lazarus and Folkman:
1. Problem-focused strategies attack the problem itself, with behaviours designed to gain information, alter the event, and alter belief and commitments. They increase the person’s awareness, level of knowledge, and range of behavioural and cognitive coping options. They can act to reduce the threat value of the event.
2. Emotion-focused strategics call for psychological changes designed primarily to limit the degree of emotional disruption caused by an event, with minimal effort to alter the event itself.
Stress Management Techniques:
1. Relaxation Techniques: Reduces symptoms of stress and decreases the incidence of illnesses such as high blood pressure and heart diseases. Starts from the lower part of the body and progresses up to the facial muscles in such a way that the whole body is relaxed.
Deep breathing is used along with muscle relaxation to calm the mind and relax the body.
2. Meditation Procedures: A sequence of learned techniques for refocusing attention that brings about an altered state of consciousness. Such a thorough concentration that the meditator becomes unaware of any outside stimulation and reaches a different state of consciousness.
3. Bio-feedback: Monitors and reduces the physiological aspects of stress by providing feedback about the current physiological activity and is often accompanied by relaxation training.
(i) Developing an awareness of the particular physiological response.
(ii) Learning w7ays of controlling that physiological response in quiet conditions.
(iii) Transferring that control into the conditions of everyday life.
4. Creative Visualization: Creative visualization is a subjective experience that uses imagery and imagination. Before visualizing one must set oneself a realistic goal, as it helps build confidence. It is easier to visualize if one’s mind is quiet, body relaxed and eyes are closed.5. Cognitive Behavioural Techniques: These techniques aim to inoculate people against stress. Stress inoculation training is one effective method developed by Meichenbaum. Replace negative and irrational thoughts with positive and rational ones, i.e., Follow through.
(i) Assessment involves discussing the nature of the problem and seeing it from the viewpoint of the person/client.
(ii) Stress reduction involves learning the techniques of reducing stress such as relaxation and self-instruction.
6. Exercise: can provide an active outlet for the physiological arousal experienced in response to stress. Improves the efficiency of the heart, enhances the function of the lungs, maintains good circulation, lowers blood pressure, reduces fat in the blood, improves the body’s immune system.
Promoting, Positive, Health and Well-being.
(i) Stress Resistant Personality (Kobasa):
People with high levels of stress but low levels of illness share three characteristics, which are referred to as the personality traits of hardiness (a set of beliefs about oneself, the world, and how they interact).
(i) Commitment (personal commitment to work, family, hobbies and social life).
(ii) Control (control over sense of purpose and direction in life).
(iii) Challenge (changes in life as normal and positive rather than as a threat).
(6) Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
1. Assertiveness: Helps to communicate clearly and confidently, our feelings, needs, wants and thoughts. It is the ability to say ‘no’ to a request, to state an opinion without being self-conscious, or to express emotions.
2. Time Management: Learning how to plan time and delegate can help to relieve the pressure. The central principle of time management is to spend your tie doing the things that you value, or that help you to achieve your goals.
3. Rational Thinking: When we are stressed, we have an inbuilt selective bias to attend to negative thoughts and images from the past, which affect our perception of the present and the future. Challenging your distorted thinking and irrational beliefs, driving out potentially intrusive negative anxiety-provoking thoughts, and making positive statements.
4. Improving Relationships: The key to a sound lasting relationship is communication. Listening to what the other person is saying, expressing how you feel and what you think, and accepting the other person’s opinions and feelings, even if they are different from your own.
5. Self-care: If we keep ourselves healthy, firm and relaxed, we are better prepared. physically and emotionally to tackle the stresses of everyday life. Our breathing patterns
reflect our state of mind and emotions. Rapid and shallow breathing from high in the chest, with frequent sighs.
6. Overcoming Unhelpful Habits: Unhelpful habits such as perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, etc. are strategies that help to cope in the short term hut which makes one more vulnerable to stress.
(c) Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Positive health comprises the following constructs: “a healthy body; the high quality of personal relationships; a sense of purpose in life; self-regard, mastery of life’s tasks; and resilience to stress, trauma and change.” –
1. Diet: A balanced diet can live one’s mood, give more energy, feed muscles, improve circulation, prevent illness, strengthen the immune system and make one feel better to cope with the stresses of life.
2. Exercise: Regular exercise plays an important role in managing weight and stress, and —¦
is shown to have a positive effect on reducing tension, anxiety and depression.
3. Positive Attitude: Some of the factors leading to a positive attitude are—having a fairly accurate perception of reality; a sense of purpose in life and responsibility; acceptance and tolerance for different viewpoints of others, taking credit for success, accepting blame for failure, being open to new ideas, having a sense of hour with the ability to laugh at oneself.
4. Positive Thinking: Optimism, which is the inclination to expect favourable life outcomes, has been linked to psychological and physical well-being.
(d) Social Support: The existence and availability of people on whom we can rely upon, people who let us know that they care about, value, and love us. Perceived support, i.e., the quality of social support is positively related to health and well-being, whereas social network, i.e., the quantity of social support is unrelated to well-being, because it is very time-consuming and demanding to maintain a large _
social network. Social support may be in the form of tangible support or assistance involving material aid, such as money, goods, services, etc. Family and friends also provide informational support about stressful events.
Resilience and Health: Resilience is a dynamic developmental process referring to the maintenance of positive adjustment under challenging life conditions. It has been described as the capacity to ‘bounce back in the face of stress and adversity. Resilience has recently been defined in terms of three resources—I HAVE (social and interpersonal strengths), I AM (inner strengths), I CAN (interpersonal and problem-solving skills).
Examination Anxiety (evaluative apprehension/stress) involves feelings of tension or uneasiness that occur before, during or after an examination. Many people find it helpful in some ways, as it can be motivating and create the pressure that is needed to stay focused on one’s performance. High stress can interfere with the student’s preparation, concentration and performance. Spend enough time for study, overview and weigh one’s strengths and weaknesses, discuss difficulties with teacher and classmates, plan a revision timetable, condense notes, space out revision periods, and most importantly on the examination day concentrate on staying calm.
Adjustment and adaptation:
“Adjustment is a continuous process by which a person varies his behaviour to produce a more harmonious relationship between himself and his environment.”
Adjustment helps us keep a balance between our needs and the capacity to meet these needs.
It is a subjective process. It is always related to some object and it varies from culture to culture.
Adjustment is the end product of coping.
Adaptation is a structural or functional change that enhances the organisms survival value.
• It is a biological mechanism.
• In general adaptation is a term used in biological sciences for learning new ways for survival whereas adjustment is a psychological process to cope with the demands of the self and the environment.
Contemporary Psychologists have shown increasing interest in understanding what makes life good and meaningful.
Positive Psychology systematically investigates the positive aspects that is the strengths and virtues of human beings such as wisdom and knowledge [curiosity, love, emotional intelligence etc], courage [Bravery, industry, integrity] justice [Loyalty, Equity, Leadership] Temperance [Self-control, prudence, Modesty] Transcendence [Excellence gratitude, Hope, optimism, zest]
WORDS THAT MATTER
• Adaptation: Structural or functional change that enhances the organism’s survival value.
• Alarm Reaction: The first stage of the general adaptation syndrome is characterized by an
emergency reaction involving the mobilization of energy through adrenal and sympathetic activity.
• Appraisal: Refers to evaluation and interpretation.
• Arousal: The tension experienced at the thought of others being present, and/or performance is evaluated.
• Conflict: A state of disturbance in which resulting from opposing motivates, drives, needs or goals.
• Coping: The process of trying to manage demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding one’s resources.
• Exhaustion: State in which energy resources have been used up and responsiveness is reduced to a minimum.
• General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): It consists of two phases—an alarm phase during which the organism makes efforts to cope with the threat, resistance phase during which the organism makes efforts to cope with the threat through confrontation and an exhaustion phase which occurs if the organism fails to overcome the threat and depletes its physiological resources.
• Hardiness: It is a set of beliefs about oneself, the world, and how they interact. It has three characteristics, i.e., commitment, control and challenge.
• Homoeostasis: A state of physiological balance within the body.
• Life Skills: Abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the environment.
• Lifestyle: In the context of health psychology, the overall pattern of decisions and behaviours that determine health and quality of life.
• Meditation: A technique of turning one’s concentration inward and achieving an altered state of consciousness.
• Optimism: The tendency to seek out, remember and expect pleasurable experiences.
• Positive Health: It includes a healthy body, good interpersonal relationship, a sense of purpose in life, and resilience to stress, trauma and change.
• Psychoneuroimmunology: Interaction among behavioural, neuroendocrine and immunological processes of adaptation.