STRESS: NATURE, CONSEQUENCES AND MANAGEMENT

Dr.Krishna Prasad Sreedhar

 

What is Stress?

An executive of a large firm developed high blood pressure (hypertension) at the age of 35. A 27-year-old housewife developed recurrent Bronchial Asthma. When consulted, the physicians told them that they were suffering from disorders due to ‘stress’.

The executive had to take frequent quick decisions all alone for about one year. Each decision could have resulted in heavy losses to the company. After each decision, the executive used to worry about it till the decision proved right. It was his constant worry and anxiety which made him end up with hypertension.

The housewife had a nagging mother-in-law and her husband was not supportive. Every time when her mother-in-law nagged her, she wanted to give back but never did so. Instead, she suppressed her anger and used to feel choked. Eventually, the choking became breathlessness and ended up with attacks of asthma.

 

This is what stress does to us. There are thousands of examples like these. One of the recently diagnosed stress induced disorders is ‘chronic fatigue’. If stress is so powerful shouldn’t we know more about it? Yes, what is it then?

Stress is an experience. When demands of a physical, psychological or sociological nature make us react to it we are under a stress. Those which demand a reaction and force us to mobilize our resources are called ‘Stressors’. Stressors make us experience stress. Increased temperature of the room, demands of people around us and societal norms are examples of stressors. When we mobilize our resources to meet these demands, psychologists say we are under stress.

Due to inappropriate usage, the word stress has assumed bad connotations. In its original sense a stress is neither good nor bad. It becomes good or bad, desirable or undesirable, healthy or unhealthy depending upon what it does to us. For example, the demands of an examination could make one child work hard and pass creditably. In the case of another child the very same examination could appear very demanding and he might end up in a break down, as his resources are poor. Thus by itself a stressor or a stress is neither good nor bad. They are neutral in nature.

Distress

When a stressor becomes too demanding or when we do not have adequate resources to meet the demands, we get ‘stressed up’. The stressed up experience is called a ‘Distress’. Distress is bad and unhealthy. Prolonged distress initiates a number of reactions at the level of the body and mind. As it depletes our resources we become impoverished and susceptible to diseases and disorders. The child who has poor resources to write an examination falls ill. The executive who went on worrying depleted his resources and developed hypertension. The housewife spent a sizable portion of her resources to suppress her constant anger and ended up with bronchial asthma. Thus any stress that becomes distressing is unhealthy.

Eustress

When a stressor puts demand on our resources and we experience stress that need not always lead to distress. If the stressor is within limits and we have enough resources we will be able to cope up with the stress. When a stress makes us cope up with it, there is a feeling of satisfaction and joy. Stresses that make us cope up with them culminate in better integration of our personality. Such stresses are called ‘Eustress’ or useful stress. The child who prepared well for the examination, wrote it effectively and came out successfully experiences better self worth and increased self-esteem. The examination though a stress had indeed beneficial effects on him. Such beneficial stresses are required for our motivation and growth. No wonder it is then called a useful stress.

Perception of Stress

Psychologists have noticed that to a large extent, it is our perception ( the way we look at things) which determines a stress to be a ‘eustress’ or a ‘distress’. For example, people who are trained as in military combat, perceives a threat to be as simple whereas some one who is new to it sees it as a matter or life and death. Thus psychologists have shown that perception determines the magnitude of stress. They also feel that perception can be changed through training. This contribution of psychologists is very important as in our modern times already existing stress assumes greater magnitude and also newer and newer stresses are being added day by day. The training to reorganize our perception has become very useful in bringing down the intensity, frequency and duration of many stress related disorders. So also future stresses could be anticipated and perception regarding it could be altered through training. Such training is known as ‘Stress Inoculation’. As we get inoculated against diseases, now we can strengthen people to face stresses with Stress Inoculation. Isn’t it wonderful?

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