Stress is a psychological term which means an unpleasant state of emotional and physiological arousal that people experience in situations that they perceive as dangerous or threatening to their well-being.
The word stress means different things to different people. Some people define stress as events or situations that cause them to feel tension, pressure, or negative emotions such as anxiety and anger.
Others view stress as the response to these situations. This response includes physiological changes-such as increased heart rate and muscle tension-as well as emotional and behavioral changes. However, most psychologists regard stress as a process involving a person’s interpretation and response to a threatening event.
Stress is a common experience. You may feel stress when you are very busy, have important deadlines to meet, or have too little time to finish all your tasks. Often people experience stress because of problems at work or in social relationships, such as a poor evaluation by a supervisor or an argument with a friend. Some people may be particularly vulnerable to stress in situations involving the threat of failure or personal humiliation. Others have extreme fears of objects or things associated with physical threats-such as illness, storms, or flying in an airplane-and become stressed when they encounter or think about these perceived threats.
Major life events, such as the death of a loved one, can cause severe stress.
If not managed appropriately, stress can lead to serious health problems. Exposure to constant stress can contribute to both physical illnesses, such as heart disease, and mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders. The field of health psychology focuses in part on how stress affects bodily functioning and on how people can use stress management techniques to prevent or minimize disease.
The circumstances that cause stress are called stressors. Stressors vary in severity and duration.
Stressors can be classified into three general categories:
- · catastrophic events
- · major life changes
- · daily hassles
In addition, simply thinking about unpleasant past events or anticipating unpleasant future events can cause stress for many people.
How does Stress affects you?
A person who is stressed typically has anxious thoughts and difficulty concentrating or remembering. Stress can also change outward behaviors. Teeth clenching, hand wringing, pacing, nail biting, and heavy breathing are common signs of stress. People also feel physically different when they are stressed. Butterflies in the stomach, cold hands and feet, dry mouth, and increased heart rate are all physiological effects of stress that we associate with the emotion of anxiety.
Physicians increasingly acknowledge that stress is a contributing factor in a wide variety of health problems. These problems include cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension (high blood pressure); coronary heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcers. Stress also appears to be a risk factor in cancer, chronic pain problems, and many other health disorders.
Researchers have clearly identified stress, and specifically a person’s characteristic way of responding to stress, as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The release of stress hormones has a cumulative negative effect on the heart and blood vessels.
Coping with stress means using thoughts and actions to deal with stressful situations and lower your stress levels. Many people have a characteristic way of coping with stress based on their personality. People who cope well with stress tend to believe they can personally influence what happens to them. They usually make more positive statements about themselves, resist frustration, remain optimistic, and persevere even under extremely adverse circumstances. Most importantly, they choose the appropriate strategies to cope with the stressors they confront. Conversely, people who cope poorly with stress tend to have somewhat opposite personality characteristics, such as lower self-esteem and a pessimistic outlook on life.
Psychologists distinguish two broad types of coping strategies: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. The goal of both strategies is to control one’s stress level. In problem-focused coping, you will try to short-circuit negative emotions by taking some action to modify, avoid, or minimize the threatening situation. You will have to change your behavior to deal with the stressful situation. In emotion-focused coping, you will have to try to directly moderate or eliminate unpleasant emotions. Examples of emotion-focused coping include rethinking the situation in a positive way, relaxation, denial, and wishful thinking.
In addition to that, two other major methods of relaxation are progressive muscular relaxation and meditation which could be very helpful for you. Progressive muscular relaxation involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different groups of muscles, while directing your attention toward the contrasting sensations produced by the two procedures. After practicing progressive muscular relaxation, you will become increasingly sensitive to rising tension levels and can produce the relaxation response during everyday activities.
Meditation, in addition to teaching relaxation, is designed to achieve subjective goals such as contemplation, wisdom, and altered states of consciousness. Some forms have a strong Eastern religious and spiritual heritage based in Zen Buddhism and yoga. Other varieties emphasize a particular lifestyle for practitioners. One of the most common forms of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, involves focusing attention on and repeating a mantra, which is a word, sound, or phrase thought to have particularly calming properties.
Both progressive muscle relaxation and meditation reliably reduce stress-related arousal. They have been used successfully to treat a range of stress-related disorders, including hypertension, migraine and tension headaches, and chronic pain.