Stress management is a recent perspective about a fundamental human fact. The modern times are full of change. But then, each generation has always thought so. Still, at the turn of this century, the individual human being finds himself at the receiving end of the tremendous amount of change, uncertainty, variable environment, increasingly unpredictable human behavior – like never before. Things can only go worse from here. Right? Yes, but only partially. Because despite these pressure, a human being is gifted with a mechanism and an infrastructure that has tremendous functional resilience. Human body, human mind and human intellect together constitute this mechanism or infrastructure.
As said earlier, this mechanism has tremendous functional resilience and it can adapt well to the pressures. This mechanism is a continuum linking body-mind-intellect. This is the greatest, surest and strongest resource with the individual as he or she tries to cope with the demands.
The body-mind-intellect framework, to repeat again, has tremendous functional resilience, only if it is allowed to function the way it ought to. This brings into focus the individual with his or her philosophy or strategies of coping.
As we begin understanding stress and managing it, let us not lose sight of the two basic stakes before us:
- Improvement in quantity of life
- Improvement in quality of life
Stress management is all about coping positively and effectively, never losing the grip on ourselves or the options we have in a situation.
STRESS AS IT SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD
Firstly, it may mean an event or an environmental stimulus that causes a person to feel tense. In this, the stress may mean something that is external to the person.
Secondly, it may mean a subjective response to the situations. In this, stress is an internal state of mental arousal. Here, the interpretive, defensive and coping processes occur inside the person.
Thirdly, stress is understood as the physical reaction of the body to a demand which leads to a natural arousal of the body to a higher level of activity, which can be positive and health promoting.
So, in elaboration, it can be said that:
- The external stimuli talked about in the first approach are stressors and not stress.
- The second approach dwells upon stress as psychological resistance. So cognitive processes such as problem-solving, planning, decision making and introspective analysis are the positive psychological methods used by the individual to resist stress. Rationalization, denial, and fantasy have been viewed as negative defenses. However, these help an individual blunt the immediate impact of stress. The cognitive side effects may occur during the period of stress. The mental processes involved in meeting external demands are always active, energy consuming and tension producing. This may lead to self-statements like “I can’t take it anymore”.
- The third approach takes position, as per Selye, that stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made on it.
This self-statement indicates strain, yet another term that needs understanding and clarification. Strain is the effect of the pressure exerted within the individual.According to Hans Selye, strain occurs whenever the stressor is pleasant or unpleasant. According to him, all that counts is the intensity of the demand for readjustment or adaptation.
The body’s responses are described as a three part system of neural (hypothalamus), glandular (pituitary and adrenal) and hormonal (adrenaline) reactions to stressor.
In a nutshell, stressor is the external force and strain is the effect of resisting. It is combined physiological and psychological effect.
Among the most accepted theories is Hans Selye’s theory of General Adaptation Syndrome.
The main points made by Selye’s theory are:
- There is an innate drive to maintain a state of internal equilibrium called homeostasis.
- Stressors disturb homeostasis. The body responds to any stressor with a non-specific physiological arousal. This is a defensive reaction.
- Adjustment to stress occurs in stages. The time course and progress through the stages depend on how successful the resistance is relative to the intensity and duration of the stressor.
- The adaptive energy is finite.
The General Adaptation Syndrome, proposed by Selye has three stages:
- Alarm reaction
Occurs at the first appearance of a stressor. Briefly, body has a lower than normal level of resistance. The body quickly makes self-protective adjustments. If this defensive reaction is successful, the body returns to normal. Such a stress is called acute stress reaction.
- Stage of resistance
If stress continues either because of factors outside the control of the individual or because the first reaction failed to remove the emergency, there is a full-scale mobilization by the body. Lot of resources are expended. So resistance gradually decreases. Physical symptoms may develop which may reduce the resistance even more.
- Stage of exhaustion
When the stressor is unusually severe or stays on for a long period of time, body’s adaptive energies are exhausted.
Dr Sastry is a post graduate medical professional ( M.B.B.S.,D.L.O.,M.S.) and has been a program leader for organizations belonging to every key sector of industry. Consultant in Stress Prevention and Reduction,Work Life Balance, Wellness and Lifestyle related programs and other inputs to over 250 major organizations in the corporate sector active for over 27 years.
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