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Stress is a mental, emotional or physical response to an event that leads to mental or bodily tension. It is an external force or event that affects one’s body or mind. Human life is full of challenges, problems, risks, threats and failures and misfortunes that can exert stress on both body and mind. It is, therefore, to avoid stressful moments during one’s lifetime.
People use different mechanisms to cope with stress and to respond to life’s changing realities. For a long time, researchers have been keen to understand the nature of stress, its causes and how individuals can reduce it. This paper explores the contemporary discourse on the nature of stress and various strategies people in order to overcome it in their daily lives.
Wesley (1996, p. 721) argues that no event can be considered per se stressful, the individual’s interpretation of stress is the main determinant of whether an event is stressful or not. The term ‘stress’ is often used in day-to-day lives and people have become used to attaching different meanings to it. The most common sense of the word’s usage, it appears, is the one that indicates instances of ‘psychological distress’ (Spielberger & Reheiser 2009, p. 271).
The main indicators of psychological stress include anger, anxiety, curiosity, and depression (Brown & Harris, 1978). During the diagnosis of stress, measuring the vital signs of psychological distress is always a matter of critical importance. It facilitates treatment by creating linkages between various emotions and the events that lead to their occurrence.
There are many signs that indicate that someone is under stress. During medical examinations, individuals who exhibit an abnormal pulse and fever may potentially be stress sufferers. Moreover, symptoms of depression indicate the likelihood that an individual is undergoing pervasive unresolved conflicts that generate emotional fever (Bedford & Foulds, 1978).
Stress is a strong indicator of an individual’s well-being. The variation in the duration of symptoms such as anger, depression, and anxiety are key indicators of an individual’s mental health. They can be used to identify the individual problems that a person has been facing in the recent past or even over a long period of time. Stress is closely related to depression in that stressful events end up causing depression if they remain unresolved for long periods.
From a theoretical perspective, stress is characterized by subjective feelings that can only be assessed objectively through a keen evaluation of measurable behavioral and physiological variables. As early as the 1960s, investigators were using the behaviorist perspective in order to try and understand the nature of cognitive psychology and its role in making the understanding of stress clear. Today, emotions are now understood as highly complex psychobiological states that consist of cognitions, affective feelings and physiological arousal. (Spielberger & Reheiser 2009, p. 274). Meanwhile, emotions constitute just one of the many ways through which stress manifests itself in individuals.
Stress is a key symptom in many anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. In most cases, people with these disorders tend to be depressed in addition to having a history of alcohol and substance abuse (Hammen et al, 2009 p. 719). This hints at the long-term nature of the problems that lead up to the current psychological problems that manifest themselves as panic disorders.
Research attention is increasingly being focused on the effects of stress, mainly through topics such as stress sensitization, stress generation, the neurobiology of stress and gene-environment interactions (Hammen et al, 2009 p. 723). The research findings generated in these studies indicate that acute stress exhibits psychosocial and neurobiological processes, properties and consequences that are rather different from those of chronic stress. However, most of the studies done on stress and depression through the use of questionnaires and checklists so far do not clearly differentiate between stress and depression. The underlying assumption in these studies though is the notion that depression is always preceded by stressful situations and mental states.
There are many strategies for coping with and reducing stress. Individuals may need to choose the strategies that feel are the best for them. Some people choose to laugh off their problems while others prefer to have a good cry for undergoing a stressful moment. Meanwhile, some coping strategies for stress work for everyone. For instance, it is extremely helpful for people going through a certain type of stress to form a network of friends in order to support each other in overcoming their problems.
Some stress management strategies that enable people to overcome overwhelming symptoms are suitable for home settings while others are applicable for workplace settings (Hall-Flavin, 2010). Moreover, the strategies that students find attractive may not be relevant to professionals facing many challenges on how to maintain a work-life balance. For couples who are busy in their professions and still committed to happy marriages, there is need for them to schedule free time in order to ensure that they share each other’s company often (Robinson, 2003, p. 186).
Some of the most frequently occurring causes of stress that people encounter in their daily lives can be dealt with through adhering to simple but often-ignored rules of life. First, both students and professionals need to learn how to prioritize. Many students are stressed simply because they have too much work to do and they have not planned their time and activities in terms of priority. Secondly, people need to look around them and see how others coping with similar problems. It is always possible to find out that there is someone in a worse scenario than oneself.
Although counseling experts emphasize the need for individuals to forget their problems, this is not an easy thing to do. However, by learning about how not to be a perfectionist, individuals can become accommodative of lesser standards. As long as these standards lead to a balanced life, they should be accepted since there is a high likelihood that stress will be avoided.
However, there are problems that, simply put, have to be confronted. For instance, instead of complaining about too much workload, one ought to confront the challenge head-on and do his best in completing the tasks as assigned. One may be surprised to find that the enormity of tasks is dependent on an individual’s perceptions and attitudes towards a given job (Dunner 2001, p. 63).
In summary, individuals need to understand the nature of stress, its causes and how to avoid it. In order for people to avoid stress, they need to lead a balanced life and accept the changing realities. Although it may unable be difficult for one to take full control of his emotional states in times of stress, there are many signs that one should respond to in order to ensure that stress does not turn into depression. Seeking help from friends is always a good thing since it helps people avoid undesirable mental and physiological consequences of stress.
Brown, G, & Harris, T, 1978, Social Origins of Depression, London: Free Press.
Bedford, A, & Foulds, G, 1978, Delusions-Symptoms-States Inventory of Anxiety and Depression, Windsor, UK: NFER.
Dunner, D, 2001, ‘Management of anxiety disorders: the added challenge of comorbidity’ Depression and Anxiety, Vol. 13, pp. 57–71
Hall-Flavin, D, 2010, Stress management, Viewed from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/AN01286 on September 4, 2010.
Hammen, C, Kim, E, Eberhart, N. & Brennan, P, 2009, ‘Chronic and acute stress and the prediction of major depression in women’, Depression and Anxiety, Vol. 26, pp. 718–723
Robinson, G, 2003, ‘Stresses on women physicians: consequences and coping techniques’, Depression and anxiety, Vol. 17, pp. 180–189.
Spielberger, C, & Reheiser, E, 2009, ‘Assessment of emotions: anxiety, anger, depression, and curiosity’, Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp.271–302.
Wesley S, 1996, The meaning of stress, Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, Vol. 89, No. 12, pp. 721–722.