Stress is a part of day-to-day living of every individual. The college students may experience stress in meeting the academic demands, people on the job, business men may suffer stress to reach office in time and to complete the projects on time and even the house hold ladies may experience stress in managing the home affairs and to look for the maid servant. The reasons for the stress differ from person to person. The stress people experience should not be necessarily treated as harmful. An optimum amount of stress can always act as an energizer or motivator and propel people to apply the efforts and complete the work. But a high level of Stress can be a serious threat to the personality traits of the Individual and can cause physiological and social problems.
What is Stress?
We generally believe that the stress is caused by the external events and the dynamics of the environment. But we need to emphasis the fact that the Stress is caused by our reaction to the external environment. The manner in which we perceive and understand the changes or the particular event creates same event can bring happiness and cause Stress in two different people depending upon how they react to it. When students are asked to prepare a presentation, some may take it to be an opportunity to reveal their talents and to improve upon their weakness while the other students may be perturbed by it for the fear of his weakness. So, Stress is our reaction to external events and it can be positive or negative depending upon how we react. It is the general wear and tear of the body machine that takes place due to extra demands put on it.
We can define Stress as “ body's non-specific response to any demand made on it”. Stress is not by definition synonymous with nervous tension or anxiety. On one side Stress provides the means to express talents and energies and pursue happiness on the other side it can also cause exhaustion and illness, either physical or psychological.
Symptoms of Stress
As stated earlier Stress is caused by or reaction to the external events and bring about changes in our response and our general behavior. The presence of Stress can be estimated by the analysis of certain symptoms an individual shows. These symptoms can be divided into three different categories. They are Feelings, Behavior and Physiology. When the individual experience Stress, one or more of the following symptoms can be exhibited.
• The individual becomes anxious about the outcomes and is scared. The person feels that he has got something to loose or something wrong will take place.
• In an anxious state the person does not want to be corrected or interrupted. He looks out for other areas where he can forget about the stress-causing event for a while. The person becomes irritable and moody.
• During high level of Stress the individual develops a negative frame of mind and suffers from low self-esteem. The person loose faith in his capabilities and is afraid of the failures. The individual does not have a focused approach and is not able to concentrate and is involved in his own plans and thoughts.
Physiological and Behavioral Changes
• Speech problems.
• Impulsive Behavior
• Crying for no apparent reason.
• Laughing in a high pitch and nervous tone of voice.
• Grinding of teeth
• Increasing smoking and use of drugs and alcohol.
• Being accident-prone
• Perspiration /sweaty hands
• Increased heart beat
• Nervous ticks
• Dryness of throat and mouth.
• Tiring easily
• Urinating frequently
• Sleeping problems
• Diarrhea / indigestion / vomiting/ nausea
• Butterflies in stomach
• Premenstrual tension
• Pain in the neck and or lower back
• Susceptibility to illness
• Loss of appetite or over eating
Causes of Stress
Both positive and negative events in one's life can be stressful. However, major life changes are the greatest contributors of stress for most people.
1. If people have to travel a lot and have to move from place to place, it can cause stress.
2. Individuals can also be under stress if they are about to enter some new environment. They may be going to a new colony. To a new college or they may be joining a new organization.
3. Some events, which are generally once in a lifetime can also cause stress. The social institutions of marriage or divorce can cause stress. Pregnancy can also generate Stress.
4. Some of the untoward incidents like critical illness or death of a relative can also cause stress in individuals.
These are some of the major events in the life of the individual that cause stress. It is also supplemented by the environmental factors that act as catalyst cause increment in stress. They are:
• Time pressure
• Financial problems
Stress can be managed if we understand the reasons that cause stress and the level of stress. We should also try to estimate if we could bring about any change in the environment that can subsequently reduce stress.
1. Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions.
Notice your distress. Don't ignore it. Don't gloss over your problems.
Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about meaning of these events? Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset?
2. Recognize what you can change.
Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely? Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis)? Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the physical premises)?
Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
3. Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger...physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster? Are you expecting to please everyone?
Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labor on the negative aspects and the "what ifs."
4. Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal. Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. Electronic biofeedback can help you gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heartbeat and blood pressure.
Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, they alone are not the answer. Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
5. Build your physical reserves.
Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging). Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. Maintain your ideal weight.
Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants. Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can. Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
6. Maintain your emotional reserves.
Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships.
Pursue realistic goals that are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share. Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows. Always be kind and gentle with yourself -- be a friend to yourself.
Stress Management Techniques
A. Stress Diary - Finding Your Optimum Stress Levels
How to use tool: Keeping a stress diary is an effective way of finding out what causes you stress, the level of stress you prefer, and your effectiveness under pressure. In this diary keep track of your stress levels and your feelings, everyday. In particular, note down stressful events. Record the following information:
• At a regular interval, for example every hour, record routine stress. Note:
o The time
o The amount of stress that you feel (perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10)
o How happy you feel
o How efficiently you are working
• When stressful events occur, write down:
o What the event was
o When and where did it occur?
o What important factors made the event stressful?
o How stressful was the event?
o How did you handle the event?
o Did you tackle the cause or the symptom?
o Did you deal with the stress correctly?
Analyzing the Diary: After a few weeks you should be able to analyze this information. It may be interesting as you carry out the analysis to note down the outcomes of the jobs you were doing when you were under stress. This should give you two types of information:
You should be able to understand the level of stress you are happiest with, and the level of stress at which you work most effectively. You may find that your performance is good even when you feel upset by stress.
You should know what the main sources of unpleasant stress in your life are. You should understand what circumstances make stresses particularly unpleasant, and should be able to see whether your strategies for handling the stresses are effective or not.
How to use tool: Where you are not feeling motivated towards a task, either because you are bored by it, or because you are tired, then you may need to 'psych yourself up'. This will increase your arousal so that you can perform effectively. You can try the following:
• Focus on the importance or urgency of the task
• Set yourself a challenge - e.g. to do the job in a particular time or to do it to a particularly high standard
• Break job down into small parts, do each part between more enjoyable work, and take satisfaction from the successful completion of each element.
• Use suggestion: e.g. 'I can feel energy flowing into me'
• Get angry about something!
C. Anticipating Stress - Managing Stress by Preparing For It
How to use tool: By anticipating stress you can prepare for it and work out how to control it when it happens. You can do this in a number of ways:
By practicing for a stressful event such as an interview or a speech several times in advance you can polish your performance and build confidence.
By analyzing the likely causes of stress, you will be able to plan your responses to likely forms of stress. These might be actions to alleviate the situation or may be stress management techniques that you will use. It is important that you formally plan for this - it is little use just worrying in an undisciplined way - this will be counterproductive. Formal planning of responses to stress is a technique used by top-level athletes to ensure that they respond effectively to the stresses of competition.
Where a situation is likely to be unpleasant, and will not yield any benefit to you, it may be one you can just avoid. You should be certain in your own mind, however, that this is the case, and that you are not running away from problems.
Reducing the Importance of an Event:
When an event is important to you, this can make it very stressful. This is particularly true where you are operating at a high level, where many people are watching, or where there is the prospect of a large financial reward, of promotion, or of personal advancement. The presence of family, friends or important people can also add to pressure. If stress is a problem under these circumstances, then think carefully about the event - take every opportunity to reduce its importance in your eyes:
• If the event seems big, put it in its place along the path to your goals. Compare it in your mind with bigger events you might know of or might have attended.
• If there is a financial reward, remind yourself that there may be other opportunities for reward later. This will not be the only chance you have. Focus on the quality of your performance. Focusing on the rewards will only damage your concentration and raise stress.
• If members of your family are watching, remind yourself that they love you anyway. If friends are real friends, they will continue to like you whether you win or lose.
• If people who are important to your goals are watching then remind yourself that you may well have other chances to impress them.
• If you focus on the correct performance of your tasks, then the importance of the event will dwindle into the background.
Reducing Uncertainty: Uncertainty can cause high levels of stress. Causes of uncertainty can be:
• Not having a clear idea of what the future holds
• Not knowing where your organization will be going
• Not having any career development plans
• Not knowing what will be wanted from you in the future
• Not knowing what your boss or colleagues think of your abilities
• Receiving vague or inconsistent instructions
D. Get a hobby or two, relax and have fun: Talk with friends or someone you can trust about your worries/problems.
1. Learn to use your time wisely:
Evaluate how you are budgeting your time.
Plan ahead and avoid procrastination.
Make a weekly schedule and try to follow it.
2. Set realistic goals and priorities
3. Practice relaxation techniques. For example, whenever you feel tense, slowly breathe in and out for several minutes.
E. Other Techniques:
1. Meditation can also be a good effort to bring down the stress levels.
2. Taking exercise
3. Effective time Management
4. Good Food and nutrition.
Conclusion: When we discuss Stress and its management, we should understand that this is not the exhaustive list of the stress factors and the various techniques. Stress can be confronted and reduced if and only iff we understand ourselves better, analyze the behavior and identify the stressors. The stress management techniques will work if we are honest with ourselves and adopt the techniques in their fullest spirit.