We all get stressed out! Just one of life’s many facts- but what is stress and most importantly- how do we learn to deal or cope with it?
Stress is the body’s way of responding to a ‘perceived’ (or very real) threat. When a person feels threatened the ‘flight and fight’ response is activated. Hormone such as adrenaline, cortisol are released, which lead to increased heart beart, increased breathing, blood pressure rises, eyesight becomes sharper as well as many other physiological changes.
The purpose of these changes means that your body is being prepared to ‘fight’ with the threat or engage in ‘flight’ from it. In emergency situations, the trigger of the ‘flight and fight’ response helps to keep us protected and stay alert e.g. running from an attacker. As a result natural everyday human reactions to stress can vary; For example, whereas others may ‘flight’ or run away in a potentially stressful situation. E.g. avoiding breaking up with your partner. Other’s may feel the need to ‘fight’ a potentially stressful situation. E.g. becoming aggressive or defensive towards your collegues. However stress isn’t always negative- e.g. In other situations such as exams, or performing in front of an audience, stress can help us to keep focused. However, a constant ‘switching on and off’ of the stress response can cause harm. For example, over time, the stress response is sometimes unable to distinguish between what might be just an argument with your spouse and a life- threatening situation. Its important to note that stress was once an essential survival mechanism. It served an evolutionary purpose that may not always be applicable in today’s society where most people are not running from wild and hungry animals! Therefore when the stress response is repeatedly switched on, throughout a period of time this can lead to a variety of health and mental issues.
How we appraise a situation most certainly influences our reaction to stress. For example, vour ‘locus of control’ which refers to how much control we feel we have over the events that happen in our lives. Those with an internal locus of control are more likely to take responsibility for their actions whereas those with an external locus of control believe they have little control over the events that happen during their lives. This can lead to stress as those with an high external locus of control can feel hopeless in situations that might lead to stress because they feel they have no control over them. I can certainly emphasise with this previous feeling of having a high external locus of control-whilst awaiting for the result- I quite literally felt I had no control over this event- or its outcome.
Finally, there are always other factors that that can influence a person’s reaction to stress such as environment, genes and habits. For example, those individuals who incorporate a healthier lifestyle and try to create a balanced lifestyle of exercise, healthy eating and good social network and relaxation are more likely to react better to stress. How we are raised to deal with stress by our parents can also play an impact on how we learn to cope with stress and manage it. For example, those clients who were often anxious and reacted poorly to stressful events often had parents who did not react very well to stress or came from an emotionally unstable environment whilst growing up. This can indicate that coping mechanisms with regards to stress can also be a learnt behaviour. Therefore a treatment approach would include gently guiding clients towards adapting more healthier lifestyle changes to stress as well as learning new coping mechanisms, self hypnosis, guided imagery as well as many relaxation techniques such as 7/11 breathing, meditation can help. Where possible, dealing with the cause of the stress will be ideal too.