Coping with stress
By Jimmy Henderson
Stress can be explained as a state of unpleasant tension in the body and mind caused by a person’s inability to cope with what is seen as a physical, emotional or psychological threat to his or her sense of well-being. In other words, becoming stressed involves a certain level of thinking as well as the belief that one is not competent to deal with the situation. Any event or situation which takes place in everyday life can cause stress. For example, relationships, problems at work or at home or even finances. What is interesting is that we know from our everyday experience that a simple event such as a ‘fender-bender’ (car accident) can cause extreme stress to one person but not necessarily to another. And it is this personal interpretation (or perception) of the situation that is very important for follow-up counselling and therapy. This aspect of self-evaluation (which can also take place at a pre-conscious level) also means that one’s personal life, personality and culture all have a role to play in stress. For instance, the situation could be exaggerated by the memory of a similar unpleasant past experience or it may even not be a real threat at all, yet still produce the same stressful effect. Research reveals that a little stress is necessary for people to perform at their best, for instance, it is normal for an athlete or competitor to be ‘hyped up’ before a race. So it is the actual severity and interpretation of the life-event as threatening and negative that results in the stress response. Let us now look at some of the factors influencing our response to a typical stressful experience and this will give us a clue as to how to control it. Factors involved in stress As I said earlier, a person’s response to any situation is influenced by a number of predisposing personal factors. For instance, some stress-related traits can be inherited from parents, such a low stress tolerance, higher than normal levels of anxiety or nervousness and chemical imbalances. Negative past experiences as a child could also play a role, resulting in a low self-esteem or poor self-image or inadequate coping, social or interpersonal skills. In other words, some people may simply not be mature enough to cope with a relatively ‘normal’ situation such as problems at work, a shortage of money, an argument with a friend or a breakup with a lover. Unfortunately, our past family circumstances can also shape the present way we respond to difficult situations. If things at home are not what they should be, for instance, living in a home with a history of bad relationships, neglect, violence or substance abuse, we can already be experiencing a high level of stress. These domestic stressors and tensions then accumulate and affect our ability to cope with other stressful events in our lives. Some rather weak or ineffective ways of coping with problem situations can also be copied or ‘modelled’ by children, resulting later in adults who are unable to cope effectively with the normal challenges of life. On the other hand, a good family system, friends and community structures such as churches, temples, mosques and other welfare institutions can also provide much-needed support in times of a crisis. But not everyone has access to such a support base. Research has shown that even the culture and society in which we are raised affect our responses and ability to manage stress. Work stress is quite common in a society which focuses on performance, the accumulation of riches and contains certain expectations or taboos which place undue pressure on men and women alike. Research has shown that even teenagers are subject to high levels of stress due to social problems, academic demands and high
as new and challenging situations are simply part of life and will always arise from time to time. This is seen in the high rate of teenage suicide in SA. seeing it as a form of weakness (‘cowboys don’t cry’). As a form of de-stressing. Research has shown a definite link between stress and aggression. In this regard. increased irritability and low anger tolerance associated with stress. to change our thinking processes and to learn new interpersonal and coping skills. Recently a number of novel and alternative measures have been found to be quite effective in managing day-to-day stress. We may also have to be prepared to make lifestyle changes to adjust to new circumstances and reduce our stress. meditation has great health benefits and aids in the relaxation of the brain. not everyone has such a system or is able to apply it effectively in their lives. But then again. consciously avoiding stressful situations. even everyday life-events such as separation. In fact. religious beliefs and a stable value system can influence how we approach a particular problem and help to reduce stress. a solution can always be found. Counselling or psychotherapy is certainly better in the long term to deal with negative thinking. Apart from natural disasters. upset stomach and even lead to more serious issues such as panic attacks. pampering ourselves or finding pleasant distractions such as a new sport or hobby. allowing one’s mind to reset itself and has also been shown to produce a sense of mastery and control. Coping with stress The development of good coping mechanisms can help us to alleviate stress. For this reason. depression and even suicide. Listing our priorities and having a clear plan of action will also help to reduce stress and return a measure of control. taking more holidays. it may be advisable to seek help from medical or other therapeutic professionals. it is easy to see how any challenging life event could trigger a stress response. palpitations. Drugs and tranquilizers can be effective in the short term but we actually need to learn to cope better. to recognise and to challenge any exaggerated and negative thoughts when they arise. some cultures do not even encourage soft interventions to reduce stress such as ongoing support and counselling. such as changing our job. If we carefully examine most situations. death. For instance. as those with high self-esteem and a good selfimage are less likely to ‘fall apart’ when confronted with a difficult situation. crime and violence. One of its most notable effects is on our relationships. family instability and job-retrenchments can cause severe stress if we are unable to process and manage it effectively. This is especially true when it is conducted outside in
. We have also seen the important role that our perceptions play in our experience of stress. as the result of the withdrawal symptoms. In some cases.expectations. In serious cases of stress. our own self-development is very important. leading to domestic violence and abuse. ‘Crutches’ such as pills and alcohol will certainly not solve the problem and will only give us temporarily relief. it brings about a temporary detachment from everyday issues and problems. Stress symptoms Severe stress can produces a variety of bodily symptoms and illnesses including chest pains. high blood pressure. accidents. By simply being more assertive and learning to say ‘no’ we can also reduce our workload and thus our stress levels. increased heart-rate. Even the media have been blamed to a certain extent for exposing us to violence and fuelling our insecurities during news broadcasts and certain types of advertising. breathing problems (asthma). even though it may involve swallowing our pride and asking for help from others. divorce. it is important to be able to remain positive. chronic anxiety. With all this as a background.
H.com. N. Sit quietly and comfortably. V.com for more information.jimmyhendersonbooks. Breathe in 1. Simple imagery to reduce stress would therefore involve closing our eyes.za]
. He is a regular radio talk show guest (Lotus FM). flowers and even running water will greatly enhance our feelings of well-being and relaxation. Amazon. Carson.. Visit his website www. Coleman. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. J.3. Carry on with the counting and breathing until your mind is completely free of all thought.4.3. Meditation is based on sound psychological principles such as mental relaxation. Brookdale Health Hydro [info@brookdale. And this has a similar effect on our body and subconscious mind to what would occur had we experienced this event in real-life. His latest books ‘Multi-Dimensional Thinking’ and ‘Multi-Dimensional Perception’ are available at Exclusive Books.).2.2. Abnormal psychology: An integrated approach.& Durand. smell and touch the trees. Foresman and company.3. it has become a recognised practice in some forms of therapy and is also finding acceptance in mainline religious and spiritual movements today. For this reason motivational speakers often encourage their audiences to visualise themselves achieving their goals or desired outcomes in order to develop confidence and a positive state of mind.J.co. Meditation can also be combined with visualisation or imagery to further help one to de-stress.5 breathe out 1.2. An example of this is the cold sweats and accelerated breathing and heart-rate we experience during a bad dream.. We need to involve all our senses and actually see. and imagine being in a beautiful garden or scenic place. Finally.3.5 hold your breath.5 breathe in 1. Belmont : Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.5 and so on. The presence of trees.4. Research suggests that our subconscious mind cannot always differentiate between an inner (imagined) experience and an identical real-life situation. References Barlow. 1. we should see ourselves walking around and enjoying this garden or natural scene. (2002). We all have the power to create a mental picture of any scene or situation within our consciousness. (Ed. bushes and flowers and even add movement by making the branches sway and the leaves flutter in the wind.2. relaxing our minds as if for meditation.com and Kalahari. mental creating and conscious mind control. dealing with teenage problems and parenting skills and is the author of a number of articles and books on self-development.4. D.3. The following exercise is a simple form of meditation to release stress which can be practiced at home or at the office. Try to meditate in this way for at least twenty seconds a few times each day. Jimmy Henderson is a trained trauma and Lifeline counsellor with a Masters degree in Psychology. close your eyes and begin to breathe to a count of one to four. quiet and you feel totally relaxed.M. which can bring about changes in one’s brainwave pattern and subsequent state of mind. R. Butcher.5 hold your breath 1. Focus on nothing else but the counting (either aloud or in your mind). Visualisation or imagery is very useful for controlling stress and inducing a relaxed state of mind as well as being a very powerful means of self-empowerment.the garden or in some natural setting.)( 1984). A few minutes of this kind of exercise each day should bring about a relaxed state of mind and feelings of peace and tranquility as our bodies and subconscious minds respond to the imagery.4.: Scott. In fact. (3rd ed.4.2. J.