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Stress

The word 'stress' is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a state of affair involving
demand on physical or mental energy". A condition or circumstance (not always
adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual.
In medical parlance 'stress' is defined as a perturbation of the body's homeostasis.
This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in
life. A 'stress' condition seems 'relative' in nature. Extreme stress conditions,
psychologists say, are detrimental to human health but in moderation stress is
normal and, in many cases, proves useful. Stress, nonetheless, is synonymous with
negative conditions. Today, with the rapid diversification of human activity, we come
face to face with numerous causes of stress and the symptoms of stress and
depression.

At one point or the other everybody suffers from stress. Relationship demands,
physical as well as mental health problems, pressure at workplaces, traffic snarls,
meeting deadlines, growing-up tensions—all of these conditions and situations are
valid causes of stress. People have their own methods of stress management. In
some people, stress-induced adverse feelings and anxieties tend to persist and
intensify. Learning to understand and master stress management techniques can help
prevent the counter effects of this urban malaise.

"Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool
and unruffled under all circumstances."

—Thomas Jefferson

In a challenging situation the brain prepares the body for defensive action—the fight
or flight response by releasing stress hormones, namely, cortisone and adrenaline.
These hormones raise the blood pressure and the body prepares to react to the
situation. With a concrete defensive action (fight response) the stress hormones in
the blood get used up, entailing reduced stress effects and symptoms of anxiety.

When we fail to counter a stress situation (flight response) the hormones and
chemicals remain unreleased in the blood stream for a long period of time. It results
in stress related physical symptoms such as tense muscles, unfocused anxiety,
dizziness and rapid heartbeats. We all encounter various stressors (causes of stress)
in everyday life, which can accumulate, if not released. Subsequently, it compels the
mind and body to be in an almost constant alarm-state in preparation to fight or flee.
This state of accumulated stress can increase the risk of both acute and chronic
psychosomatic illnesses and weaken the immune system of the human body.
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Stress can cause headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorder, allergies,
insomnia, backaches, frequent cold and fatigue to diseases such as hypertension,
asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer. In fact, Sanjay Chugh, a leading
Indian psychologist, says that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of adults visit primary care
physicians for stress-related problems. Scary enough. But where do we err?

Just about everybody—men, women, children and even fetuses—suffer from stress.
Relationship demands, chronic health problems, pressure at workplaces, traffic
snarls, meeting deadlines, growing-up tensions or a sudden bearish trend in the
bourse can trigger stress conditions. People react to it in their own ways. In some
people, stress-induced adverse feelings and anxieties tend to persist and intensify.
Learning to understand and manage stress can prevent the counter effects of stress.

Methods of coping with stress are aplenty. The most significant or sensible way out is
a change in lifestyle. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, physical exercises,
listening to soothing music, deep breathing, various natural and alternative methods,
personal growth techniques, visualization and massage are some of the most
effective of the known non-invasive stress busters.
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The words 'positive' and 'stress' may not often go together. But, there are
innumerable instances of athletes rising to the challenge of stress and achieving the
unachievable, scientists stressing themselves out over a point to bring into light the
most unthinkable secrets of the phenomenal world, and likewise a painter, a
composer or a writer producing the best paintings, the most lilting of tunes or the
most appealing piece of writing by pushing themselves to the limit. Psychologists
second the opinion that some 'stress' situations can actually boost our inner potential
and can be creatively helpful. Sudha Chandran, an Indian danseus, lost both of her
legs in an accident. But, the physical and social inadequacies gave her more impetus
to carry on with her dance performances with the help of prosthetic legs rather than
deter her spirits.

Experts tell us that stress, in moderate doses, are necessary in our life. Stress
responses are one of our body's best defense systems against outer and inner
dangers. In a risky situation (in case of accidents or a sudden attack on life et al),
body releases stress hormones that instantly make us more alert and our senses
become more focused. The body is also prepared to act with increased strength and
speed in a pressure situation. It is supposed to keep us sharp and ready for action.

Research suggests that stress can actually increase our performance. Instead of
wilting under stress, one can use it as an impetus to achieve success. Stress can
stimulate one's faculties to delve deep into and discover one's true potential. Under
stress the brain is emotionally and biochemically stimulated to sharpen its
performance.
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A working class mother in down town California, Erin Brokovich, accomplished an
extraordinary feat in the 1990s when she took up a challenge against the giant
industrial house Pacific Gas & Electric. The unit was polluting the drinking water of
the area with chromium effluents. Once into it, Brockovich had to work under
tremendous stress taking on the bigwigs of the society. By her own account, she had
to study as many as 120 research articles to find if chromium 6 was carcinogenic.
Going from door to door, Erin signed up over 600 plaintiffs, and with attorney Ed
Masry went on to receive the largest court settlement, for the town people, ever paid
in a direct action lawsuit in the U.S. history—$333 million. It's an example of an
ordinary individual triumphing over insurmountable odds under pressure. If handled
positively stress can induce people to discover their inherent talents.

Stress is, perhaps, necessary to occasionally clear cobwebs from our thinking. If
approached positively, stress can help us evolve as a person by letting go of
unwanted thoughts and principle in our life. Very often, at various crossroads of life,
stress may remind you of the transitory nature of your experiences, and may prod
you to look for the true happiness of life.
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Stress has existed throughout the evolution. About 4 billion years ago, violent
collision of rock and ice along with dust and gas, led to the formation of a new
planet. The planet survive more than 100 million years of meltdown to give birth to
microscopic life . These first organisms endured the harshest of conditions—lack of
oxygen, exposure to sun's UV rays and other inhospitable elements, to hang on to
their dear life. Roughly 300,000 years ago, the Neanderthals learnt to use fire in a
controlled way, to survive the Glacial Age. And around 30,000 years, Homo sapiens
with their dominant gene constitutions and better coping skills, won the game of
survival. Each step of evolution a test of survival, and survival, a matter of coping
with the stress of changing conditions.

Millions of trials and errors in the life process have brought men to this stage. Coping
with events to survive has led men to invent extraordinary technologies, beginning
with a piece of sharpened stone.
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From the viewpoint of microevolution, stress induction of transpositions is a powerful


factor, generating new genetic variations in populations under stressful environmental
conditions. Passing through a 'bottleneck', a population can rapidly and significantly
alters its population norm and become the founder of new, evolved forms.

Gene transposition through Transposable Elements (TE)—'jumping genes', is a major


source of genetic change, including the creation of novel genes, the alteration of
gene expression in development, and the genesis of major genomic rearrangements.
In a research on 'the significance of responses of the genome to challenges,' the
Nobel Prize winning scientist Barbara McClintock, characterized these genetic
phenomena as 'genomic shock'.This occurs due to recombinational events between
TE insertions (high and low insertion polymorphism) and host genome. But, as a rule
TEs remain immobilized until some stress factor (temperature, irradiation, DNA
damage, the introduction of foreign chromatin, viruses, etc.) activates their
elements.

The moral remains that we can work a stress condition to our advantage or protect
ourselves from its untoward follow-throughs subject to how we handle a stress
situation. The choice is between becoming a slave to the stressful situations of life or
using them to our advantage.

What is Stress?
According to the definition of stress, it is the actions your body goes through as it tries to adjust to your
changing environment. It can cause physical and emotional effects on you which can be positive or
negative. Stress can either compel you to act and make you excited over something new or it can make you
feel disgusted, rejected, angry, and depressed. Stress could lead to health problems like headaches,
nausea, rashes, and high blood pressure. Stress can either help you readjust your life or hinder you. It all
depends on how your react to it.

What are the Causes of Stress?


What causes stress? Stressors are the causes of stress. These stressors may be physical or emotional.
They can even be caused internally or externally. Events, situations, people, are the various stressors. The
most common stressors in anyone's life are change, death, career change. Stressors can also vary widely
from person to person. What may stress you out, may not stress out someone else. Children, teens, and
adults are all able to experience stress, but may all experience it differently. There are some stressors that
are specific.
Stress in children can be cause happiness or sadness. There are several signs of stress in your children.
Among them are feelings of nervousness, fast heartbeats, nail biting, headaches, and stomach aches. They
can experience bouts of sweating, nightmares, having fights, and crying. There are several things that can
cause stress in children. The divorce or separation of their parents can be one of the most stressful things a
child can go through. Losing a good friend, going to a new school, death, a big test, are also some very big
stressors for children.

If your teenager is experiencing stress it can be caused from several factors. Your teen should know that not
all stressors are bad. Their thoughts and feelings can make stress good or bad. If they are under a lot of
stress, other than the physical symptoms mentioned before, they may experience lack of concentration,
forgetfulness and carelessness. Emotionally, they may be bored. The outbursts may be in the form of anger,
nightmares, depression. They may also begin to withdraw or pick fights.

As an adult, we experience stress on a daily basis. It could be that you have a deadline to meet and that you
are hard pressed to finish it or you could have had a divorce. Sweaty palms, sleeplessness, heart
palpitations, and hair loss are some of the symptoms. A lot of stress may even give you reproductive
problems. You may have a tendency to overreact and unfortunately some people will turn to substance
abuse as a means to deal with their stress.

When a stressful situation ends, then your hormonal changes would go back to normal. Unfortunately, we
don't live in a perfect world and our bodies can continue to react to stress even after it is over. If you get
anxious over daily events or relationships, then the stress on you will never go away. Long-term acute stress
can cause many problems in your body. You may experience some or all of these effects of stress.

• ulcers

• obesity

• heart disease

• cancer

• depression

• anorexia

• diabetes

• gum disease

• hyperthyroidism

• sexual abuse

It is very important that you learn how to manage your stress. Exercise can help you do this. It is important
to set realistic goals for yourself. If something does go wrong, don't let the stress take control and learn to
forgive yourself for your mistakes. It may take some time to find the perfect stress management for you, but
once you do it, you will feel so much better.

When does it arise?


Stress can arise for many different reasons. It is different for everyone. It could be brought by the
death of a loved one, a traumatic accident, illness, or a serious disease. It can also arise from daily
situations. It is very hard to stay calm and relaxed because we all have hectic lives. It is very important to
find a way to de-stress when stress seems to overtake our lives. Your health could very well depend on it.
Now that you know what causes stress, you can work to find the way that is perfect for you to manage it.
You won't have to ask what is stress. You will be able to now recognize the signs and symptoms of stress
and deal with it all better. It is not an impossible task. You can definitely get rid of it provided you work
towards it. If you are not able to deal it through your own efforts you must seek medical attention.

Introduction to Stress Management


A lot of research has been conducted into stress over the last hundred years. Some of the
theories behind it are now settled and accepted; others are still being researched and
debated. During this time, there seems to have been something approaching open warfare
between competing theories and definitions: Views have been passionately held and aggressively
defended.

What complicates this is that intuitively we all feel that we know what stress is, as it is something
we have all experienced. A definition should therefore be obvious…except that it is not.

Definitions

Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers of stress research. His view in 1956 was that
“stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how you take it. The stress of
exhilarating, creative successful work is beneficial, while that of failure, humiliation or
infection is detrimental.” Selye believed that the biochemical effects of stress would be
experienced irrespective of whether the situation was positive or negative.

Since then, a great deal of further research has been conducted, and ideas have moved on.
Stress is now viewed as a "bad thing", with a range of harmful biochemical and long-term effects.
These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations.

The most commonly accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S Lazarus) is that
stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that “demands
exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In short, it's
what we feel when we think we've lost control of events.

This is the main definition used by this section of Mind Tools, although we also recognize that
there is an intertwined instinctive stress response to unexpected events. The stress response
inside us is therefore part instinct and part to do with the way we think.

Fight-or-Flight

Some of the early research on stress (conducted by Walter Cannon in 1932) established the
existence of the well-known “fight-or-flight” response. His work showed that when an organism
experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases hormones that help it to survive.

In humans, as in other animals, these hormones help us to run faster and fight harder. They
increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power
important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay
efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we
are damaged. As well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion
of everything else. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events.
Not only life-threatening events trigger this reaction: We experience it almost any time we come
across something unexpected or something that frustrates our goals. When the threat is small,
our response is small and we often do not notice it among the many other distractions of a
stressful situation.

Unfortunately, this mobilization of the body for survival also has negative consequences. In this
state, we are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This actually reduces our ability to work
effectively with other people. With trembling and a pounding heart, we can find it difficult to
execute precise, controlled skills. The intensity of our focus on survival interferes with our ability
to make fine judgments by drawing information from many sources. We find ourselves more
accident-prone and less able to make good decisions.

There are very few situations in modern working life where this response is useful. Most
situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.

In the short term, we need to keep this fight-or-flight response under control to be effective in our
jobs. In the long term we need to keep it under control to avoid problems of poor health and
burnout.

Managing Stress

There are very many proven skills that we can use to manage stress. These help us to remain
calm and effective in high pressure situations, and help us avoid the problems of long term stress.
In the rest of this section of Mind Tools, we look at some important techniques in each of these
three groups.

Keeping a Stress Diary or carrying out the Burnout Self-Test will help you to identify your current
levels of stress, so you can decide what action, if any, you need to take. Job Analysis and
Performance Planning will help you to get on top of your workload. While the emotionally-oriented
skills of Imagery, Physical Techniques and Thought Awareness, Rational Thinking & Positive
Thinking will help you change the way you see apparently stressful situations. Finally, the article
on Anger Management will help you to channel your feelings into performance.

This is a much-abridged excerpt from the ‘Understanding Stress and Stress Management’ module
of the Mind Tools Stress Management Masterclass. As well as covering this material in more
detail, it also discusses:

• Long-term stress: The General Adaptation Syndrome and Burnout


• The Integrated Stress Response
• Stress and Health
• Stress and its Affect on the Way We Think
• Pressure andPerformance: Flow and the ‘Inverted-U’

These sections give you a deeper understanding of stress, helping you to develop your own
stress management strategies for handling unique circumstances. Click here to find out more
about the Stress Management Masterclass and here to visit the Stress.MindTools.Com site,
which has many more articles on stress management.

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The first of these articles shows you how to keep a stress diary - an important technique for
understanding the most important sources of stress in your life. To read this, click 'Next article'
below. Other relevant destinations are shown in the "Where to go from here" list underneath.
Warning: Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death.
While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on
reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably
qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is
causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted
before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

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MEDICAL ASPECT

The Body’s Stress Response

The “fight-or-flight” stress response involves a cascade of biological changes that prepare
us for emergency action. When danger is sensed, a small part of the brain called the
hypothalamus sets off a chemical alarm. The sympathetic nervous system responds by
releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
These stress hormones race through the bloodstream, readying us to either flee the scene
or battle it out.

Heart rate and blood flow to the large muscles increase so we can run faster and fight
harder. Blood vessels under the skin constrict to prevent blood loss in case of injury,
pupils dilate so we can see better, and our blood sugar ramps up, giving us an energy
boost and speeding up reaction time. At the same time, body processes not essential to
immediate survival are suppressed. The digestive and reproductive systems slow down,
growth hormones are switched off, and the immune response is inhibited.

Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms


Cognitive Symptoms Emotional Symptoms
• Memory problems • Moodiness
• Indecisiveness • Agitation
• Inability to concentrate • Restlessness
• Trouble thinking clearly • Short temper
• Poor judgment • Irritability, impatience
• Seeing only the negative • Inability to relax
• Anxious or racing thoughts • Feeling tense and “on edge”
• Constant worrying • Feeling overwhelmed
• Loss of objectivity • Sense of loneliness and isolation

• Fearful anticipation • Depression or general unhappiness


Physical Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
• Headaches or backaches • Eating more or less
• Muscle tension and stiffness • Sleeping too much or too little
• Diarrhea or constipation • Isolating yourself from others
Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
• Nausea, dizziness • Procrastination, neglecting
• Insomnia responsibilities
• Chest pain, rapid heartbeat • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs
• Weight gain or loss to relax
• Skin breakouts (hives, eczema) • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting,
• Loss of sex drive pacing)
• Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
• Frequent colds • Overdoing activities (e.g.
exercising, shopping)
• Overreacting to unexpected
problems

• Picking fights with others

Stress Can Have Positive Effects - Can You Believe it?

When many think of stress they think only of the negative effects that come with it. However
there are positive effects of stress. There is good types of stress that can actually be healthy
for your body.
There are also positive ways to relieve stress that allow you to help cope with your bad
stress. One of the best examples of positive stress is the fight or flight response that one
receives in threatening situations. This response may even be triggered in our body during
illnesses or traumas like bites and scrapes. This type of stress response in our body helps
provide a defense again infection. To understand the negative and positive effects of stress
you should first learn about the four different types of stress.

Types of Stress
Our lives can be impacted by four different types of stress. Each of these can be both positive
and negative stress. The first of these is eustress which is the type of positive stress. It is this
type of stress that helps an individual feel motivated to finish a project or get a creative
mindset to complete a task. You will typically feel this form of stress when you want a exciting
movie, run or ride a theme park ride.

Next is distress which is a bad form of stress. This is what individuals feel when they are
frustrated, fearful or have unresolved anger. When too much of this stress is present it results
in anxiety and mental suffering. Then there is under-stress which is what happens when
individuals don't have enough positive stress and this can actually lead to other problems.
Boredom and hopelessness are two effects of this stress and as a result people can be less
motivated to be creative.

The final type of stress is over-stress. This is what an individual feels after pushing themselves
too hard for an upcoming deadline. This is when people don't have the time to sit back and
think creatively and most of the focus is only on dealing with immediate issues. So what then
are the characteristics of positive stress?
Characteristics of Positive Stress
Not all stress is bad. There are positive effects of stress and it has its own unique
characteristics. When it comes to feelings such as anxiety, worry, fear, pain or anger then
these are linked to negative stress and this is what many people associate stress with.
However, the positive effects of stress are something that can help motivate individuals to
accomplish something good. Positive stress helps an individual to make any necessary
changes in their lives.

Many discoveries and creative solutions that an individual comes up with will be the result of
positive stress. Positive stress can even help a person to take up a new job, change their
schedule, leave during a threatening or dangerous situation and make necessary lifestyle
changes. Basically the positive stress is something that is products, good and useful. So what
exactly is the difference between positive and negative stress?

Stress SWOT Analysis

Introduction:
SWOT Analysis is a useful technique used for understanding an organization’s strategic position.
It is routinely used to identify and summarize:
• Strengths: The capabilities, resources and advantages of an organization.
• Weaknesses: Things the organization is not good at, areas of resource scarcity and areas where
the organization is vulnerable.
• Opportunities: The good opportunities open to the organization, which perhaps exploit its
strengths or eliminate its weaknesses.
• Threats: Things that can damage the organization, perhaps as people exploit its limitations or as
its environment changes.
The Stress SWOT tool is a variant of this technique, focused on helping you to understand your
unique strengths and weaknesses in the way you manage stress. It also helps you to identify the
resources you have available to you, and points out the consequences of managing stress poorly.

Using the Tool:

Use this Microsoft Excel template to help you use this tool.

Strengths:
To use the tool, start by listing your strengths. Write down:

• Your personal strengths – things you are good at and people respect you for, your areas of good
experience, etc.;
• Your support network – family, friends, professional or other networks, government services,
powerful contacts, co-workers, your team, etc.; and
• The resources you can draw on – money, assets, power, etc.
Next, work through your stress diary and look at the times where you managed stress well.
Write down the practical skills you used to do this – these are likely to be your stress
management strengths.

Finally, look back into the past, and think about times when you handled intense stress
successfully. Again, write down how you did this.

Weaknesses:
Next, list your personal weaknesses and the limitations in your position. Write down:

• Personal weaknesses – areas where you are aware that you are not strong, or things that people
fairly criticize you for;
• Lack of resources – where other people at your level have access to these resources, or where
the absence of resources is impacting your situation; and
• Bad situations – where you are experiencing problems with your job or relationships, or where you
have a poor living or working environment.

Challenge these weaknesses rationally to ensure that they are fair and genuine, and that you are
not being excessively harsh and self-critical. At the same time, challenge whether you could
realistically expect more resources to be available.

Then work through the stress diary again, looking at the times where you did not handle stress
well. Identify where you have problems managing stress. Again, look into your past at stressful
situations. Where you think you handled stress poorly, write down why you think this was the
case.

By cataloging all of these, you are identifying possible areas of change in your life, and are
spotting where you need to develop new skills. In the next section, we will bring these into your
Stress Management Plan.

Opportunities:
In the Opportunities section, brainstorm the opportunities you have available to you.

First, work your way through the strengths you have identified. Ask yourself how you can draw on
these strengths to help you manage stress. For example, are there people whose job it is to help
you? Are there people whose help you could call on? Could you pay people to take on tasks you
do not have time for? Are you fully using the tools or assets you have available? Could you use
your skills and strengths in one area to help yourself in another area?
Second, work through the weaknesses you have identified. These are opportunities for positive
change and for development of new skills.

Finally, consider the real world, practical opportunities that would be open to you if you took
advantage of these opportunities to improve your stress management.

Threats:
In the threats section, consider the consequences of leaving your weaknesses uncovered.
Consider the damage to relationships, career and happiness that would come from failing to
manage stress.

Use this consideration of the downside as a spur to ensure that you take stress management
seriously!

Summary:
A Stress SWOT Analysis helps you to understand your unique position with respect to stress
management.

By looking at strengths, you ensure that you recognize all of the personal strengths, skills,
resources and social networks that can help you manage stress. By looking at your weaknesses,
you identify areas you need to change in your life, including new skills that you need to acquire.

By looking at opportunities, you should be able to better see how you can take advantage of your
strengths to help manage the stress in your life. You should also understand the rewards of good
stress management. By looking at threats, you should recognize the negative consequences of
managing stress poorly, and this should be a potent source of motivation!