What is Stress?
Stress is part of life. Antibiotics can’t touch it. The microscope can’t spot it. It is rapidly spreading and almost everybody’s feeling the effect. A death in the family, the birth of a baby, moving, taking a vacation, getting a job promotion, arguing … all of these common occurrences are stressful. Since stress cannot be excised from the life experience, it is imperative to learn how to deal with it.
Although we all talk about stress, it often is not clear what stress is really about. It seems that stress is the “hot” word these days. Most people seem to agree that these are high-pressure times. Employees complain of being burned out, used up or overloaded.
Many of us are just plain tired, tired of ever going change, sick of ambiguity and uncertainty. We just wish that change would go way, or at least slow down. When it does not, we look round for someone to blame or for someone we feel should be responsible for causing stress.
What does Research say
Research shows that everyone sees situations differently and each person has different coping skills. It is not necessarily the nature of the stressor that drives people to dizzying heights of fist-clenching, jaw-grinding, cold-sweating states of stress and panic. The key factor is one’s response to a stressful situation. Different people respond differently to stressors.
One person may calmly face moving day, while another person (in the exact same situation) might be totally wiped out by the stress that moving induces. So the ability to manage the stressors that bombard us daily is of the utmost importance.
Also not all situations that are labelled “stressful” are harmful. Being promoted, changing careers or moving to a new office or home may not be perceived as threatening.
However, we may feel that situations are stressful because we are not adequately prepared to deal with them.
Some situations in life are stress-provoking, but it is our thoughts about situations that determine whether they are a problem or not to us.
However, there is one area experts feel will usually cause negative stress and that lack of control over one’s job or workplace. This is the leading cause of stress more than hours of work or one’s responsibility on the job.
Stress manifests itself physically.
When facing a stressor, your body responds by switching into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Physiologically, your body is ready to deal with the perceived danger (the stressor). Your blood pressure goes up; heart and respiration rate increases and hormones are released such as adrenaline. The muscles become tensed (some people clench their jaw); headaches, back pain, stomach aches (ulcers become exacerbated), bad skin, and the inability to concentrate may plague your day. Your extremities become cold as blood is kept in the central part of the body. The immune system is weakened (since your body is concentrating on dealing with the stressor), and you become very susceptible to colds, flues, cold sores, cankers, etc. Stress erodes sexual function also. Evidently, stress is a very real and potentially uncomfortable component of life.
While stress can be both good and bad, on average Canadians say 47 percent of the stress they face is of the bad variety. According to Statistics Canada, 23 per cent of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, and that number rises to 30 per cent among the 35 to 54 age group.
What is Your Stress Index?
Stress can be difficult to understand. The emotional chaos it causes can make our daily lives miserable. It can also decrease our physical health, sometimes drastically. Strangely, we are not always aware that we are under stress. The habits, attitudes and signs that can alert us to problems may be hard to recognize because they have become so familiar. How high is your Stress Index? Find out by scoring your answers to the questions below.
1-6: There are few hassles in your life. Make sure, though, that you are not trying so hard to avoid problems that you shy away from challenges.
7 – 13: You’ve got your life in fairly good control. Work on the choices and habits that could still be causing you some unnecessary stress in your life.
14 – 20: You’re approaching the danger zone. You may well be suffering stress-related symptoms, and your relationships could be strained. Think carefully about the choices you’ve made and take relaxation breaks every day.
Above 20: Emergency! You must stop now, re-think how you are living, change your attitudes and pay careful attention to diet, exercise and relaxation.
CMHA National website