Food for Thought, the PENED Newletter
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by Anita Sinicrope Maier, MSW
****Revised and Reprinted from FOOD FOR THOUGHT, April 1986****
Stress and stress management are lifestyle effects. More than 50% of the deaths attributed to 8 or the top 10 causes for death in our country are lifestyle related. Many people have the sense that stress is bad for us, but, on the contrary, some stress is actually necessary. Most of us need a certain amount of stress in order to function, motivate people, keep alert, and keep going. It becomes problematic, however, when stress is chronic and excessive. It can then disrupt emotions, cognitions, and behaviors.
We really have primeval bodies. Our brain has not fully adapted to all the changes that have evolved in our lives. Therefore, our bodies may respond in a primeval way. The "fight or flight" syndrome of the cavemen is no longer necessary in our society since we encounter fewer life-threatening situations. Yet, we still experience it in many situations. A common effect of stress, such as irritability, through not serious in itself, can ruin interpersonal relationships. Impotence or loss of libido may also be a result of chronic and excessive stress, as well as the most serious consequence of all - sudden death caused by a heart attack or stroke.
We all have psycho-social stressors such as losing our keys, missing our bus, meeting a deadline, etc., but we must make a cognitive appraisal of what's going on and how we interpret the situation in order to determine if they are adversely affecting our health. Hans Selye, M.D. in his book, Stress Without Distress, says "it isn't what happens to man that counts...it's how we take (interpret) it."
The mind and body are connected as seen in the psycho-physiological principle. Any feeling or emotion can affect our biological functioning. It may change our physiology even though we cannot see some effects such as an increase in blood pressure or an increase in cholesterol levels. We may be unconsciously allowing our bodies to respond in a primitive way to some situations when, in fact, our brains should intervene.
There are three levels of stress management:
- Social/environmental engineering --- An example of a student's stress is exam taking. If instead of cramming for exams at the last minute, the student studies throughout the term and keeps up with his assignments, his stress will be reduced. If some people drive you up the wall, you can learn to avoid them or reduce the frequency or length of contact. In business and industry, excessive absenteeism and mistake making are being combated by teaching employees time management, assertiveness training, and decision-making skills.
- Changing you perception --- Everyone has the ability to change his cognitive appraisal of a situation. We can restructure how we interpret something. It is not always easy, but it does work.
- Response management --- Here we intervene in the response itself. Tranquilizers, alcohol, and other drugs intervene, but they are not a good answer. Some informal strategies are exercise, going to a movie or dinner with a friend, and reading a good book. Some more formal strategies which can guarantee to help relax you if you are open to their effects are relaxation training, meditation, self-hypnosis, biofeedback training, and diaphramatic breathing. They are guaranteed, because they interfere with you large muscle response.
We see these methods being pursued more and more in the medical model. Now, however, they are also being used with normal, healthy people to increase productivity and their quality of life. Although these techniques may not solve the problems, they allow us to function better and manage our pressures.
Who stays healthy when the going gets tough? Those who have a variety of coping responses. Get rid of your anger quickly; express your feelings in an assertive manner; develop a healthy narcissism; and recognize the body's needs of good eating, sleeping, and relaxation. Learn to have fun and see change as exciting and a challenge rather than a threat, and you will be well on your way to good stress management.