The Tress Of Stress

Anybody who is stressed can be compared to a laboratory rat that constantly gets a dose of electric shock. But the picture that comes to mind when stress is mentioned is the image of some distraught looking, fagged-out individual with disheveled hair, with a loose tie, and clothes hanging about him unreasonably. But when psychologists talk about stress, they refer to a process that involves a person’s interpretation and response to a threatening event. At other circumstances too, they relate with stress as an unpleasant state of emotional and psychological arousal that people experience in circumstances that are dangerous.

Everyone experiences stress. It may be at the workplace, where certain categories of workers have to meet a deadline with a boss breathing down their necks; or it may be a by-product of a relationship gone sour; while some feel deadbeat whenever they are badly evaluated at their workplace or school; others feel stressed-up at the thought that they have a certain trepidation for: the death of a loved one and preparations for a funeral or matrimony can be stressful. Sometimes too, just the needed to meet everyday challenges in an environment that is difficult produces stress.

No matter what produces it, stress could be an emulsifier, having positive as well as negative implications depending on who is involved. Some who say they thrive under pressure use stress as a tool with which they produce results they could not under normal conditions. However, that is not the same with people in domestic relationships, where stress often results in aggressive behaviour with disastrous circumstances.

Common events in our lives that stress us up may be major catastrophies like the natural disasters of the tsunami or the tragic flooding of a room occupied by a family of five, who have nowhere to go to afterwards. Changes in our lives like deaths, births, promotions or certain kinds of jobs bring stress. Nevertheless, the greatest harbingers of stress constitute the eternal battles that are fought either on the streets or in boardrooms, either to put food on the table or maintain its source. The greatest of them come from the daily hassles – a noisy neighbourhood, having to navigate very dense human and vehicular traffic. Even though some of these simple things might seem irregularly insignificant, they can cause anyone to snap and lose control.

People do not respond to stress in much the same way – scientists have said that people either fight or fly, that is, the hormones send out signals to prepare the body for an unexpected event. The heart rate of the individual may speed up, the muscle tension will increase, and the blood flow may be diverted from the internal organs and skin to the brain and muscles. Several people who handle stress better than others have what scientists have referred to as the general adaptation syndrome which consists of an alarm stage, resistance and exhaustion. The implication of responding to stress in this manner is that when stress persists for long time, and the body is always active, a person is liable to be vulnerable to diseases and may die.

Doctors agree that stress contributes to a lot of health problems. First are cardiovascular diseases mostly because of the release of stress hormones on the body which has an overall negative effect on the heart and blood components. Other problems include hypertension, heart diseases, ulcers, cancers chronic pains. Stress is also known to increase free fatty acids in the blood, making it difficult for blood to move freely in the human body.

Nigerians who say they enjoy stress are known in psychological terms as type A. Their personality is characterised mostly by hostility, combativeness and impatience and competitiveness. When this category of persons experience stress and fight it in their usual combative approach, their heart and blood rates hit the roof. Their recovery rate is much slower compared to type B kind of people who are mostly easy-going.

Stress destroys the immune system as fast as the HIV/AIDS virus. Studies carried out on rats showed that they had decreased immune system when exposed to overcrowding, loud noises and electric shocks. The study also found out that stressed out persons often engage in anti-social activities like smoking, drug and alcohol addiction, insomnia and paid poor attention to their diet. Nigerians who experience a high level of stress for a long time become mentally ill without knowing that they are ill mentally. They may be irritable, raise their voices and become emotionally unstable and withdrawn. They suffer extreme anxiety, depression and many emotional drawbacks.

Some cope and manage stress nicely, while others just endure it. Those who cope and manage stress use the facility of thought and action. They make positive statements about themselveS, resist frustrating episodes and confront intimidating cir#umstances head on in an optimistic way. Others who just endure stress develop low s%lf esteem and a pessimistic outlook to life.

Doctors suggeSt the following stress-bursting activity:

*social support systems: they encourage individuals to establish bonds with family friends and with household pets like dogs, cats and parrots. These support systems have often been seen as stress absorbers and linked to good health and a superior ability to cope with stress.

*biofeedback: in advanced countries, residents connect themselves to biofeedback machines that beep if there are stress-related changes like muscle tension, faster heart rate, skin temperature. They learn to be sensitive to these changes and produce a response system to voluntarily lower their hear rate. This has been known to release tension in the head, scalp and long-term relief from stress.

*relaxation: they call it progressive muscular relaxation, where individuals systematically tense and relax different skeletal points of thd body, while focusing one’s attention towards the contrasting sensations produced by the two sensations. They also suggest meditation, to achieve qubjective goals like contemplation, wisdom, and altered states of consciousness. The kind of meditation they suggest is in the form of yoga, Buddhism, transcendental meditation involving the chanting of mantras for therapeutic effect.

*aerobic exercises: the American College of sports recommends exercising 3-4 times weekly for at least 20 minutes to reduce stress and cardiovascular diseases. They suggest that running, walking for long hours increases the endurance levels of the heart and lungs and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.

Source: Encarta Encyclopedia, 2005

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