Whether at work, at home or elsewhere, both men & women are affected by stress & the difference may be of degree only. An international authority has defined stress as non-specific response of the body to any demand. Though its occurrence is normal, stress may be pleasant (called Eustress) or unpleasant (called Distress), & the agent causing it is called stressor. Even though stress is known for its negative effects on the body (physiological stress) & mind (psychological or mental or emotional stress), researchers have observed that some amount of stress is necessary for everyone, for efficient functioning & it has negative effects, only when, it crosses some threshold value. We should learn about stress causing factors, identify the dominant factors & learn to control & cope with the stress.
Discussing Physiological stress, in all mammals, including human beings, Hypothalamus at the base of the brain, becomes activated under stress, which stimulates pituitary glands to release hormones, which in turn, activate adrenal glands above kidneys to produce other hormones, which have wide ranging effects on body mechanism—some activities of body are increased, while others are decreased. Muscles might ache. Pain may result from slow mobilization of lactic acid. Liver may discharge sugar into the blood to provide muscles with excess amount of energy. It might also release excess amount of Cholesterol. Skin may become pale & sweat may increase, to cool down the overheated body system. Pupils may dilate. Salivary glands may stop secretion, producing dryness in mouth. Rate of breathing & heart beat may increase; both resulting in increased B.P. Kidneys may work less efficiently. Digestion may be impaired. Defecation & urination may be prevented. Alternatively, diarrhea & uncontrolled urination may occur. Immune system may get impaired, making one susceptible to disease(s) or allergy. If continued for long, stress may manifest in secondary symptoms like loss of sleep, headache, B. P., hyperactivity, excessive smoking & drinking, diminished interest in life & its enjoyments. Among the mental(psychological/emotional) symptoms of stress, are obsessions & phobias, loss of self-confidence & self-esteem, feeling of guilt, fear-of-future, diminished concentration, requiring to rush to another job before the one on hand is finished, constantly irritable, isolated, angry, bothering too much about trivialities, crying or feeling like crying too often, vagrant mind, inability to concentrate on any job for long.
Out of the three mental/emotional causes of stress, the first one hypochondria is an abnormal anxiety, about or interest in one’s state of health. The hypochondriac has a sense of insecurity & he suffers from illness phobia. The next one is depression. Every one of us, sometime or the other may be depressed. But, it becomes a problem, when it gets out of proportion. It is considered normal to be deeply grieved on the death of the loved one, but in course of time one reconciles & should. It may be caused by external factors (called Exogenous depression), or it may seem to come from within the body (called Endogenous depression). The last one consists of phobias, obsessions & ruminations. A phobia is irrational fear, accepted by the sufferer as such, of an object or situation. Agoraphobia is fear of going out in the open. Obsessions are also the result of fear. A person with abnormal fear of dirt may be very complicated in his/her procedure, to maintain cleanliness. Ruminations involve anxiety-provoking thoughts without any action.
Any change that affects the set pattern of life is likely to causes stress. Advanced technology has made life fast, with better quality & greater accuracy, along with pressure of population & resultant over-crowding-congestion & wider range of choices at all levels of living. More decisions have to be made every day by all of us, with higher degree of responsibility & accountability, better quality of communication & understanding etc. Mass transit due to political upheaval or daily routine commuting to work by road/railways/subs; do have their deleterious impact on tranquility of life. In the Jet-age, the higher-ups & executives have to cope with several time-zones & the body & mind both have to adapt to these frequent changes.
Stress is however, necessary to stimulate each one of us. Without stress & the resulting challenge, one is apt to become dull & indifferent & may even lose the will to live the life to the fullest. But damaging stress occurs, when challenges become impossible to cope with. In this context, stress acts as a protective mechanism of the body. But, if continued for too long, it changes from fight mechanism, to fear & flight mechanism. Under prolonged stress, one may develop potentially harmful changes in behaviour, which in the ultimate; undermine both physical & mental health. Threshold, the cut-off point, when stress turns from Eustress to Distress, is rather subtle and as such difficult to recognize on one’s own, unless one is watchful & careful constantly. But this itself, if practised too far, may lead to stress. However, stress thresholds may vary from person to person & for the same person, from situation to situation. One may be bothered by one’s boss, to the extent where one suffers continuously. Sometimes people say, under stress from their relationships, about getting ulcer or pain in the neck, which sometimes actually does happen. Chronic exposure to stressful situations over long periods may cause serious diseases like heart accidents & mental breakdowns etc., thus shortening the span of life. Aging is nothing but, the sum total of the scars left by the stress of life. These scars can be chemical or mental & cause irreparable damage to the personality as a whole.
Dr. H. Holmes, Professor Psychiatry, at the University of Washington, USA had devised a scale assigning point values to changes, good or bad, that often affect us all. A danger point reaches when enough changes occur during one year to add up to 300. In one of his studies, it was found that 80% of those who exceeded 300 became seriously depressed or suffered serious illnesses. Various common life changes have been given Holmes point values such as Death of spouse-100, Divorce-73, Marital Separation-65, Jail term or Death of close family member-63, Personal injury/Illness-53, Marriage-50, Fired from job-47, Marital Reconciliation or Retirement-45, Change in health of family member-44, Pregnancy-40, Sex difficulty-39, Change in financial set up-38, Death of close friend-37, Change in work load-36, Arguments with spouse-35, Mortgage or loan foreclosure-30, Change in work responsibility or child leaving home or trouble with in laws-29, Personal achievement-28, Wife beginning/stopping work or beginning/ending school-26, Revision of personal habits-24, Trouble with boss-23, Change in residence or school-20, Vacation-13, Minor violation of law-11.
For managing stress, we should do, what we like to do & at our own rate. For many persons manner of living, manner of behaving in various situations, deciding whether to take over parental business or go in for service etc. may be matters causing stress. If we really want to be a musician, singer or a painter, then we should just be & set our own code of life. Hard work never kills anybody. In fact it is our attitude or approach towards work, which makes it hard or otherwise. We should learn to take interest in our work & regard it as our own. In course of time, we will begin to love our work. We should work to live & not live to work. For normal functioning, man needs work, as much as he needs air, food, sleep or social contacts. We should find the kind of work that suits us best. Unfortunately, work is seen as something that wears us down & this actually produces stress. Work wears us down through frustration or failure, resulting in stress that leaves some irreparable chemical scars (we may think of them as insoluble precipitates of living matter). The successful men are said to have worked hard throughout their life, but in fact they never worked but lived a life of leisure.
One important strategy to cope up with stress is relaxation. For effectiveness, we should try to learn relaxation when we are fresh & alert & not when we are feeling tired. We should select a solitary & quiet place with presence of no other persons. We should not rush the clock of body rhythm. If we are not succeeding initially, we should give up for a while, loosen any tight clothing, take off shoes, sit or lie as comfortably as possible, close the eyes, uncross the legs, rest our hands flat with palms upturned. Alternately, we should tense & relax each part of the body & take slow deep breath as we go along. The second strategy is reassessing, reorganizing & modifying our life style. For this purpose, we should first assess our own life style & identify works which we would like to do, use free time as per our liking & satisfaction, be in close contact with real friends but not with people who make us stressed, consider the requirement of sacrifices for doing as per our liking, do works which should be done by us or are liked by us, be happy with the job being done, live with right partner, like ourselves and our appearance, consider suitability of city life or country life, make life neither too busy nor less busy, observe the past best relations/activities, consider our dreams which can become reality.
We should organize our life style by establishing priorities of all activities/tasks at home & in office, deciding the order of doing things & checking whether we have time or we need help of others, eliminating inessential activities &/or those that can be postponed, seeking other’s help without hesitation for complex or difficult works, refusing unreasonable demands & living our own self, evaluating self imposed demands also as to whether they are necessary/desirable, making a list of all the friends to whom we could turn now or when under stress. Since physical fitness is a must for becoming stress-free, wholesome & balanced diet at regular intervals is important, along with suitable exercise & adequate rest. Certain foods associated with stress should be avoided such as Caffeine (in Coffee & in many soft drinks) which causes nervousness & palpitation. Salt has been linked with high BP, Sugar with Heart diseases, smoking with tension, irritability, sleeplessness & cancer. Alcohol depletes Vitamins of group B, which are essential for reducing stress. Certain nutrients like Vitamin B, Minerals like Calcium (natural sedative), Magnesium (Nature’s tranquilizer) & Potassium (healthy heart) are expected to reduce stress. An element of Vitamin B, pantothenic acid, is especially important in preventing stress & strengthening immunity system. Calcium deficiency may cause fatigue, nervousness & tension. It is available in dairy products, eggs, almonds, soya beans etc. Magnesium deficiency leads to excitability, irritability, apprehension & emotional disorders. It is also necessary for absorption of both Calcium & Potassium. Potassium deficiencies are associated with breathlessness fatigue, insomnia & low B.P. Potassium is found in many vegetables, seeds, dates. Yoghurt is rich in Vitamin-A, D & B-Complex. It relieves insomnia, migraine & cramps. Rest & Recreation are also necessary, for healthy body & mind. Holidays & leisure should be planned regularly & enjoyed, away from the normal place of work. An executive should delegate duties to his colleagues & avoid the temptation of being the Superman. Retirement should also be planned well in time.
We ourselves are the best judge to examine & identify the factors which are causing stress to us & the methods to effectively cope with the specific type(s) of stress, take action(s) where necessary & manage the stress in our life. This will result in controlling the effects of these factors, reducing their negative effects & thus leading to improvement in our effectiveness.
This blog has been presented and posted by Vijai K Sharma (in short Vijai), after being jointly compiled, as a result of discussions and deliberations between Abha (former Deputy Director of a voluntary organization in Mumbai), Vijai (former Additional G.M. in a large industrial organization) and Prakash (former Ford Foundation Fellow and Smith-Mundt/Fulbright Scholar and former Professor of Econometrics in several Universities including California University, Berkeley).