As per a definition, the stress is defined as the demands exerted upon our physical or mental energy in day to day life. As such, the life experiences several demands all the time. So long we are in a position to easily cop up, we have no problem but when we feel overburdened with such demands, it turns into a painful and panicky situation and the obvious conclusion is that we are under stress.
As a matter of fact, the low to moderate levels of stress actually keeps us alert and active in our performance and efficiency. On the other hand, too little demands or stress actually lead to a boredom in life and too much stress causes an unproductive anxiety and worry level. The latter situation usually arises when such demands come in heavy doses with abnormal strength over a long period of time and the stress turns into a kind of distress. So in common parlance it can be surmised that the stress is an automatic response of the body in relation to any physical or mental demand on it.
Biologically, our body is tuned to cop up with dangers to life. Hence any stressful event leads to increase in secretion of catecholamines i.e. adrenalin and noradrenalin hormones into the blood stream to deal with a kind of fight or flight response. These hormones are produced in the adrenal gland and nerve endings of our sympathetic nervous system. They in turn induce release of glucose and fatty acids in the blood stream to meet instant extra energy demands of body. If the process continues for long time as a result of undue stress causing anxiety or worry, the situation may lead to diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease including chronic mental anxiety and depression.
The mechanism is simple. If excess sugar stays in the blood for a long time it will disturb homeostasis in the circulatory system and cause diabetes. Similarly since prolonged secretion of fatty acids are not oxidized by commensurate physical activity they start blocking the coronary arteries. Besides, the excess adrenalin itself is believed to cause harm to heart muscles. This situation, if prevails for a long time, may lead to serious heart disease.
For illustration, when we face an imminent danger to life due to a close encounter with the venomous cobra, the mere thought of danger would trigger secretion of adrenaline leading to anger and/or fear. In the former case, we resort to aggression by endeavoring to kill it while in the latter case we have a tendency to flee from the scene. This is a natural stimulus-response mechanism built in the body but such situations do not frequently occur. Most of the time, it is not an immediate life threatening danger but rather some kind of a perceived or imagined threat which lies in the future, and perhaps may not materialize at all. But this causes an overdose of anxiety or worry putting the person in tremendous stress.
In our day to day life, certain relationships, situations and activities cause stress to our physical, mental and psychological well-being. Ordinarily, such agents are family, work, school, relationships, finances, legal, health issues, environment etc.
I have a family friend who keeps on visiting us frequently. On most of the occasions, the topic of conversation focuses on his son’s progress in the school. He is unduly anxious and worried all the time about future of his son. If the son gets 'A' grade in an examination, he is dissatisfied and worried why other boys have scored better than him. If his son gets a lower grade, he will remain upset for days cribbing poor performance of his ward and even scold him.
Then there is this colleague who always bitterly complains about his boss. Obviously, he is not happy at his work place and carries his tension back home. Consequently he has become short-tempered and shouts at his wife and children even on trivial issues. It is quite obvious that his discomfort and differences at work are causing enormous stress on his mental and physical health. I have seen cases where the death of the spouse put the surviving partner under the tremendous mental stress and the latter could not survive long despite his good health and worldly comforts, particularly in the old age.
These are only a few situations and instances where a person falls easy prey to unwarranted stress causing a havoc to his mental and physical health. In day to day life we come across numerous such situations which if not handled wisely may lead to tremendous stress and consequent hazards on health. Some of the common events having stress values are enumerated below:
Death of spouse, divorce, marital separation, failure in love relationship, death of a close family member or friend, injury or illness of self or family member, pregnancy, sexual incompatibility and related problems, business losses or readjustment, loss of a job, problems at work place, financial constraints, mortgage or loan, dispute with in-laws, wife beginning or stopping job, progress of child at school, change in working time and conditions, trouble with state laws, property disputes, retirement, separation of son or daughter, change in residence or place, dispute with neighbors, noise and particulate pollution etc. The list is only illustrative and not comprehensive.
The most common and potential stressor these days continues to be problems at the work place. This may be one reason or a mix of several factors like ill-treatment by boss or supervisors, lack of job security, too much work and prolonged working hours, inadequate pay or wages, lack of cooperation among co-workers, company policies including too much expectations, poor communication skills, unrealistic targets and deadlines, rude customers etc.
Common negative effects of sustained stress are both physical and emotional posing serious health risk. As already stated earlier, physically it may lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even weight gain or loss and hair loss. At emotional level, the stress can cause frequent mood swings, undue worry or anxiety, depression, memory loss, decreased drive for appetite and work etc. And there are numerous instances where emotionally disturbed people also take resort to alcohol and drugs.
Undoubtedly, we need to consciously take stress relief measures for a good physical and mental health. This is a much investigated and researched area and several techniques have been suggested from time to time to cop up with the stress in life. These include autogenic training, cognitive therapy, social adaptation, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, adapting hobbies, prayer, reading, music, physical exercise, relaxation techniques, counseling etc.
Of course one and for simpler approach could be having enough peace and rest through appropriate body relaxation exercises. Relaxation of mind and body through meditation and breathing technique are known to achieve miraculous results in de-stressing people. Physical exercises through yoga and appropriate work out routines under supervision are quite helpful. Besides cultivating good hobbies and counseling could also be useful. Developing good hobbies, prayer and music could be good diversions to keep irritating thoughts away. Some people may need counseling and anti-depressants.
Above all a positive mental attitude is perhaps the best medicine and remedy to cop up with stress in various situations. For this a person must learn and fine tune own perception and expectation from the surroundings. Besides, one needs to learn to handle jobs in manageable components or parts and accordingly setting realistic goals in personal and professional life. Further, one also needs to set clear boundaries for self in various walks of life and avoid procrastination in all situations.
A positive mental attitude certainly helps. Before a thought or an event starts posing threat in terms of worry or anxiety, one should try to apply his mind in determining if it is really worth worrying. As motivational speakers often say that you cannot amend past and you cannot foresee future, so you really need to realize if you cannot affect happenings in these time spans then what is that you will achieve by unnecessarily worrying about things. An application of mind would reveal that there is no point in crying over the spilt milk. Whatever precaution one can take should be taken to avoid an uncomfortable situation or mishap by due forethought and diligence but if it has occurred anyway, there is no use in worrying about if it cannot be remedied. One may initially find this process difficult but through practice one can certainly attain a positive mental attitude.
And there are clear benefits of managing stress in terms of better physical and mental health with increased personal stamina and energy levels. Apart from the fact of being at low risk of acquiring chronic diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, heart ailments etc., a less stressed person is emotionally more stable because a positive outlook brings happiness and content too in life. People who are able to manage their stress are also incidentally more focused in approach, and are better learners and achievers in their personal and professional life.