How can I deal with stress?

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Answered by: rasya, An Expert in the All About Stress Category
‘I’m so stressed!’

We hear this phrase so often. From friends, students, parents, colleagues, and even children.

Let’s explore what exactly is stress? Where does it come from? How does it affect us? And lastly, how can we prevent or deal with it?

After World War 1 soldiers returned home, wary from battle, traumatized by all they had seen, and all those they had lost. Consequently, many suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had breakdowns. It was then thought to be a neurological issue, believed to be a result of brain damage caused by all the shelling they constantly heard whilst on the battlefront. Hence, it was commonly known as ‘shell shock’. Nowadays we understand that it is a psychological issue, and the breakdown was in response to the immense stress they had from combat.

After World War 2 it was discovered that stress can come not only from great traumas like war, but from routine events, such as paying bills, exams, growing up. The military wanted to figure out which men would be more stress–resistant, and train them to deal with stress.

Before we continue, let’s clarify something. Stress, although thought to be negative, is not necessarily so. There is good stress, eustress, the prefix ‘eu’ is Greek for good. This is when someone responds to stress positively. They feel pressure and the challenge in the situation but in a positive way, and they are excited, full of hope, or motivated to deal with it. Examples of this would include doing exercise, competing in a race, betting. Eustress helps one deal with the situation.

Then there is distress, which is commonly known simply as stress. This is negative stress. This is when one responds to a situation with heartache or tension, and can result in physically affecting the person, by causing decreased focus in doing tasks, to other physical symptoms such as hair falling out, acne, loss of appetite, among other health problems.

Where is stress from?

Stress is the emotions and pressure you feel as the result of a stressor. There are four main stressors:

Environment - such as traffic, crowding or crime.

Social – resulting from a social role we fill, such as colleagues or family members. Examples of this would include a job interview, divorce, the loss of a loved one.

Physiological - circumstances affecting the body, such as giving birth, rapid growth in adolescence, accidents, poor nutrition, lack of sleep.

Thoughts - We can be faced with tough situations in life, but it is our thoughts which determine whether we find it stressful or not.

How can we ensure that we deal with situations in the best manner, and avoid a life full of stress?

There are two main coping methods to deal with stress: Emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping.

Emotion-focused coping is when you change the way you perceive the stressor. An example of this would be: Your spouse just said a hurtful comment. It can either stress you out, or you can think ‘they’ve had a bad day at work and don’t mean what they’ve said’. Then the comment doesn’t negatively affect you and stress you out.

Problem-focused coping is when you cut straight to the core of the stress, you change the stressor, and therefore you don’t have stress from it. An example of this would be, you have a tight deadline for a project and it’s stressing you out. With problem-focused coping you realize that it’s a time management issue - you have a deadline, so you take a piece of paper, schedule exactly the hours you will work on the project and how you will ensure it is finished on time. Now that you have a clear plan of action, it cuts the stress out.

Problem-focused coping however, only works in situations that you can control. In a situation such as the death of a loved one, it is beyond your control, you can’t ‘fix’ it. Therefore, the problem-focused coping technique is not used here, but rather the emotion-focused coping. Emotion-focused coping would be in the form of praying, meditating, journaling or going to an art class.

Back to the post WW2 military question, of how to identify the most stress-resistant soldiers? We see that it’s not simple because stress has so many different sources, there are many variables involved, and it also depends on each person independently, how they perceive and react to the stressor. You can have two people in the exactly same situation, yet they respond to it differently. You can’t test this in a laboratory, nor can a mathematical algorithm figure this out.

What we can do however, each individually, is use the coping techniques we have learnt, and do the best we can, to give ourselves a long, healthy and happy life.

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