“When we change our perception we gain control. Then, stress becomes a challenge, not a threat. When we commit to action, to actually doing something rather than feeling trapped by events, the stress in our life becomes manageable.” – Greg Anderson
The word “stress”, means different things. Examples of usage In the English language are – “He presided over the economy during the period of its greatest stress and danger” (Robert J. Samuelson, to indicate a state of great difficulty) or ” The teacher stressed the importance of discipline in school”, suggesting the use to indicate emphasis. In the computer language, it is designed for use in solving structural analysis problems in civil engineering [str(uctural) e(ngineering) s(ystems) s(olver)] and in physics, it means an applied force or system of forces that tends to strain or cause deformation.
It was only in 1946, Dr. Hans Seyle gave us the current meaning of the word stress. Dr. Seyle was an endocrinologist who has done a huge amount of work in understanding stress.
What then does the word stress really mean to us? Very simply put, it means a response to a disturbing influence or environmental demands (the stressors). It is a point when one feels that it is not possible to cope up with a situation with the current capacity.
It is important to distinguish between the words stress and stressor. A stressor is what elicits the stress response.
A stress response means that a neruroendocrine cascade is triggered, with release of the stress hormones (mainly, adrenaline, & glucocorticoids and the neurotransmitter noradrenaline), which together with the sympathetic nervous system, stimulate our thinking, enhance alertness, and arouse the nervous, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, preparing the body for a “fight or flight” reaction. This works very well in the acute situation. For example, when walking alone on a lonely street, if one senses a threat in the form of a stranger following you or approaching you, the stress response allows you to flee at an otherwise unimaginable speed.
However, in today’s world, stress responses are continuous to different stressors through the day. It could be just reaching in time, crossing the road, a relationship, work colleagues and so on.
However, unlike the “lonely street” example, one cannot find outlets like “fleeing” from all the stressors. When an executive gets angry during a meeting, he cannot just walk out. He has to control his emotions and sit through or when a flight is delayed with no information provided for hours, we cannot smash the airline office and walk out, the traffic chaos is a stressor with no outlet for the sufferer.
The end result is piled up stress responses, which means means that the body is revved up with the stress hormones and has no outlet. What happens then? THE BODY AND MIND BEAR THE BRUNT. The stress hormones start acting and have effects on our body, mind, emotions and behaviour.
Some attempts have been made to measure stress with stress self tests and burn-out tests. The Trier Social Stress Test is one example. There are now studies being done to identify biochemical markers to ascertain stress levels. Salivary amylase is one such marker. The foolish man needs a biochemical proof for everything!
It is important then to identify clearly what are your individual stressors – it could be relationships, marriage, loneliness, work, lack of confidence, inability to accept your changed circumstances in life (retirement, divorce, age) and perhaps, the most important – a lack of purpose in life.
Understanding your own stressors is the first step towards mitigating stress levels.
Having identified the stressor, one has to evolve one’s own stress-busting strategies. There is no single effective method. Strategies can be as simple as writing a daily diary, talking to a friend, learning to accept change as a part of life, relaxing breathing techniques, maintaining good health, and taking firm steps towards leading a more spiritually rich life.