Is Stress Harmful?
The answer to the question is--it depends. The report of the recent American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” study has received a lot of attention, particularly due to the findings that American Teens are reporting high stress levels and report ineffective coping skills. Sadly, the findings seem to parallel stress levels and coping skills of American adults.
The findings beg the question: Is life more stressful now for teen and adults alike, or are we not managing the stress as well as generations before us?
So What Is Stress And How Do We Manage It?
Stress is unavoidable, normative demands challenge our efforts to accomplish our happiness pursuits. We are strengthened and sustain the quality of life by properly responding and coping with life demands. Yet, demands and stressors are not simple. Selye, one of the earliest researchers of stress, identified four different types of stress:
1. Over-stress: to many demands
2. Under-stress: boredom
3. Damaging stress: uncontrollability
4. Good stress: regular challenges of life that effort and resources
Research illuminates that stress is largely determined by the perception of the situation, as a result, every given stressor has a strictly personal and idiosyncratic meaning. The key aspects of these perceptions are primarily based upon two issues:
Uncontrollability Of It All
Can I, through all my best efforts, influence the outcome and experience success. If the determination and perception is that after all I can do it will not create success, that a forced failure is inevitable, the result is high stress. Especially if high demands continue!
The second primary interpretation of life events and the amount of concern it creates, is the social evaluation threat. The concern is that our behavior or performance task could be negatively judged by peers. Because we largely define ourselves through important relationships, others approval and judgment has a significant power in our lives.
Unmanaged stress often leads to a variety of psychological and physical effects like depression as well as stress-response diseases characteristic of the leading causes of death. Inadequate coping skills often employ efforts to manage emotions that are unhealthy such as smoking, drugs, or engageing in process addictions (e.g. gambling, pornography, gaming). While the efforts to manage stress can be complex, there are some fundamental baseline practices that are critical. Remember, as indicated above, these efforts strive to reclaim a sense of controllability and to cultivate a sense of social acceptance and support. Four stress management considerations are:
1. Recognize that you cannot manage the demands of life alone. One of the strongest predictors to manage stress and to feel successful in life is to feel the support of others. Strengthen your support system, ask people in your social circle for support and provide specific ways they can provide that help. Professional's would be included in this area.
2. Eating habits are critical in managing stress. We most often seek to medicate our stress through the pallet. This translates to eating a lot of sugar, fat, and salt. This will kill us biologically and our energy. You must establish healthy eating practices.
3. Regular moderate exercise is critical. Consult your doctor to ensure your current health supports a exercise program. Exercise every day, you cannot afford to be too busy! The psychological and physical benefits are significant.
4. While perhaps one of the most difficult, it is one of the most critical, you have to get sufficient sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up in the morning at the same time. Develop pre-sleep practices so when it is time for bed you are ready. Consult with a physician or sleep clinic if necessary.