What is Stress; How Stress Can Affect Us
By Professor Terry Looker and Dr. Olga Gregson , Authors of “Teach Yourself Managing Stress*.”
Today, many say that we live in an age of stress. The fast-paced, highly competitive, complex, crowded and polluted environment is held responsible for what seem to be at times, intolerable demands and pressures on our time and energy. Yet, for most of us, we live in a society where our essential needs can be met readily; food, water, shelter and warmth are easily available and science and technology has improved the quality of our lives yet despite all this we frequently hear people saying, “I feel stressed: my mental and physical health, my relationships and my work performance are suffering”. Never before has it been so important for us to find ways and time to unwind.
Managing stress is a skill we can learn and practise but before we begin it is helpful to understand what we are dealing with; know thy enemy!
Stress affects everyone. It is a mental and physical state, which is a necessary and essential part of our lives. We need our stress response to adapt to the continual changes of our environment and to keep us on our toes to survive. Stress is normal and necessary for life.
The stress response evolved to enable us to deal with life-threatening dangers by quickly preparing the body for physical action: to stand and fight or to run away. For our early ancestors in a harsh and inhospitable environment, threats were predominantly physical and satisfying the need for food and warm shelter was a struggle.
Today life in our society is relatively less physically threatening and demanding, however, it is far more psychologically threatening. Threats to our self-esteem, our sense of security, our role in society and our relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and fellow humans are the ‘fangs’ of the sabre-tooth tiger. Confronted by these threats we respond just as though the tiger were there; we activate our stress response. Frequently, however, there is neither the need nor the opportunity for physical action. Instead what happens for most people is that we become impatient, irritated and angry. We fume. We become anxious and depressed. Over time this can affect our well-being.
It is because of these experiences that most people think of stress as “bad” or distressing. In fact stress can also be experienced as pleasant, exciting, stimulating and thrilling; a “good” feeling known as eustress. It may seem strange to think of stress as a pleasant experience, however, the idea of “good” and “bad” stress illustrates that it is the way in which we interpret a situation that determines what kind of stress response we experience. It is not the situation that causes our stress.
The stress experience is unique for each person because each one of us is unique. No two individuals will experience stress in exactly the same way at any one time. What is distressing for one person may not be for another and may even be eustressing. Also, what may be distressing for one person one day might not seem so bad the next day. It is how we view and feel about a demand or situation.
Secondly, the number and level of severity of demands in a given period of time that each of face is important for our well-being. If there are too many demands to deal with or if the situation is emotionally intense (good or bad) then we tax our body resources to the point of exhaustion. In this situation we can succumb to ill health if we do not take adequate rest and recuperation.
Managing our stress means that we are able to get the right balance between the number and level of demands and having the skills to cope with the array of demands we face.
Getting the right balance between our work life and family/social life is a very important aspect in managing our stress. Consistently working long hours can cause problems within the family, which in turn can affect work. We also need to take the responsibility to ensure that we are ‘fit’ for work by adopting a lifestyle where we get adequate sleep and rest, take holidays, eat and drink wisely, take regular exercise and nurture our relationships.
All these help us to become effective stress managers. So for effective stress management we recommend that you:
- are able to recognise the signs and symptoms of being “wound” up so you can take action
- treasure and nurture your relationships; love and support
- relax and take breaks
- regularly exercise and keep fit
- retrain yourself for healthy eating and drinking
- refuse the anger bait – don’t get hooked
- reappraise your demands; become a good time-manager
- reduce clutter
- think positively, smile and laugh
- treat yourself
Established in 1985, Stresswise has provided a mail order service for stress management products since 1989, with online shopping since 2004.
Stress wise is the UK and European distributor/supplier of Biodot® Skin Thermometers, the original stress dots, delivered to the general public, stress management practitioners, management and training consultants, occupational nurses and therapists, hospitals, schools and universities, industry, commerce and the professions.
Stresswise consultants are Professor Terry Looker and Dr Olga Gregson, who are Fellows of the International Stress Management Association. They are now retired as Lecturers (Manchester Metropolitan University) and worldwide, and present stress management programmes for industry and the professions.
*Their book ‘Teach Yourself Managing Stress’ has sold over 40,000 copies and is recognised as one of the best self-help stress management guides. They have appeared on numerous television and radio programmes and in the popular press.
Terry Looker studied the diagnosis and treatment of Type A Behaviour with Dr Meyer Friedman and Dr Ray Rosenman at the Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He is an Honorary Vice-President of the International Stress Management Association UK.