The concept of stress and ways to prevent it

What is stress?

The term “stress” can be translated into Turkish as “pressure” or “tension”. Although commonly used in that manner in daily language, stress actually does not correspond to worry or anxiety. Stress is produced when a person who is confronted with a new situation, is pushed to his psychological and physical limits. The body gives certain responses to adjust to this new situation. This is called stress response. Anxiety and worry which are incorrectly referred to as stress, are the psychological changes that occur when the body is unable to cope with the stress factors.

Until the 1950’s stress was regarded as a stimulus that produces physiological changes in the organism. In 1952 the Canadian physiologist Selye described stress as the response of the body to any demand placed upon it. Factors that produce stress in the individual are referred to as “stressors”. Whatever the stressor may be (physical or psychological), the individual will respond to it regardless of whether it is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant. The response is the individual’s attempt to preserve his physical and psychological equilibrium.

Factors that produce stress are life events which everybody faces to a lesser or larger extent. On their own they generally do not form a problem. A specific stress factor becomes significant only when the person is of a nature that is physically or psychologically vulnerable to the negative impact.

Types of stress

Stress factors can be regarded in three main groups:

1. Physical: physical traumas, excessive exercise, noise, climatic temperature, humidity, environmental pollution, food restrictions, surgical intervention;

2.Social: conflicts between the individual and his surrounding;

3.Psychological: these can be the result of physical or social factors, but can alsoo occur on their own accord, for instance disappointment, loneliness, moral or material loss.

A study established 10 stress factors which we encounter in everyday life and talk about. These are as follows:

1. Conversations about weight.
2. Health problems in the family.
3. Increased prices of general consumer items.
4. Managing and maintaining domestic affairs.
5. Failing to accomplish the desired.
6. Not remembering the whereabouts of items, or losing things.
7. Tasks outside the home.
8. Investments, taxes, repayment of loans.
9. Guilt.
10. Issues related to physical appearance.

Areas of life that create stress

1- FAMILY: Specific stressors experienced by members of a family often result from emotional states caused by a bad relationship between parent and child . The interrelationship between family members is important. A parent with a busy profession, the children displaying inappropriate behaviour, the presence of extra-marital affairs that may even result in pregnancy, a weak bond between the partners of the marriage, inadequate verbal communication between the partners of the marriage, conflict between the partners, divorce, remarriage, depression of mothers can play an important role.

2- WORKPLACE: These are some of the stress factors that we are exposed to at the work place:

• Due to the speed that computers have introduced into the work environment, the speed of work and expectations from the workers have increased. It is common that the individual who tries to keep up with this speed and keep it going, experiences stress. This is referred to as “Techno-stress”.

• During our times in which unemployment is high, in which the economy is changing at an incredibly high speed, and in which some people have unbelievably high earnings, the stress level at the work place rises. Behind the high earnings companies make lies also the risk of losing work. This is a great stress factor. The larger the company the higher the stress ratio becomes.

• It is important that the work which the individual is expected to perform, his role and what is expected of him are clearly defined and that the authority to which the person can take his grievances is clearly established. Otherwise the subsequent chaos will create stress in both the individual and the company.

• Unnecessary pressure, uncertain career planning, long working hours, lack of adequate communications, managers who work their workers too hard in order to produce goods or services cheaper and faster, are factors that increase the level of stress at the work place.

3- SCHOOL: excessive work load, confusion with regards to his role and conflicts of roles are some of the issues a students is occupied with in his everyday life. A few of the stressors experienced by students who undergo education at school, are listed below:
• Final marks,
• Excessive amounts of homework,
• Term papers,
• Exams,
• Studying for the exams,
• Lack of time,
• Teachers and relationships,
• School and classroom environment.
Changing school or changing from one class to another are also amongst important stressors that affect both children and adults.

Chemistry of stress

In a stress situation the body activates all its systems. Circulation, respiration and digestion systems, sensory organs and the brain all get ready to respond to the challenging situation. Heart beat increases, blood sugar rises, the hands begin to sweat, muscle tone increases, in other words the organism prepares itself to fight. The brain increases the secretion of the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin, as a result of which blood pressure rises, heart beat increases, blood flow to the skin gets restricted, sweating increases and the body gets itself ready. In the meantime there is an increase in the secretion of the hormone Cortisol, which provides additional energy to the system. It also adjusts the immune system and redirects the body’s resources from the digestive system to the heart and legs, thereby preparing itself for the short-term physical effort. This preparation is done in order to cope with stress.
The experience helps to reduce the risk of mistakes when the person faces the same situation in the future. Once the danger has passed, the body’s response ends and the hormones related to stress return to their normal levels. If the stress-causing situation persists or if the person has not been able to fend off the first stress by activating its own systems, then the human body becomes vulnerable to illnesses.

Impact of Stress on the Person’s Life

• Psychological life: Many psychiatric disorders emerge – or existing ones worsen -when a person who is predisposed to a psychiatric disorder, faces an important life event. During the formation stage of post-traumatic stress disorder or certain depression or anxiety disorders we often find an adverse life event (more often related to family or work) that the person has experienced either shortly before or further back in time.

• Medical illnesses: adverse effects of extended periods of stress during the developmental stage and progress of diseases like coronary heart disease, asthma, various skin diseases, some rheumatic diseases, infections, alcohol and substance dependency, are well known.

• Sexual life: A healthy sexual life is only possible if the many psychological and physical functions of that individual are healthy. Chronic stress can interfere with the regular secretion of sex hormones. It can also have an adverse effect on sexual life through various other conditions it can cause, like depression or anxiety disorders. Stress can also cause irregularities in the menstrual cycle, reduced libido, problems with erections and ejaculation in men and painful intercourse in women.

Recommendations for managing

1. It is recommended that you regularly exercise. A fairly fast walk of 30-45 minutes duration twice or three times a week will be sufficient.
2. Relaxation and breathing exercises are methods which you can practise by yourself and they are very helpful.
3. Plan your day’s work in advance and give priority to urgent matters. Try and follow an order of importance in everything you do.
4. Do not hesitate to consult a psychiatrist if you have symptoms like insomnia, difficulties concentrating, lack of appetite, a feeling of hopelessness or fatigue.