BRAIN and YOU...
Dealing with Stress
Stress has been mislabeled as "tension" or "anxiety",
but it really goes beyond these concepts. It can be positive or negative
and it is, more simply, the way we respond to changes. During times of stress,
both the body and the mind are affected, and we have to learn about stress
in order to help them return to their more relaxed states.
"Stressors" are the causes of stress, and they can be anything
from an upcoming exam to going out on a date. Depending on the stressor,
hormones such as adrenaline are released into the body, and the heart rate
may quicken. Some common causes of stress include large classes, academic
responsibilities, parental expectations associated with entering university,
homesickness, the death of a close relative or friend, and thinking about
your future and your career.
Early warnings (generally, these can be any significant changes in your
usual pattern of behaviour) can point out that something might be wrong.
More specific signs to look for include:
- A lack of joy, spontaneity, happiness, or enthusiasm.
- An intolerance of people and irritability, especially during discussions
- Outbursts of anger.
- Difficulty in concentrating or an inability to make minor decisions.
- The beginning or increased use of alcohol or drugs (prescription or
- Restlessness or difficulty being alone.
- A loss of efficiency in work or school.
- A preoccupation with certain thoughts, especially negative ones.
- Frequent physical illnesses and/or delayed recovery.
- Persistent nightmares and the recurrence of disturbing dreams.
- A psychosomatic illness, such as an unexplainable rash.
- Withdrawal from friends and social situations.
More serious and severe symptoms can develop over time. They might even
afflict you before you are aware of the stresses in your life. These symptoms
can be such physical and psychological changes as:
- Recurrent attacks of shortness of breath, dizziness, or heart palpitations.
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as waking many times in the night
or early morning.
- Changes in appetite, weight loss, or unusual weight gain.
- Feelings of hopelessness and marked cynicism, of approaching doom and
an inability to deal with life circumstances.
Stress that remains with you for too long can cause diseases and disorders
such as colds, ulcers, asthma, heart attack, and many others. Acute stress,
that is stress that lasts a relatively short period of time, can demand
all of your energy and leave you drained. In some cases, it can even cause
anxiety attacks or states of shock requiring medical attention.
Chronic stress is stress that extends for a long period of time and can
be present as you perform your daily activities. Often, your body will react
to this kind of stress slowly, and you may even become accustomed to a certain
level of tension. But this stress is particularly
harmful because it can lead to various diseases, yet remain unnoticed as
the cause of them. Stress is often ignored until the body shows signs of
it, such as an increase in the frequency of headaches or fatigue.
You might feel depressed or incapable of getting through the day. You
might even start skipping classes to stay home in bed simply because you
are experiencing stress but do not know how to deal with it.
Some stress enhancers are parts of day-to-day life, and you might even
think that they help you to relax.
- Cigarettes can actually heighten your stress level. When you
smoke, the chemicals that you inhale act as stimulants for your body. Your
heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone levels increase. The cost of cigarettes
and the diseases which they can cause might also add to your level of stress.
Although trying to quit smoking can be stressful in itself, it can often
result in an overall reduction in stress levels in the long run.
- Caffeine can be very damaging, especially if it is consumed
in large quantities. It can speed up your system for up to 20 hours. Although
it might relieve headaches in some people, it can cause them in others.
It can also cause sleeplessness and stomach upset. Caffeine is a drug,
and you can become addicted to it. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches,
nervousness, grouchiness, and a rapid heartbeat.
- Sugar, whether you use white/brown sugar, honey, or fructose,
will give you a quick energy boost, which will later be replaced by a shortage
of energy, since it depresses your system. You might also experience the
stresses of weight gain, which can make you feel depressed, anxious, and
- Drugs and alcohol are harmful to your system, and could eventually
cause serious mental and physical damage. Over a period of time (which
is quite short in some cases), addiction develops and you can end up spending
all of your energies just trying to get more of the drug of your choice.
The effects of tranquilizer-type drugs are short-lived and they never solve
the underlying causes of stress.
Coping with Everyday Problems
- Take charge: No one can live your life for you. You have to
learn how to accept the responsibility for yourself, because with that
comes control. Others can and will help, but you must look inside yourself
- Recognize your own resources: Assessing your strengths and weaknesses
can help you see what you have at your disposal to help you cope.
- You do not have to cope alone: We all feel pressure at different
times and to different degrees. Talking with family and friends and listening
to them can help you to get through difficult times. A reciprocal exchange
of ideas can be beneficial for everyone involved.
- Be realistic: By setting attainable goals and not expecting
the impossible from yourself, you can avoid the pitfalls of disappointment.
You must also learn that there will be situations over which you can exert
only indirect control.
- You cannot achieve absolute control: By trying to control everything
in your life you will only be wasting valuable energy and effort. You should
try to control those situations that you can, and try to distance yourself
from those which you cannot. By putting something out of your mind, relaxing,
and allowing time to work for you, certain situations will seem much clearer.
- Be flexible: Making mistakes is a part of life, and learning
to accept them as such will reduce your stress levels significantly. Trying
again will probably render some positive results.
- See the danger signals: The stress signals that were discussed
above will give you the indication that you need to slow down and take
some time to relax. You cannot begin to cope unless you are able to recognize
the times when you are being strained.
- Maintain good physical health: Having a regular exercise routine,
getting sufficient sleep, and eating properly play a large part in coping
with life's twists and turns. Exercise is a great outlet for frustration
and anxiety. Eating properly and getting enough rest also help you to stay
in top physical and mental health.
- Relaxation: You should make this a regular part of your day.
Deep breathing can be done while sitting, standing, or lying down; close
your eyes and breathe in slowly, then let the air out for a count of 5-10
seconds; simple stretches, such as rolling the neck in half-circles or
raising the arms high above the head, are beneficial.
BRAIN and YOU...