An Observation of Stress and Stress Management in a Modern World
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Everyone experiences stress one way or another whether it be acute or major. According to Psychology by Sandra E. Hockenbury, stress is a negative emotional response to events that are perceived to be exceeding a person’s resources or natural abilities (Hockenbury 531). According to the cognitive appraisal model founded by Richard Lazarus, people only experience stress if the stressor or what causes the stress is perceived to uncontrollable (Hockenbury 531). Once a person deems the stressor to be uncontrollable, they will use coping strategies in order to stop the stress. Stressors range from significant life changes such as having a baby, marriage, or natural disasters, to socio-economic issues like poverty, to routine hassles such as traffic (Hockenbury 533). In this paper we will discuss how short term and long term stress affects the body and mind, and different motivational patterns. The pros and cons of stress, and how to manage stress in our world will also be addressed. The more we understand stress, the more we can use stress to our advantage and live better lives.
Acute stress occurs more commonly in people’s lives and can help individuals develop resilience in order to be more capable overcoming stress. Examples of short term stressors would be arguments, traffic, or sudden dangers. These events typically only last a short amount of time. The body has natural responses such as the fight or flight response in order to cope with short term stressors. The fight or flight response coined by Walter Cannon engages the sympathetic nervous system, causing an increased heart rate, perspiration, the widening of arteries, decreased salivation in mouth, short shallow breaths, and dilated pupils in order to prepare a person’s body to fight or flee from danger (Hockenbury 539). Once the threat has dissipated, the parasympathetic nervous system returns the body back to its normal state. A person’s heart rate slows back to its normal rhythm, perspiration stops, and breathing resumes at a normal rate.
Another way the body copes with short term stress is called the endocrine response. During the endocrine response, a threat is perceived by the amygdala and the hypothalamus. These two brain structures activate the sympathetic nervous system causing the adrenal medulla to release hormones called catecholamines including adrenaline in order to prepare the body for a threat. The endocrine response happens simultaneously while the sympathetic nervous system is activated in the first phase of the fight or flight response. Short term stress has the capability to damage the mind, however if the stressor is overcome a person’s resilience is strengthened. Everyday, people face short term stressors, and everytime a stressor is compatted our resilience improves.
Chronic stress stems from constant short term stress. In Dr. Richard A. Friedman’s article, The Stress Sweet Spot (2018), he argues that chronic stress has been know to lead to health problems such as “obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure” (R. Friedman). In a study by Hans Selye, Selye studies rats under the exposure of high stress and found that their thymus gland and the lymph glands shrunk. These two glands are main components of the immune system. One can infer from Selye’s studies that chronic hurts the immune system (Hockenbury 541). From Selye’s research the General Adaptation Syndrome was formed, it’s 3 stages alarm, resistance, and exhaustion (Hockenbury) show the effects of prolonged stress (Hockenbury 541).
The scientific study of the connection between the psychological process, the nervous system, and the immune system is called psychoneuroimmunology (Hockenbury 543). The central nervous system and the immune system are directly linked by sympathetic nervous system fibers which influence the production of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that fight bacteria, preventing us from getting sick. (Hockenbury 543). The surfaces of lymphocytes contain neurotransmitters and hormones. The lymphocytes and the immune system are linked by neurotransmitters and hormones. There is a constant communication between nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system (Hockenbury pg 543). All the systems affect each other, therefore constant activation of the nervous system and endocrine system can imbalance the immune system leading to illness. This concept is often why people are sick during stressful periods.
Stress is significant to discuss especially within a college environment because many college students may face a condition called burnout throughout their college years. Burnout is a condition caused by chronic, work related stress that is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of failure or inadequacy (Hockenbur 536). First people will feel exhausted meaning they used all their emotional and physical resources. After that, individuals will feel cynicalism; they will develop a detachment against their work environment. Third, people will feel a sense of failure or inadequacy (Hockenbury 536). From my personal experience, the most effective way to avoid burnout during heavy workload periods is to plan out what you need to accomplish each day. This way you eliminate procrastination, and have less work to do each day rather than cramming all the work into a few days.
In my schooling experiences, I have noticed that students either work hard to understand their work in order to succeed or a student will do as minimal work as possible to achieve a high grade. In Carole Ames’s article Classrooms: Goals, Structures, and Student Motivation, she argues that there are two types of achievement goals; a mastery goal and a performance goal. Individuals who identify with mastery goals stride to learn and fully understand a topic. These individuals are focused on developing new skills, fully comprehending their work, participating, and overall bettering themselves(Ames). Mastery goal students will study, ask questions, and try new techniques while learning new topics. Individuals who identify with performance goals tie their self worth to their performance; meaning if they fail at something there self-esteem plummets. These individuals need to outperform others in order to build self confidence. Performance goal students often use techniques such as memorization as a means to achieve a high score (Ames).
Mastery goal oriented individuals often handle stress in a more productive manner compared to performance goal individuals. Mastery goal students think of obstacles as challenges they can work to overcome while performance oriented individuals see challenges as in their capability or not. If a challenge is not perceived to be in their capability, the individual will not work towards overcoming the obstacles. According to the cognitive appraisal model, stress is only stressful when it is perceived to be out of one’s control. In Ames’s article, she argues that mastery goal students are more likely to try new techniques and become relisiant while facing a challenge while performance goal students will cower away (Ames); since mastery goal individual are more likely to strategize when approaching a challenge, they will feel less stressed because they are prepared. While facing a stressful challenge, I find one of the most productive ways to conquer a task is to take a step back, and think. Once I learn your resources and strategize how to tackle a challenge, then challenge is no longer stressful.
Meyer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman studied the health related consequences of a constant high stress behavior pattern in their article entitled, Association Of Specific Overt Behavior Pattern With Blood And Cardiovascular Findings. Type A behavior pattern is characterized as having an intense and constant ambition to achieve goals, desire ambition to compete, and a longing for recognition (R. Friedman & Rosenman). The Type A behavior pattern contains many similarities to performance goal motivated characteristics. On the contrary, Type B behavior is characterized as less motivated, with little to no drive or sense of urgency, and no desire to compete (R. Friedman & Rosenman). Friedman and Rosenman found that clinical coronary artery disease and arcus senilis were more frequently occuring in Type A behaviour individuals rather than Type B behaviour individuals. These results suggest that the behavior Type A can contribute to high cholesterol levels and high blood clotting times leading to clinical coronary artery disease and arcus senilis. In other words, too much sustained stress can contribute to heart disease. This research frightened me greatly because I identify as Type A behavior, and I already have high cholesterol from my parents. I now realize how even my stress levels can contribute negatively to my cardiovascular health.
Now knowing how stress affect our bodies and minds, it’s best to weigh the pro’s and con’s of stress. Stress keeps us alert during dangerous situations. The fight or flight response, and endocrine response alert the human body and mind of a threat and prepare the body and mind to face and conquer that specific threat. Without these natural functions, one can speculate that we would not be able to combat dangerous situations as effectively. Short term stress can also improve of cognitive abilities. Constantly overcoming daily stressors improves problem solving skills and makes people better equipped for stress. Chronic stress hurts our bodies and minds in numerous ways. The immune system suffers, the cardiovascular system suffers, and our persistence suffers. In order for people to handle stressors life throws at them, it is important to discuss coping mechanisms and how to apply them into daily life.
When I am stressed, I find I am most effective after a run. I try to clear my head as much as possible then sit down, and plan out how to attack my stressor. The two main categories of coping are Emotion focused coping and Problem focused coping. Emotion focused coping is a mechanism used to protect ourselves from emotional damage during a stressful time (Hockenbury 555). Forms of emotional coping vary from talking with family, avoidance, denial, and seeking social support. This form of coping is used most commonly in collectivist cultures because of the strong sense of community and social support. A common form of emotional coping is call the Tend and Befriend response. The tend and befriend response is typically used by women because women cope with their emotions while men typically use problem solving coping techniques. Women will tend to others during stressful periods and seek out social support during stressful periods (Hockenbury 557). Problem focused coping is aimed at managing the stressor. Forms of problem focused coping are, analyzing the issue, creating solutions, and using risky tactics (Hockenbury 554).
Sue Shellenbarger from the New York Times, in her article When Stress is Good for You (2012), discussed everyday stress management techniques anyone can implement into their everyday lives. She argues that having a positive outlook on stressors will reduce stress. In a study of 50 college students by Dr. Mendes and colleagues, he tested if feeling nervous or happy before a presentation had any affect on the students. One group of students were told feeling nervous before a presentation improves performance while the other group was told feeling excited before a presentation improves performance. The control group of students did not receive any coaching prior to their presentation. The results showed that those who had coaching prior to the presentation had a healthier physiological response causing less stress (Shellenbarger). Shellenbarger argues, “thinking positively about stressors, deep abdominal breathing, and training in meditation and mindfulness, or regulating one’s own mental and physical states, help moderate stress (Shellenbarger)”.
It is important to understand how our bodies and minds react to stress, so we can manage our stress accordingly. There are many logical ways to handle stress such as, planning ahead, seeking social support or tackling the problem head on. Stress management techniques vary from person to person; not specially one is best for everyone. I manage my stress by planning ahead and seeking support from my friends and family. Stress is something that will either benefit our lives or eventually lead to significant health defects if not handled properly.
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