Mental Health Resource: Stress Fact Sheet
What is stress? Stress is the body’s response to its environment when it feels threatened or challenged. All higher order mammals (with a functioning pre-frontal cortex) respond to stressors in its environment with either a “fight or flight” response. If I unsuspectingly walk into a house and stumble upon a snake slithering across the floor, my body’s pituitary glands will secrete adrenaline into the cardiovascular system and I will jump back, startled. The body’s stress response can be triggered by any number of external factors, “real or imaginary.” For example, when a student feels a professor is too demanding, the same scenario can enact the same adrenaline rush.
Stress is also highly subjective. People respond to job demands, friendships and expectations differently. In helping someone cope with stress, it can be helpful to help the person say out loud how they perceive stress in their life. Never be afraid to ask. Improperly managed stress can cause serious medical or psychological problems, high blood pressure, or even stomach ulcers. We got get out what we feel. Coping strategies are only as good as a person’s own storehouse of internal resources and a healthy ability to self-reflect. Once a person can learn what is causing the stressful situation, they can then marshall their own resources to cope.
Unnecessary expectations and requirements: Sometimes, stuff piles on and we can feel the world is pushing down on us like a thumb on a tack. Does our boss make unreasonable demands by giving unclear or impossible requirements? Are daily plans frequently disrupted? Internal homeostasis — that is, their level of equilibrium — has been unduly disturbed if demands are impossible to meet. If you hold your fist closed and held it closed for a month, after a certain period of time you would being to feel pain. When your body is that “tight”, the stress will manifest itself physically. Studies have shown that the bigger the consequence for failure the more stress one can expect.
Chronic stress. In some cases, a healthy amount of stress can encourage people to perform better than if they had an open window for completion of a project. The problem to keep in mind is chronic stress. Chronic stress pervasively and consistently inhibits our ability to succeed. Chronic stress is dangerous and can cause serious human and spiritual formation problems.
Need for Validation: Lack of recognition of achievement can cause even the most hardy of us to feel stressed out. People require healthy doses of positive reinforcement, especially when it comes from others who mean the most to us. Students, for example, perform better when they know and are told they are doing a good job by their teacher. Also, having good friends to share your life and stories with is vital for healthy psycho-social development. A good sense of how we “play” (how we enjoy our relationship with others), especially with our mentors, peers, buddies and whomever, is beneficial and essential to our human development and is a sign of our capacity for friendship and love. Lack of such dynamic support can diminish a person’s belief that they are doing well. This can lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies. More commonly, chronic stress is perhaps the largest cause of burn-out. Those who work for the church, social workers, teacher, or the “helping professions” can often take on too heavy of a workload in order to feel validated. When the body is chronically stressed, the need to isolate oneself and to limit empathic response is increased. Consider your own capacities. How easily do you get burned out? How easy is it to fall into a pattern of stressful situations because of loneliness or lack of support?
Primary Coping Strategies: behavioral approach
turn off the tv | organize your files | take notes in class | relaxation | call a supportive friend | write in a journal | team problem solving | yoga | remove distractions |
negative: harming others, harming self, destructive behavior, alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
Secondary Coping Strategies: cognitive approach
prayer | spirituality | think positive | reframing perceptions| learn from mistakes | humor | acceptance of stressor’s reality |
negative: denial of stressor, negative self-image, suicidal thoughts, mental escapism
A client comes to a shrink's office expressing concern that the architectural plans he has prepared for his immediate supervisor consistently gets sent back for a redo. The client claims that he has worked many hours to get his plans just right, including requesting outside help from colleagues and from his books. With all of his extra work, the client states that he is not achieving what the boss expects to be quality work. Because of his difficulty in giving a “good” finished product, his self-image has been tarnished and he has been questioning his ability to do well; his sexual libido has diminished and he begs off meeting with friends after work.
1. Coping mechanisms can either be primary or secondary. Primary coping strategies are direct ways we can can control our environment. Secondary coping strategies are ways we change our perceptions. How can this guy cope with his problem? Are there better coping strategies the client could employ?
2. What are the expectations of the client in this scenario? How can he reconceive the problem?
3. Can it be assumed the problem lies with the supervisor?
works cited:Johnson, John J. "STRESS IN CHILDREN." Journal of Pastoral Counseling 39 (2004): 68-87; Park, Crystal L. "Religion as a Meaning-Making Framework in Coping with Life Stress" Journal of Social Issues 61.4 (Dec. 2005): 707-729;Pector, Elizabeth A. “Professional Burnout Detection, Prevention, and Coping” Clergy Journal; Sep2005, Vol. 81 Issue 9, p19-20, 2p;Wagner, Cynthia G. "Stress and the Brain" Futurist 40.2 (Mar. 2006): 12-13. web sites: stress.about.com, helpguide.org.
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