Managing Stress: A Road to Well-being

Stress is a scourge of modern-day living. “We are in the phase of tremendous growth of knowledge, rapid social change, and technical innovations.

For many people, the pace of change is too fast, resulting in stress, ” writes Toffler in “Future Shock’. Unfortunately, a growing number of students are becoming victims of stress and taking to harmful habits like popping sleeping pills, smoking, and even consuming alcohol.

These habits though may provide momentary relief and a sense of `high’, are extremely harmful, and getting into them would be most foolish and akin to getting into a vicious circle. Therefore it is very important to identify the stress symptoms and seek help to overcome them as early as possible.
Stress is universal and could be a disabling human phenomenon. However, it can also be a stimulant to growth. In fact `optimum amount of stress is necessary to achieve the best results’.

It is the high degree of stress persisting for relatively longer periods that is damaging to our physical and mental health. For example, imagine being totally cool about a forthcoming examination or an interview.

What happens? You are not likely to be alert and motivated to work to be successful. On the other hand, if you come under too much stress, it may cause confusion, disturbed thinking, distorted perception, insomnia, and other symptoms that would result in poor performance/outcome.

Thus, stress could be friendly and useful and what really matters is how you perceive a situation and go about managing it. Sometimes situations may look similar but their management totally differs.

For example, you may be performing very well at school and regarded as one of the best students. And yet when you prepare for the engineering or medical entrance tests, you know, that your performance at school does not guarantee your selection in such highly completive examinations.

Therefore you have to work much harder under greater psychological pressure for such competitive exams because you would be competing with equally bright or even better students. After all, in all the competitive examinations the merit (ranks) counts and not the percentage of marks.

If you accept the challenge with a healthy spirit and work hard under examination pressure then the stress becomes friendly and helps you to achieve your goal. On the other hand, if you are not mentally prepared to cope with the demands of such situations, you are likely to experience severe stress that may hamper your performance in the examination.

Coping with examination stress:

StressAs the examination time comes closer, many students approach me with uneasy symptoms like lack of sleep and hunger, anxiety, depression, or a strange unknown fear. Attributing all such symptoms, which arise out of stress, to the impending examination may not be justified.

A combination of factors such as the family environment, parental attitudes and expectations, friends, social circle, individual emotions, and aspirations also play their role in causing stress.

Fear of failure too, adds up and multiplies your tensions. After all, nowadays the competition is so intense that even after scoring more than 75% in say class 10 you may not get into the stream of your choice at +2 level. Similarly, thousands of students aspire to join professions like medicine and engineering and prepare to get through the various entrance exams. However, a fraction of them finally manage to get through.

Such real-life situations are actually a challenge to your potential and retaining your composure and confidence at such times is the real test. No matter how good a student you are or how well you have prepared for your examination no sooner you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the situation and come under stress the battle is lost even before it begins.

Stress causes depression, forgetfulness, irritability, and aloofness. It would make you feel tired and listless and bring down your efficiency.  Parents sometimes buy tonics for their children to help them overcome the stress. However, these, even if effective are short-term remedies.

It is important to remember and let me reiterate again that stress is not a disease but in medical jargon, a natural response of the body to all non-specific demands. Therefore no tonic or tranquilizer is going to prevent you from getting stressed, what would really help is the identification of the reason or the situation that is causing stress and preparing yourself to face it in the best possible way.

You may simply be unable to manage your time and get stressed or you may have set a timetable for yourself that is too difficult to follow and you end up feeling low and depressed for not being able to follow the regimen.

A little introspection here would help you develop an insight into the problem and cope up with the stress. Proper planning and time management can prove to be the best stress busters for at least students like you, and help you overcome your stress completely. I have dealt with both these topics separately in ACC.

You may also choose or develop your own strategy for coping with stress. Rather, I am sure that you already use them without being consciously aware. You might use one or many of the strategies that are used in general to cope with or reduce stress in life.

One is the Confrontational Strategy where you stand your ground and fight till you achieve what you aspire to. If you want X (e.g., get through medical or engineering) you might go through the examination again and yet again improve your skills.

Another strategy could be, problem solving. It involves devising a plan to deal with the situation. Yet another strategy to cope with stress is emotional – focused strategy i.e., positive reappraisal (looking for a silver lining).

Following such a plan to reduce stress, you may search for alternate career options, and tell yourself “If not that so what? I would make it somewhere else.” Biofeedback may also be used for monitoring and controlling the physiological aspects of stress.

Above all, I would suggest regular practice of Yoga and other relaxation techniques, which not only help in reducing stress but also in improving your memory and concentration. It is scientifically proven that Meditation could elicit dramatic physiological changes, including decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduced oxygen consumption if practiced regularly.

In my own research on University students, I found that even simple deep breathing exercise for 15 minutes significantly reduces stress symptoms. Relaxation is associated with deep, long breaths, which can be induced by intentionally creating such a breathing pattern.

To begin with, you may take long, cleaning breaths inhaling and exhaling through the mouth. Later, as you practice, deep breaths lasting 8-12 seconds replace short, shallow breaths. This technique in a varied forms is used during ‘Shav Asana’. Don’t wait. Make a schedule of the day and include ‘Yoga’ in your daily routine – it will definitely help you.

The greatest of all stress therapies in the form of Bhagvat-Gita provides a great many insights for stress reduction. It does not forbid materialistic success and growth but warms us of the possible mental stress if we link the ‘work with fruits’. Therefore it recommends “Nishkam Karm” i.e., work hard to achieve the goal but do not get attached to the expectations of its (work) outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions related to stress:

Q1: What is stress, and how is it defined?

A1: Stress is a physiological and psychological response to challenging or threatening situations. It’s the body’s way of preparing to face a perceived danger or demand.

Q2: What are the common causes of stress?

A2: Stress can be caused by various factors, including work pressures, financial issues, relationship problems, major life changes, and health concerns.

Q3: How does stress affect the body and mind?

A3: Stress can lead to physical symptoms like increased heart rate, and muscle tension, and emotional responses such as anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Q4: What are the long-term effects of chronic stress?

A4: Chronic stress can lead to health issues like cardiovascular problems, weakened immune function, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Q5: How can I manage stress effectively?

A5: Stress management techniques include relaxation exercises, deep breathing, physical activity, time management, seeking support, and developing healthy coping strategies.

Q6: Are there different types of stress, and how do they differ?

A6: Yes, there are different types of stress, including acute stress (short-term), episodic acute stress (frequent acute stress episodes), and chronic stress (long-term). They vary in terms of duration and intensity.

Q7: Can stress be beneficial in any way?

A7: Yes, stress can be beneficial in certain situations, motivating individuals to overcome challenges and perform at their best. This is known as “eustress.”

Q8: When should I seek professional help for managing stress?

A8: If stress begins to significantly impact your daily life, well-being, or mental health, it’s advisable to consult with a mental health professional for guidance and support.

Q9: How can I create a stress-reducing environment at home and work?

A9: Creating a stress-reducing environment involves setting boundaries, time management, practicing self-care, and fostering positive relationships.

Q10: Are there resources or organizations that can provide support for stress management?

A10: Yes, many organizations, support groups, and mental health professionals offer resources and assistance for individuals seeking help with stress management.

Q11: What role do nutrition and lifestyle play in managing stress?

A11: A balanced diet, regular physical activity, and healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Q12: Can stress affect physical health conditions and chronic diseases?

A12: Yes, chronic stress has been linked to a range of physical health conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

Q13: What are the signs that stress may be turning into a more serious mental health issue?

A13: Signs may include prolonged feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or thoughts of self-harm. If you experience these, it’s crucial to seek immediate professional help.

Q14: Is stress management the same as eliminating stress entirely?

A14: Stress management focuses on developing coping strategies and reducing the negative impact of stress, as it’s not always possible to eliminate stress completely.

Q15: Are there cultural or gender differences in how stress is experienced and managed?

A15: Yes, cultural and gender factors can influence how individuals perceive and cope with stress. It’s important to consider these differences in a diverse society.

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