What is Stress?
In the modern world, regardless of age, religion, language and socio-economic status, stress is experienced in the face of challenges. Stress is a feeling we experience when we face a challenging life situation or a new situation that we are not used to. Intense and long term stress has negative effects on well-being.
What are the causes of stress?
Environmental and social factors can create a basis for stress. However, self-perception and the way of thinking are as influential as the environment in creating stress. Each individual experiences and copes with stress differently. A given incident may be stressful for one person but may not be stressful at all for another person. Some causes of stress;
- Role Ambiguity: Inability to find meaningful and balanced roles for ourselves.
- Interpersonal Conflicts: Difficulties in communicating with others.
- Responsibility: We can be confronted with high stress levels when we take on more responsibility than we can manage. We have to make priorities and take on responsibilities at the right time and for the right reasons. However, procrastination may also produce more stress as a result of feelings such as aimlessness and meaninglessness of life.
- Extreme Workload: Too much work or work that exceeds our capabilities etc.
- Unexpected Situations: Unexpected negative incidents such as natural disasters, accidents, harassment, loss of a loved one etc.
- Other problems: Problems related with health, finance or academic life.
- Do not forget causes of stress are not always negative; life changes such as moving, starting university, new job, graduation etc. may also cause stress.
The ways of thinking that can lead to stress
1. All or nothing thinking: Thinking everything within the category of black or white. For example; the thinking that “Do nothing, unless you can do it perfectly”.
2. Overgeneralization: Developing negative thoughts about everything, because of a single event. For example; “My best friend didn’t understand me, so no one understands me”.
3. Mental filter: Concentrating only on the negative details. For example; “I have an exam this weekend so I can’t visit my family. Also, I can’t concentrate on my studies; life is going badly for me”.
4. Ignore the positive: Always seeing the negative by turning a blind eye towards positive events. For example; “I managed to get this grade only by studying with my friend; I couldn’t have managed it by myself”.
5. Catastrophizing: Making general conclusions from single events. For example; “I received a bad grade on the first exam, it is going to be impossible for me to succeed in this course”.
6. Labelling: Creating stereotypes to explain your mistakes or the mistakes of others instead of understanding the reasons for their mistakes. Such as; “He is such an egoist” or “I am worthless”.
Recognizing and dismissing or rejecting these types of thoughts, will help to reduce self-created stress.
Effects of Stress
When we are faced with a stressful situation we feel anxious. Anxiety is a feeling which includes fear, worry and physiological arousal. Effects of anxiety can be categorized in four groups.
Physiological Effects: Loss or increase in appetite, difficulties in falling asleep or excessive sleeping, pain in different parts of the body, difficulties in breathing, increase in heartbeat etc.
Emotional Effects: Pessimism, fear, panic, anger, suspicion etc.
Cognitive Effects: Indecision, difficulties in expressing oneself, disorganized thinking etc.
Behavioral Effects: Alcohol and other drug abuse, denial and repression of stress.
Healthy stress management techniques can be categorized into three areas:
1. Techniques for the body: Breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, aerobic, gymnastic, balanced and healthy nutrition, getting enough rest and sleep.
2. Techniques for the emotions and thought processes: Having a realistic point of view, critically analyzing events without stereotyping, instead of considering the stressors as a threat, interpreting them as a “testing of skills”, learning to be rational instead of having prejudices and biases, learning to share feelings with others and to express them sincerely.
3. Situational Techniques: Using your time effectively and efficiently, developing social relationships, choosing environments where you may have fun, feel comfortable and productive, setting realistic and achievable goals, avoiding unnecessary competition and trying not to control situations that are realistically out of your control.