Stress - looking beyond the surface
If stress is a non intended consequence of how we function psychologically, how do we go about it in order to live less stressful lives?
From looking after our children to meeting deadlines at work, from sitting exams to developing and maintaining relationships, life in general is accompanied by stress due to the demands placed upon us to ensure we are surviving or thriving.
Stress reaction is present when we assess that the demands exceed our resources. And this is valid when it comes to our internal as well as our external resources. Stress is a function of high demands vs low resources. Getting married, moving house, although positive experiences are on the list of stressful events for this reason.
Stress = high demands (internal and external)/low resources (internal and external).
Stress is a modality of the body gearing up towards facing challenges and changes, mobilising resources when in need. Ultimately, the function of stress is to prepare us to rise up to the challenges of life. The good news is that all of a sudden we are equipped with:
- physical strength
- better focus of attention
- better concentration.
Although automatic, the stress response is down to our appraisals: What do I have to do? How much? Can I do it? What resources do I have? This is a process that happens automatically, with no awareness. Stress is accompanied not only by physical symptoms, but also by certain behaviours: eating more or less, sleeping too much or not at all, nervous habits, such as nail biting, procrastination/putting things off. These behaviours are the barometer of stress.
Distress occurs when the demands placed upon us are overwhelming, severe and persistent - when we are overloaded with demands at the time when resources are limited. And in particular, if as children we are subjected to distress, there is a high likelihood of developing distress intolerance, which is strongly linked to impairment of daily functioning (as life is organised around avoiding experiencing stress at all costs).
Stress in itself is experienced uncomfortably due to the associated changes in our normal way of being: becoming agitated, over emotional, or the contrary withdrawn. People around us start noticing these subtle changes.
When life is lived in such a manner that facilitates increased resources, couple vs single life, employment vs unemployment, good/solid vs non existent social network - when demands are being negotiated, when tasks are being delegated/shared - it follows that life is less stressful.
In order to increase resources we need to feel safe that we can do so. When increasing resources is associated with danger (fear of failure, getting hurt, disappointed, of being let down, not liked, rejected, criticised), we are not going take any risks. Life in the absence of risks and human life in the absence of a variety of emotions is not possible.
The moral of these notes is that if we hold beliefs of safety about our ability to cope and affect change in our environment - in other words beliefs of own competency/agency and others’ availability -and if we are able to soothe and calm our negative emotions, life is lived less stressfully.
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