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Stress Coping Mechanisms: The Silent Killer; Living with the Inevitable

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Stress Coping Mechanisms

The Silent Killer; Living with the Inevitable

 

Have you ever been in an ignorant state where you believe the world is caving in and everything seems to be an emergency? Well, if you have been in that ‘state’ it is called stress. Stress is a process whereby an individual perceives and responds to events appraised( individual assessment-key) as overwhelming or threatening to one’s well-being and one believes that he or she does not have the capacity to manage same. Stress generally refers to three(3) things: the psychological perception of pressure, perception of inability to cope and the body's response to it. These changes can also be physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Your body responds to stress by producing chemicals and hormones to help you rise to the challenge. The heart rate increases, the brain works faster, and there is a sudden burst of energy. Although stress carries a negative connotation, at times it may be of some benefit. Stress can motivate us to do things in our best interests, such as study for exams, visit the doctor regularly, meet a deadline, exercise, and perform to the best of our ability at work. Such stress is called eustress.

“Pressure and stress are the common cold of the psyche(mind)”-Andrew Denton. So, since one can not escape stress as it is inevitable, let’s take a further look on the different types of stress, common presentations and how one can cope with them.

Types of stress

Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types of stress, and each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration and treatment approaches. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can be classified as being acute, episodic acute and chronic.

Acute stress is the most common type of stress. It is the body's immediate reaction to a new demand, challenge, or event. For example, you have to drop the children off at school, go to work for a business meeting, get an oil change, do grocery shopping, pick up the children from school, take them to football and dancing rehearsals, go home to make dinner, pick them up again, and do the laundry. Due to the lengthy list of activities, the person instantly reacts by getting overwhelmed by the tasks to be completed that day. Stress is also responsible for triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. This is the type of stress that comes on quickly and often unexpectedly and doesn’t last too long.

Some symptoms acute stress includes:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and sadness
  • Headaches
  • Back pain and gut problems- diarrhea
  • Increased frequency of passing urine
  • Sweating
  • Heart racing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking of hands

These may appear for a short time, but subside when the stress eases.

Acute stress that is suffered too frequently is called episodic. This type of stress is usually seen in people who make self-inflicted, unrealistic or unreasonable demands. People with this kind of stress will oftentimes take on more responsibilities and projects than they can handle. They may seem like they’re constantly in a rush, always running late, and are disorganized. These types of persons have type A personality and with episodic acute stress can also be hostile towards others and have strained relationships.

A few evident symptoms of episodic include:

  • Longer periods of intermitted depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Emotional distress
  • Ceaseless worrying
  • Persistent physical symptoms similar to those found in acute stress
  • Coronary heart diseases, or other heart problems

Chronic stress on the other hand, is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time in which an individual perceives they have little or no control over. Chronic stress is never thrilling and never exciting. It eats away at you every day, year after year and it can be tremendously destructive. Chronic stress occurs when a person is in a repetitively stressful environment and cannot see any way out of their situation. 

Some symptoms of this type of stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • Stroke
  • Sleep issues
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • Decline in functioning at home, school and work

Tips to Reduce Stress

Now that we have identified some of the common symptoms of acute, episodic and chronic stress, let us look at ways we can reduce stress. Stress that continues without relief can lead to a state called distress, which is a negative stress reaction. This may culminate in an anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, in depressive disorders and in substance use disorders such as alcohol misuse disorders. These can increase risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts and suicide. Distress can disturb the body's internal balance or equilibrium. Unfortunately, stress is inevitable and you can't eliminate it, despite your best efforts. You can, however, better prepare yourself for stress with several coping techniques.

You may begin with some of these steps:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Regular sleep
  • Laugh – it helps to relax muscles, lower blood pressure, and increase the oxygen level in your blood.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation – yoga is a great way to blend exercise with deep breathing.
  • Find a hobby and make time to enjoy it.
  • Spend time with people who make you happy.
  • Have a “laugh folder” on your computer full of things that make you smile.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events. (8 hours a day should be your goal, but there is a wide variation on the opinions of experts about how much rest is enough.)
  • Be sociable and be part of a social support network which provide source of hope and encouragement in good and bad experiences of life. There is mounting evidence that social interaction and social responsibility and roles can boost the immune system which helps lower stress.
  • Don't rely on alcohol, drugs, food or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress.
  • Develop problem solving approaches to challenging issues
  • Develop a positive approach to life challenges- see them as opportunity to grow rather than pitfalls to bring you down
  • Trust and reliance in supreme being that provides meaning, purpose and hope in the midst of life’s challenging experience e.g. Christianity
  • Talk to a doctor, friend, or counselor about your stress and measures to increase coping skills..

Stress can wreak havoc on the human body. It causes people to feel sick, tired, anxious, overwhelmed and may lead some to contemplate suicide. In the event where stress becomes uncontrollable, seek help from medical practitioners like psychologists or counsellors. They can help you learn more about the different kinds of stress, show you how to combat that stress and recommend coping mechanisms for use at home, school and work which will enhance your stress resilence. Do not allow stress to slowly kill you, instead give it wings and let it fly away.

References:

American Psychological Association. Stress: the different kinds of stress Accessed 19/7/2019.

Dr. Kelly and Associates. (2014, January 29). “Coping with different kinds of Stress.” Retrieved from http://drkellys.co.uk/dealing-with-stress/

National Institute of Mental Health. Fact sheet on stress Accessed 19/7/2019.

Office on Women’s Health. Stress and your health fact sheet Accessed 22/7/2019.

Profile of Writer

Dr. Kevin Goulbourne hails from cool hills of Malvern in St. Elizabeth where he obtained his formative education at Bethlehem All-Age School. After completing his secondary education at Munro College he pursued his first medical degree, M.B.B.S. at UWI, Mona and later specialized in the field of Psychiatry in 1999. He has special interest in drug abuse treatment and completed in 2007 Hubert Humphrey Fellowship  in Drug  Abuse and Health Services Management at Virginia Commonweallth University, Richmond,USA. He was involved in the pilot drug treatment court in Jamaica which is a court that sought to combine drug abuse treatment with judicial oversight. Currently serves as board member of Patricia House, a drug abuse rehabilitation facility in Kingston and chairs the board of  the National Council on Drug Abuse.

He served as the Regional Psychiatrist in the Western Regional Health Authority from 2000 to 2010 and later worked for few months as a Consultant Psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital . For the past 6 years he has occupied the post of Medical Director of the Medical Services Branch in the Jamaica Constabulary Force(JCF) where he has been involved in an ongoing drive to encourage healthy life style and early intervention in treating medical conditions through regular screening of members of the JCF. Currently occupies the post of Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the Ministry of Health

He is married and in his spare time he enjoys to engage in outdoor activities such as football, cricket, cycling and lawn tennis. He has been assisting in Linstead and Havenhill Baptist Churches’ medical outreach activities. He has received training in Disaster Mental Health and is a member of Psychosocial Team of the Jamaica Red Cross. He is a member of Runaway Tabernacle .

 

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