Stress is a common problem that affects us in our daily lives. When we encounter a number of changes, difficulties or challenges in life, for example, change jobs, exams, marital problems, and we will feel pressure.
What is Stress?
Stress is a state of tension of both physical and psychological phenomenon when we feel there is not enough capacity to meet the requirements of life or facing challenges and threats. According to Taylor (2012), Stress is a negative emotional experience characterized by predictable biochemical, cognitive, physiological and behavioural changes aimed at either changing the stressor or adapting to its effects. Stress is also combined by two components: Stressor and Stress reactivity. (Greenberg, 1999)
Chronic stress refers to experiencing a long-term stressor, while acute stress experiences a short-term one (Pearson, 2014).
Personality Factors & Stress
Type A personality pattern reacts to stress in emotional ways, while Type B personality pattern reacts it in rational ways (Pearson, 2014).
Major Sources of Stress
The infinity hope and requirements of human in the limited real life cause both conflict and frustration, for example, when we face some daily hassles and major life events such as death, we may feel stressful. Those are the stressor. Greenberg (1999) said, a stressor is a stimulus with the potential of triggering the fight-or-flight response. The stressor will produce feeling of pressure, it depends on the degree of personal attention to the stressor, the capacity of relevant things and situation management, and expectations of their own.
Physiological Stress Reaction
Most of the stressors arouse anxiety, which means the disagreeable feeling of nervousness or worry, We usually cope with the stress by using defence mechanisms, which can protect us from the awareness of anxiety, and help us to maintain a sense of self-worth in those situations. (Pearson, 2014) For example, we will justify our unacceptable behaviour with reasons, which is called Rationalization.
Selye (1991) found there is a characteristic pattern of nonspecific physiological mechanisms that are activated in response to almost any stressor, he called this pattern the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). It is made up by three progressive stages (Pearson, 2014):
Alarm reaction: When we first time exposed to the stressor, it will produce the biochemical changes and defence mechanisms to maintain our body normal functioning and trigger the fight-or-flight response.
Resistance stage: The reactions of the alarm stage disappeared; our body resistance to the stressor will increase to cope with the continued stress. The cost of this resistance is our body’s defence system would be weakened. If the stressor hasn’t been successfully dealt, then we will enter the third phase reaction.
Exhaustion stage: When the body is constantly exposed to the same long-term stressor and still unable to adapt it after adjustment, the body can no longer to adapt to chronic stress, and the physical symptoms of the alarm reaction reappear.
There are two methods of managing stress, they are modify our environment and alter our lifestyle (Pearson, 2014).
Two years ago, when I was going to take my first Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE), I have to finish studying my form.6 lessons, the Independent Enquiry Study project (IES), and lots of tests finish many past papers from different subjects after school. But I also need to review the lessons that I have learnt before. I was very stressful and that time. Not just because of the heavy workload, but also the Importance of the HKDSE, it would affect the result that I can enter the university or not. Another reason is the high personal and family expectation to my HKDSE result.
When I realised that I have lots of assignments and important exams were coming, I was facing a chronic stress, which means the coming assignments and exams are long-term and on-going stressor. It triggered my fight-or-flight response, on the very beginning, I was choose to flee from those heavy workload, I was keep telling myself that I still have plenty of time to finish my assignments and do the revision, try to rationalize my unacceptable behaviour. Afterward, I realised that the time is running short and I have to confront with these stressor, I felt very stressful and I started to sweat, my heart beat and my breath have been faster than before. Those are the biochemical changes results in my body when I was in the alarm stage, it helps my body to ready for dealing with heavy workload and keep its normal functioning at the same time.
Moreover, when I start working on my assignments, my sweat, rapid heartbeat and breath disappeared, The physical reactions of the alarm stage disappear. I felt that I have enough energy to focus and finish my IES. Those are the signs of my body defence rise to cope with the continued stress which means the IES project during the resistance stage, also to return my body normal functioning. However, it takes a few days for me to finish it, and I barely worked overnight in those days. My body resistance to infections decreased, so I felt stomach pain and headache afterward.
Finally, my body defence has broken down, I was suffering from insomnia, and I got sick and fever afterward. Though I have finished my IES, but there are still lots of assignment, test and revision coming. Facing this extremely tight schedule, I was getting more stress. I was worrying whether I can finish them all or not, and my HKDSE result everyday. And it just makes me felt frustrated and stressful. So the physical reactions of the alarm stage reappeared. The stress makes me feel anxious and decrease my working performance on my school and the exam. So my HKDSE result is very poor, and I have decided to repeat the form.6. After the above experience, I usually react to the stress in worry, anxious and time-urgent ways, so I have found that I have the characteristics of Type A personality pattern.
There are two categories of methods of managing stress (Pearson, 2014): Frist, It is modify the environment. We can use different ways to modify what happens around us, such as assertiveness, withdrawal and compromise. Second, we can alter our lifestyle. We can modify something about ourselves and our behaviours. In fact, we may have more control over ourselves than over the environment.
After the above experience, I decided to improve myself by altering my lifestyle (Pearson, 2014). First, I have to set a timetable for my daily life, try to rearrange my working time and rest time, so I can allocate my time appropriately and prevent the stress when the workload is high. Second, I have to do more exercise, such as swimming and running. Our body will release endorphins during exercise, which can help me feel good and burns away the stress. Also I can reduce my stress by doing relaxation, such as listen some soothing music or engage in deep breathing. Finally, I can seek out for social support by sharing my painful feelings to my friends and support group, they can provide emotional support through their expressions of concern and affection, and also the information and advice that can help me to get more effective solution. Those actions can help me to manage stress.
To conclude, Stress is everywhere. It may cause positive or negative impact to our mental and physical health. It can sometimes help to motivate us or make us feel anxious and decrease our working performance. But there are also different ways to manage can cope with stress.
Clarke, Deborah. (1994). Stress management : trainer’s notes. Cambridge: National Extension College.
Division of Social Sciences. (2013). DSS10103: Practical psychology for everyday life course materials. Kowloon Tong, HK: CCCU.
Pearson. (2014). Practical psychology for everyday life. Quarry Bay, HK: Pearson Education Asia Limited.
Greenberg, Jerrold S. (1999). Comprehensive stress management (6th ed.). Boston: WCB/McGraw-Hill.
Taylor, S. E. (2012). Health psychology (8th ed.). Singapore: McGraw-Hill International Edition.