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A SMILE A DAY KEEPS THE STRESS AWAY

Stress is a part of day-to-day living. As youth, you may experience stress meeting academic demands, adjusting to a new living environment, or developing friendships. The stress you experience is not necessarily harmful. Mild forms of stress can act as a motivator and energizer. However, if your stress level is too high, medical and social problems can result.

Although we tend to think of stress as caused by external events, events in themselves are not stressful. Rather, it is the way in which we interpret and react to events that makes them stressful. People differ dramatically in the type of events they interpret as stressful and the way in which they respond to such stress. For example, speaking in public can be stressful for some people and relaxing to others.

There are many things that can cause one to feel stress. Both positive and negative events in one’s life can be stressful. However, major life changes are the greatest contributors of stress for most people. They place the greatest demand on resources for coping.

Major life changes

  • Geographic mobility
  • Going to college
  • Transfer to a new school
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • New job
  • Being fired from the current job
  • New life style
  • Divorce
  • Death of a loved one
  • A new relationship

Environmental events

  • Time pressure
  • Competition
  • Examination
  • Financial problems
  • Noise
  • Disappointments


Stress is the ‘wear and tear’ our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually change environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems. There are several signs and symptoms that you may notice when you are experiencing stress, and the negative effects that excessive stress can cause. These signs and symptoms are organised into five sections:

Short term physical symptoms
These mainly occur as your body adapts to perceived physical threat, and are caused by release of adrenaline. Although you may perceive these as unpleasant and negative, they are signs that your body is ready for the explosive action that assists survival or high performance:

  • Faster heart beat
  • Increased sweating
  • Cool skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Feelings of nausea, or ‘butterflies in stomach’
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tense muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • A desire to urinate
  • Diarrhoea

Short term performance effects
While adrenaline helps you survive in a ‘fight-or flight’ situation, it does have negative effects in situations.

  • It interferes with clear judgement and makes it difficult to take the time to make good decisions.
  • It can seriously reduce your enjoyment of your work.
  • Where you need good physical skills it gets in the way of fine motor control.
  • It causes difficult situations to be seen as a threat, not a challenge.
  • It damages the positive frame and mind you need for high quality work by:
    • Promoting negative thinking
    • Damaging self confidence,
    • Narrowing attention,
    • Disrupting focus and concentration and
    • Making it difficult to cope with distraction
  • It consumes mental energy in distraction, anxiety, frustration and temper. This is energy that should devoted to the work in hand.


Long term physical symptoms
These occur where your body has been exposed to adrenaline over a long period. One of the ways adrenaline prepares you for action is by diverting resources to the muscles from the areas of the body, which carry out body maintenance. This means that if you are exposed to adrenaline for a sustained period, then your health may start to deteriote. This may show up in the following ways:

  • Change in appetite
  • Frequent ‘colds’ or respiratory tract infections
  • Illnesses such as asthma, back pain, digestive problems, headaches and skin eruptions
  • Sexual disorder
  • Aches and pain
  • Feelings of intense and long term tiredness

Internal symptoms of long term stress
When you are under stress or have been tired for a long period of time you may find that you are less able to think clearly and rationally about problems. This can lead to the following internal emotional ‘upsets’:

  • Worry or anxiety
  • Confusion, and an inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Feeling ill
  • Feeling out of control or overwhelmed by events
  • Mood changes:
    • Depression
    • Frustration
    • Hostility
    • Helplessness
    • Impatience & irritability
    • Restlessness
  • Being more lethargic
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Drinking more alcohol and smoking more
  • Change in eating habits
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Relying more on medication

Behavioural symptoms

  • Yawning
  • Fiddling and twitching, nail biting, grinding teeth, drumming fingers, pacing, etc
  • Bad moods:
    • Being irritable
    • Defensiveness
    • Being critical
    • Aggression
    • Irrationality
    • Overreaction and reacting emotionally
  • Reduced personal effectiveness:
    • Being unreasonably negative
    • Making less realistic judgements
    • Being unable to concentrate and having difficulty making decisions
    • Being more forgetful
    • Making more mistakes
    • Being more accident prone
  • Changing work habits
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Neglect of personal appearance


Identifying unrelieved stress and being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management. However, all require work toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it. Here are some things you can do to reduce your level of stress:

  • Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions.
  • Recognize what you can change.
  • Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
  • Reinforce positive self-statements.
  • Focus on your good qualities and accomplishments.
  • Avoid unnecessary competition.
  • Develop assertive behaviours
  • Recognize and accept your limits. Remember that everyone is unique and different.
  • Get a hobby or two. Relax and have fun.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet daily.
  • Talk with friends or someone you can trust about your worries/problems.
  • Learn to use your time wisely:
    • Evaluate how you are budgeting your time.
    • Plan ahead and avoid procrastination.
    • Make a weekly schedule and try to follow it.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Set priorities.
  • When studying for an exam, study in short blocks and gradually lengthen the time you spend studying. Take frequent short breaks.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. For an example, whenever you feel tense, slowly breathe in and out for several times.


Hope every one of you will benefits from this article and live a happy life without stress.
A smile a day keeps the stress away.

Resources:
1. http://www. Psychwww.com/mtsite/smundstr.aspl
2. http://ub-counseling.com.buffalo.edu/stressmanagement.shtml#int



Lim Siow Yen
Resource Development Officer, FFPAM



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