Stress is a common attribute and trigger that we all suffer from on a daily basis. This stress is normally attributed to high levels and is based on external influences. However, we also need to be mindful that stress can actually be a positive mechanism and it not always purely negative. This article will purposefully look at negative stress and how we can manage its symptoms through the use of purposeful strategies.
There are 4 key stages to stress:
1) Causes of stress – An emotional demand places physical or psychological pressure
All stress will have a cause that is formed from factors beyond our control. Stress is normally caused by factors that are external and predominately humans react to these negatively as they cause distress. Based on these influences humans will suffer both physical and psychological symptoms of stress as it is the inability of not coping under pressure.
Reflective practice is a useful strategy that can help overcome symptoms and causes of stress. We should all appreciate our strengths and also become aware of limitations. Further, reflective practice enables us to develop self-awareness which enables us to become more empowered. Indeed, empowerment enables our physical symptoms of stress to alleviate. The use of setting smart and measureable goals is also important because this leads to focus and clear direction. Indeed, most of our stress is based on being disorganised and therefore goal setting will also help alleviate stress.
2) Individual perception of the demand – The person produces an individual view of the situation and whether it is threatening to them
Based on the causes of stress we react either positively or negatively. This reaction can be formed on experience and maturity. For example, sitting an exam for the first time will arouse different levels of stress to one where you sit a different exam for the 5th time.
Simply put the situation that one finds themselves in could be the difference between fearing the situation and meeting with its demands. Much of this is placed on the human mind and reaction. Perception is a vital ingredient in meeting with stressful demands.
It is suggested that to develop perception one should be clear of what they are attempting to achieve. Somebody who has a task to complete for a deadline is more likely to be less fearful if they have planned accordingly. Conversely, if somebody has not planned and is not aware of the task demands they are more likely to be fearful of the situation.
3) Stress response – Production of physical and psychological changes in the individual
Stress does produce physical and psychological changes in all individuals. These physical changes relate to feeling nervous and jittery, increased heart rate levels, stomach churning and general appearance changes on the skin. Psychologically one can suffer from negative thinking, lack of concentration and lost in thought. The production of these symptoms can only add to further stress and worry.
Strategies to overcome these responses are based on patience and resilience. Some symptoms of stress once they arrive take longer to leave. However, exercise (light, moderate or intense) will help the bloodstream produce positive chemicals that will alleviate stressful symptoms. Listening to music is also known to help the mind and body relax to a certain degree. The introduction to therapies such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation are strategies that can help decrease levels of stress and should be practised consistently. The case with these strategies is that not all will agree with the individual concerned and therefore trial and error is suggested.
4) Behaviour consequences – Any positive or negative changes in performance resulting from the perceived threat
Our behaviour is a manifestation of our own ability to cope. Behaviour that is irrational and negative will result in irritability, verbal language that is harmful, physical harm and overthinking. Our minds are programmed by a computer and alongside this we have a chimp and a human mind. The chimp and human will clash if there is a disagreement. As the chimp is more powerful the human will not win. Therefore, the human mind must slowly appraise the situation once the danger has passed. For example, there are many times we lose our temper only to regret it after. The temper is actually the chimp, the regret is the human.
One way to facilitate behaviour consequences is to appraise the situation on reflection following the event. Ask yourself some key questions and how you would handle the situation differently in the future. The key of behaviour consequence is based on a simple rule. Following your own appraisal have you learnt? If the answer is yes, then you as a person will be in a better position to deal with in the future as self-awareness has increased.
In summary, stress is an on-going battle that we cannot switch off. What we can do is develop strategies to enable us to cope when the pressure is on.
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About Gobinder Gill
Gobinder is a lecturer in Sport Psychology and Research Methods at Birmingham Metropolitan College in the West Midlands.