In our normal daily activities we are bound to come across various types of challenges/ threats. Naturally when faced by threats be they physical or emotional threats (real or imagined) we tend to respond to the them, the magnitude of these challenges and our reaction ability to them determines whether we will fully accommodate them or not. A situation whereby we are unable to accommodate to these threats leads to a condition of stress.
Every person therefore has got a different capability to respond to stimuli, a certain stimuli/threat may cause great stress to one person and fail to produce similar results in another person. Aldwin & Carolyn (2007)] However, according to the American Institute of Stress there is no clear-cut definition or cause for stress. The institute terms stress to be a subjective sensation associated with varied symptoms that obviously differ from one person to another. For instance, a roller coaster ride may lead to great fear and anxiety to one person while on the other hand it may lead to great pleasure to another person.
Similarly, winning an election may prove to be more stressful than losing it, but this is nice stress. Rosch 2009)] The chemistry behind stress and stress response is believed to be well known though much remains to be discovered about how the nervous system, the immune system, and the physical being of the Psychoneuroimmunology system. For instance it is known that in retaliation to a stressor, the system responds by releasing the corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and the arginine-vasopressin (AVP) into the hypophyseal portal system to activate neurons of the paraventricular nuclei (PVN) situated in the hypothalamus.
On the other hand the locus ceruleus and other noradrenergic cell groups of the adrenal medulla, whose collective name is the LC/NE system, get activated and use the brain epinephrine to execute autonomic and neuroendocrine responses. It is this automatic nervous system that offers a rapid response to stress which is commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. Engaging the sympathetic nervous system and withdrawing the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore creating cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, renal, respiratory, and endocrine changes.
According to Selye’s (1950) work, the body mechanism of a normal person response to threat/ stimuli is threefold. First when challenges/ threats are identified the body reacts by becoming alarmed, and thus producing a lot of adrenaline that will automatically bring about the “fight-or-flight” condition. If the stressor still persists, the body then adopts a measure to resist or cope with then situation, however, the more the body continues coping with the stressor the more it will deplete its resources, again, the stressor may be too demanding such that the body will not keep up with it for a long time.
The third phase will lead to a situation whereby the body is unable to maintain its normal functions because it has already depleted its reserve resources, therefore at this point the nervous system will automatically break and lead to involuntary symptoms such as sweating, increased pulse rate, or shaking. Should this condition be extended for a longer period then severe damage may be inflicted on the glands especially the adrenal ones and also the immune system may be greatly exhausted leading to opportunistic diseases such as depression, ulcers, or heart related complications.
People whose stress levels have gone past the third phase of Selye’s threefold stress universal response can not partake any resourceful activity, because the above mentioned opportunistic disorders interferes with their physical and emotional abilities. The American Institute of Stress however, clarifies that stress increases productivity but up to a certain point beyond which the negative will begin to happen; this obviously differs from one individual to another.
The case of the tuning of a guitar is a typical one; the stress or tension of the guitar string will determine the quality of sound produced – less tension will lead to a low or a dull sound whereas much tension will break the string, only the correct amount of tension applied to the string will lead to the desired sound quality. Similarly, with human beings, we have to find the correct amount of tension that leads us into making pleasant music in our lives. Stress can be coolly utilized and transformed into making us more productive and less self-destructive.
Lazarus’s (1966) work explained that as a condition for a psychological condition to gain the status of being stressful, it must be appraised as such. He asserted that human cognitive processes of appraisal play a great role in determining whether a condition has got a threatening potential, amounts to a harm or a loss, a challenge, or is benign. He however, clarified that this appraisal is subject to both personal and environmental factors, which in turn determine and triggers the coping mechanism adopted.
For instance, problem oriented coping is holistically directed at putting the stressor at a manageable level, while emotionally oriented coping is targeted to managing the negative impacts (emotions) of the stressor. In his work, Lazarus also indicated that the appraisal process involves the determination of the degree of stressfulness a problem carries, the determination of whether an individual has more or less of the required resources relative to the degree of stressfulness the problem poses.
Again, there is always a flexibility element in the appraisal process in that; if a coping mechanism is not working out effectively a different strategy can always be tried. The effects of stress in the human body can be devastating depending on the degree of stressfulness of the problem, the effect range from grand affection of the immune system, the nervous system, perception to and reaction to future stress.
Psychoneuroimmunology research (the interactions between the mental state, nervous and systems) indicates that chronic stress also leads to the impairment of the developmental growth in children through the lowering of their pituitary glands production which are responsible for their hormone growth. This kind of chronic stress is more prevalent in homes that experience marital problems, chronic alcoholism of one or both parents, and/or child abuse.
It should be noted that both positive and negative stressors ultimately leads to stress. Common stressors may include, environmental issues that are unmanageable such as lack of food, employment, housing, clean water, freedom, health; constant exposure to pain, bright light, nagging experiences, and emotional imbalances such disagreement with a spouse or a family member. Social issues have been known to be emotionally or psychically stressing to individuals.
These issues may include social defeat, break ups, deception, and relationships conflict, sensitive events such as deaths, divorce, birth, or even marriage. Other likely stressors are; some life experiences such as insufficient sleep, heavy drinking, obsessive compulsive disorder, demanding employment, demanding school curriculum, and lately demanding religious commitments. The ability of an individual to coolly manage his/her stressors has been noted to be subject to developmental experiences.
For instance, difficult experiences during early development stages such as exposure to maternal stress during prenatal stage or other types of stress during postnatal stages such as sexual abuse, poor child upbringing experiences have been noted to affect the level of stress management. This revelations leads to the conclusion that persons with poor early developmental history are more prone to stress disorders than does those whose early developmental experiences are good.
The common responses to stress include psychological coping such as stress management, anxiety, and depression. Since stress is a persons physiological response to an internal or external stimulus that triggers the fight-or-flight response then for one to coolly manage it then s/he needs to effectively identify and adequately control the source of stress or rather acquisition of the wisdom to vet those demands by the society (family, job, school, church etc) in order to give in to only those that are less stressful and say no to those that can be managed.
Whatever the case, it is imperative that stress be kept at a manageable level since long term distress can result to a diminished health condition of the body. Apparently, there is no known medication package for stress, apart from the normal psychotherapy given to people undergoing chronic stress situations, maybe because stress as it, is not a disease but a subjective sensation.