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Some of the physical stressors often cited are spiders, snakes, bugs, impending pain e.g. the dentist;, whereas the psychological issues vary greatly but usually exist, though seem less easy to state in words. Fear is usually the key and could be as simple as fear of never being loved for your true self, or as anxiety causing as the fear of having a panic attack with no one around to help you. So why do we get stressed? We get stressed because we believe that there is a need to respond to a situation that is confronting us, though the situation, as we perceive it is one that we are not sufficiently capable of dealing with effectively.

If I were to ask you to sit down now and write me out the alphabet in no more than one minute I imagine that no one would have a problem with this, and there would be no level of stress involved. You are being challenged but you perceive instantly that the challenge is easily met so do not generate any levels of anxiety about accomplishing the task. But if I were to ask you to sit an exam based on anything that we have covered in the first six weeks of the course, and that to fail the exam would mean that you could no longer continue on the course, there would probably be a few, if not all, that would grow slightly anxious about whether they had learnt sufficient detail from the notes and lessons that we have covered so far.

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Hopefully it is easy to see why one situation can be handled without stress and another would probably generate a stress response. What is sometimes hard for others to understand is why some get stressed about an issue where as others around do not get stressed. We will discover that it is usually because they have a mismatch between their perception of a situation or task and the person’s actual ability to cope with the situation or task.

A person who has studiously written up their notes after all of my lessons, has read the text that the lesson was based on, paid attention to the subject matter discussed in class, and questioned anything they did not understand, are less likely to be phased by the challenge of a test, than one who has turned up to the lessons but has not necessarily done more than be ‘entertained’ by the session.

Therefore if we become stressed it is because we believe that the situation that is confronting us is one that warrants a degree of stress. In fact a life without some degree of stress would be a life that is short lived. Crossing a busy street requires us to be alert and able to move fast. The stress response will ensure that we are biologically and psychologically ready for the moment of hurried activity so as to avoid busy traffic. In the same way when we go for an interview we tend to get a little stressed. This should make us alert and able to respond to all the questioning that will be directed.

Though it has to also be said that these too examples can also be used as demonstrations of the effects of extreme stress. A person who gets too stressed about crossing the road could find themselves experiencing a panic attack every time they come to a busy street, and at worse not venture out of the house because they fear being hurt or killed by traffic (a real phobia). In the same way as a person that is too stressed for an interview is likely to be so distracted by their internal physical and mental upsets that they will come across as being too anxious a personality for the job.

So what is stress? As we will progress through our studies we will find that the term has been borrowed from physical science, when describing materials that undergo physical pressure. Generally, stress is seen as being the effect of pressure, both emotional and physical, on the body and the mind that changes the physiological and emotive state of the individual in response to an external or internal threat or demand.

In other words when we are feeling stressed we will experience both physiological and psychological changes that tell us that we are experiencing a stressful situation. An interesting issue to think about is do we feel stressed because we cognitively reflect on the fact that we have experienced physical and emotional alterations when confronted with a situation, or does the confronting situation cause us to react stressfully therefore creating physical and psychological changes?

Answers on a postcard to ‘Insomniacs Puzzle Hour’, ECC, Plymouth!! Is stress controllable? To a point the answer is ‘yes’, though I have to say immediately that this is not strictly true. Yes, in as much as we can learn to deal with life and the issues it presents to us in a more realistic and logical way, therefore removing some of the avoidable stressful issues that we set up for ourselves.

But we also have to say that stress, as a life preserver, should not be eliminated, as our body needs to protectively react to the unexpected issues that confront us throughout our lives. Without stress reactions we would not avoid vehicles careering out of control on the pavement where we are walking; to be able to dodge flying objects that fall from trees or are missiled at us by some spiteful individual; or be able to respond alertly when some teacher suddenly spitefully wakes you up in their lesson to answer the impossible question that they harass you with as a form of embarrassing punishment! (No falling asleep in my lessons!!)

Understanding stress It is hoped that by understanding the processes involved in stress reaction that the individual will be able to better prepare them self for the unavoidable and also discipline themselves sufficiently so that they can reduce the sometimes harmful effects that long term stress can cause.

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