Gain a critical understanding of the nature of stress from a positive psychology framework that allows you to look beyond a simple pathology of stress-related symptoms. This new edition of Stress Management and Prevention integrates Eastern and Western concepts of stress while emphasizing an experiential approach to learning through the use of exercises, activities, and self-reflection. This student-friendly text contains chapters on conflict resolution, mindfulness meditation, time management, prevention of health risks, and cognitive restructuring. Included throughout are an emphasis on mindfulness and the neuroscience behind it, more theories, and new techniques for stress reduction and time management. An updated companion website includes even more video-based activities so students can see techniques in practice.
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It is Monday morning and the sun is just beginning to peek over the horizon, casting a dim shadow through the slats of the window blinds. In the mostly darkened room you can see the barest outline of a body sitting at a desk with his head cradled in his arms, resting near a laptop. The surface of the desk is littered with papers, cups half-filled with coffee, crushed cans of caffeinated energy drinks, and the remnants of pizza crust. If you look closer you can see that the person, although half-dead to the world, is not quite sleeping: his eyes are barely open, red, and blurry. It has been a long night without sleep and Blaine has been prepping for an exam scheduled that morning, as well as a paper due in the afternoon.
Somehow, someway, Blaine has got to regain some energy to get through the day, stay awake through his classes, and then show up for his part-time job. It’s been especially tough lately with money so tight and getting worse. He can’t afford to miss a day of work or he’ll risk lowering his main source of income. With problems of their own, his parents are in no position to help him much.
To make matters even more challenging, Blaine and his girlfriend have been fighting lately. She complains that they never seem to have much time to be together anymore—and when they do hang out, he is so tired that all he wants to do is watch TV or play computer games. In addition, he just hasn’t been feeling well lately. Headaches have been occurring with greater frequency. He isn’t sleeping well—when he finds the time to sleep at all. His grades are slipping because he can’t find the time to study as much as he’d like. About the only thing that gives Blaine some relief is drinking beer with friends, but then he has trouble waking up the next morning to make his early class. He wonders how he will ever dig himself out of this hole.
Although this scenario is not exactly uncommon among college students, I hope that it isn’t too familiar to you. Unlike some people you may know whom stress has buried beyond recovery, Blaine actually made significant progress in regaining control of his life. A friend had recommended that he take a stress management class so they could coordinate their schedules. As it happened, Blaine agreed, mostly because it was offered at a convenient time and seemed like an easy grade. But once he began learning about the cumulative effects of stress on his body and well-being, Blaine began experimenting with some of the methods introduced in class and his text. More than anything else, it was the social support he felt from others in the class that encouraged him to incorporate the new stress reduction strategies into his life.
Regardless of your particular age, gender, socioeconomic background, major, family situation, and the college you are attending, managing stress effectively is perhaps the single most important skill to get the most from your experience and perform at the highest level. Among “nontraditional” adult students, who represent one-third of college enrollment, there are added challenges to balance school with jobs, family, and personal responsibilities (Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009). According to a number of surveys of college students conducted by the Associated Press (2009), the American College Health Association (2009), and the Chronicle of Higher Education (2008), 85% report that stress is a major problem and the single greatest obstacle to success. Apart from actual performance in classes and grades achieved, excessive stress affects almost every aspect of life satisfaction. In recent times, economic problems have led to cutbacks in classes, staff, faculty, and services on campus. Scholarships have been reduced during a time when three-quarters of all students graduate with debt (Berg-Gross & Green, 2010).
Stress means different things to different people. To some, it represents a complete breakdown in their lives; to others, it means a minor annoyance that is best ignored, or tolerated; and in some circumstances, stress means an opportunity to rise to new levels of performance in a variety of areas. Some people tolerate stress reasonably well, some fall apart, and others hardly seem to notice the pressure in the first place.
What Is Stress Anyway?
This may seem like a rather obvious question. Everyone knows what stress is or, at the very least, knows when they are experiencing it firsthand or witnessing its effects on someone close to them.
Stress is that feeling when you can’t seem to sit still, when your thoughts are racing and you feel out of control. Your body feels tense, as if tied into a knot. You feel revved up but can’t figure out where to direct your energy. Time pressures weigh down on you. Concentration seems difficult.
Intense pressure: you feel it in your neck, in your back, in your belly. You notice your jaw muscles are clenched. There is, perhaps, a throbbing in your head. Your heart rate has increased, and your hands feel clammy.
This is stress, or at least some of the symptoms. As you will learn, there are many others that you will learn to recognize, and understand how they develop. There are also different kinds of stress, some of which break down your body and mind while others actually help you perform at peak levels.
One definition of stress is that it represents both a psychological and a physiological reaction to a real or perceived threat that requires some action or resolution. It is a response that operates on cognitive, behavioral, and biological levels that, when sustained and chronic, results in significant negative health effects (Linden, 2005). Stress is, therefore, what happens when life exerts pressure on us, but also the way it makes us feel. According to landmark brain researcher Bruce McEwen (McEwen, 2002; McEwen & Wingfield, 2010), it is both a stimulus and a response.
A more humorous (and perhaps accurate) description of stress is offered by Elkin (1999, p. 24) as the condition created when “your mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the living daylights out of some idiot who desperately deserves it.” (Note: There is a high likelihood that your friends and family are going to ask what you are learning in “that stress class you are taking.” Please offer them the first definition rather than the second one.)
Stress is actually a survival mechanism, programmed a long time ago, to increase internal awareness of danger and transform all the body’s resources to a heightened state of readiness. It is, essentially, the experience of perceived attack. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or not; the autonomic nervous system (think “automatic”) is activated. This system works well only when it turns itself on and off within a reasonable period of time so as to not wear out its welcome (and deplete your energy). Unfortunately, half of all Americans report significant stress in their lives. Even more disturbingly, according to a recent survey, most people don’t intend to do anything about it (Schuler, 2006).
There is a fairly good possibility that you are experiencing some degree of stress in your life right now, perhaps this very minute. How do you know when you are stressed? Stress responses have some common symptoms and signs, but they are also highly individualized, impacting your body, your internal thoughts, your emotional reactions, and your behavior (see Table 1.2 later in the chapter).
Stress symptoms are the body’s way of getting your attention to tell you: Look, you’ve got to get your act together. I’m a little tired of you running me ragged. I’m going to annoy you until you do something about this situation. And if you don’t pay attention to me, well then, I’ll just have to figure out more ways to get to you.
If your body could talk to you, it might communicate this message. The problem is that stress symptoms are not always obvious and direct; sometimes they can become disguised or rather subtle and their messages somewhat clouded.
Meanings of Stress
Trey thought he had things under control. He was well organized and intentional in almost everything he did. He had a plan for his life and clear ideas about just how he wanted to reach his goals.
In addition to his college courses, Trey had a good job and was well respected at work. There were opportunities for advancement within the company and almost no limit to how far he could rise, especially after he completed his degree. He was involved in a long-term relationship with Mia, whom he had been seeing since they were both 16.
Trey was doing well in school, enjoyed a good social life with friends, and was getting along well with his family. He was in good health, exercised regularly, and—except for a fondness for Hawaiian pizza with extra ham—monitored his diet.
So it was all the more surprising, given how well everything seemed to be going in his life, that he suddenly (or maybe it was gradually—he couldn’t remember) started to lose control. First the headaches started, and this was highly unusual for him; he was almost never sick. He tried to ignore them and, when that didn’t work, starting consuming up to a dozen aspirin a day to reduce the throbbing.
Eventually, Trey decided to visit his doctor, but after a thorough physical exam, no physiological cause was found. His blood pressure was a little high, as was his cholesterol, but otherwise he was in reasonably good shape.
“They seem to be stress headaches,” the doctor suggested to him. “Are you under a lot of pressure lately?”
Trey shrugged. “Not really,” he replied. “Everything is going pretty well in my life. I’ve got everything under control.” These were the mantras of his life, his trademark responses every time anyone asked him how things were going. Indeed, Trey was much admired by friends and family alike for his calm, controlled demeanor and ability to keep things under control.
Here is the key question: what is the particular meaning of Trey’s stress symptoms? Later, when he was asked this question by a friend who ...
Table of contents
Citation styles for Stress Management and Prevention
APA 6 Citation
Chen, D. (2016). Stress Management and Prevention (3rd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2192808/stress-management-and-prevention-applications-to-daily-life-pdf (Original work published 2016)
Chen, David. (2016) 2016. Stress Management and Prevention. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/2192808/stress-management-and-prevention-applications-to-daily-life-pdf.
Chen, D. (2016) Stress Management and Prevention. 3rd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2192808/stress-management-and-prevention-applications-to-daily-life-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Chen, David. Stress Management and Prevention. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2016. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.