It is impossible to
fight a shadow. Thus unless we remodel the abstract theories of stress into
concrete equations of cause and effect, we cannot formulate effective
strategies to counter it. The first step in this metamorphosis is
identification of the possible sources of stress.
Part I shall focus
Where as part
II will outline the remaining major sources of stress:
due to Change
and nutritional stresses
Stress may occur when our survival or physical integrity is threatened. Thus
in a physically or emotionally threatening situation our body adapts to help
it react more effectively to meet the threat. This is controlled mainly by the
release of adrenaline,
the 'fight or flight' hormone.
You are a caveman out
innocently picking berries when suddenly you come nose to nose with a
saber-toothed tiger. While you were simply gathering, the tiger was actually
hunting, and the sight of you makes his mouth water.
At the sight of the tiger,
your hypothalamus (an area in the brain) sends a message to your adrenal
glands and within seconds, you can run faster, hit harder, see better, hear
more acutely, think faster, and jump higher than you could only seconds
Your suddenly supercharged
body is designed to help level the odds between you and your attacker.
Consequently, you narrowly escape death by leaping higher and running faster
than you ever could before.
Adrenaline causes a number
of changes that help us to survive.
When countered by a
threatening situation you may have experienced these changes as 'fear'. When
the heart pumps at two to three times the normal speed, it sends nutrient rich
blood to the major muscles in the arms and legs. The tiny blood vessels
(called capillaries) under the surface of the skin close down (which
consequently sends the blood pressure soaring) so that a surface wound does
not make one bleed to death. Even the eyes dilate, so one can see better.
Where speed and physical strength are important this adrenaline stress will be
helpful and beneficial - fear can help us to survive or perform better.
Where calm thought
or precise motor skills are important, it is best to control and, ideally,
eliminate these adrenaline responses.
shuts down all functions of the body not needed in an emergency. Digestion,
sexual function, even the immune system is temporarily turned off. If
necessary, excess waste is eliminated by vomiting, urination and diarrhoea.
us this primitive adrenaline response is always running high to meet all the
dead lines that we face today. This prolonged exposure can not only derange
our body functioning and cause ill-health but also hamper the inner harmony
which we need to survive and flourish as human beings.
This can come from anxious worrying
about events beyond our control, from a tense, hurried approach to life, or
from relationship problems caused by our own behaviour. It can also come from
an 'addiction' to and enjoyment of stress.
personality can affect the way in which we experience stress. We may be
familiar with the idea of 'type A' personalities who thrive on stress, and
'type B' personalities who are mellower and more relaxed in their approach.
can cause the levels of a neurotransmitter called noradrenalin to rise. This
can give a feeling of confidence and elation that type As like. They can
therefore subconsciously defer work until the last minute to create a
'deadline high', or can create a stressful environment at work that feeds
their enjoyment of a situation. The downside of this is that they may leave
jobs so late that they fail when an unexpected crisis occurs. This may also
cause unnecessary stress for other colleagues who are already under a high
level of stress.
Other aspects of
can cause stress. Examples are:
where the perfectionist's extremely or impossibly high standards can cause
we think: stress increases as a function of how we think about events.
Some folks tend to catastrophize events, making mountains out of
molehills, or exaggerating the consequences. They tend to react to small
things with larger than warranted feelings, exaggerating the event to
match their feelings, rather than adjusting their feelings to the event.
People with low stress reactions tend to make molehills out of mountains.
self-effacement, where constant attention to the needs of others can lead
to dissatisfaction when no-one looks after our needs, and
occurs where we are concerned that circumstances are out of control. In some
cases being anxious and worrying over a problem may generate a solution.
Normally it will just result in negative thinking.
The five main unrealistic
desires or beliefs that cause anxiety:
desire always to have the love and admiration of all people important to
is unrealistic because we have no control over other people's minds.
They can have bad days, see things in odd ways, make mistakes or can be
plain disagreeable and awkward.
desire to be thoroughly competent at all times.
is unrealistic because we only achieve competence at a new level by
making mistakes. Everybody has bad days and makes mistakes.
belief that external factors cause all misfortune.
negative events can be caused by our own negative attitudes. Similarly
our own negative attitudes can cause us to view neutral events
negatively. Someone else might find something positive in something we
view as a problem.
desire that events should always turn out the way that we want them to,
and that people should always do what we want.
people have their own agendas and do what they want to do.
belief that past bad experience will inevitably control what will happen
in the future.
can very often improve or change things if we try hard enough or look at
things in a different way.
only thing permanent in the universe is change.
is important that we learn to welcome change - otherwise you will expose
yourself to intense stress. You will be aware that we are currently in the
middle of a huge information revolution. As this runs its course, its impact
on ways of life and society will be at least as great as the Industrial
As with the Industrial
Revolution, people who resist change will be crushed by it. People who welcome
change will be able to exploit the new niches opening up on a constant basis.
Success depends on adaptation to, or anticipation of, change.
Next Up: Sources
of Stress (Part II)