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Stress can be defined as a brain’s response to a demand for the adaptive capacities of an individual (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). The ability to handle it determines the outcome of the influence of a particular stressor. According to the Yerkes-Dodson principle, a small amount of stress is beneficial for performance and well-being; however, the prolonged influence of the level of stress that surpasses one’s coping ability might translate into the reduction of motivation and health problems (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
Therefore, stress can be divided into four categories: good, bad, acute, and chronic. Good or eustress is usually caused by an event that is perceived as positive by a person experiencing it. On the other hand, bad stress or distress is associated with the negative influence of stressors that overcomes an individual’s coping capacity. Acute stress is episodic in its nature and is characterized by the extreme arousal of the nervous system as a result of a situation initiating a stress response (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). The most common sources of stress for college students: time management, personal expectations, family expectations and family life, academic demands, finances, employment, relationships, mental and physical health issues, information overload, and living arrangements, among others (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
In order to reduce distress, it is important to develop a comprehensive plan that will be best suited to an individual’s life choices and needs. The assessment of stress levels should be the initial point of determining the correct strategy for dealing with it. Numerous tools and resources could be used to this end; however, it is recommended to use a couple of them simultaneously to obtain more precise results (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
Stress causes the state of psychological hyperarousal, followed by an intense physiological response. A good example of involuntary reaction to a threat is a fight-or-flight response that helps a human organism to cope with a perceived physical danger (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). The fight-or-flight response is associated with the activation of the sympathetic nervous system that shifts the homeostasis and activates behavioral mechanisms conducive to survival (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
Adrenal glands initiate the secretion of stress hormones that enhance speed and power, thus making the emergency action more effective. Unlike, fight-or-flight response, chronic stress is able to significantly disrupt homeostasis and result in numerous health problems. Medium-term chronic stress is usually associated with headaches, sleep disorders, and muscle pain, among others (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). It also disrupts the normal functioning of the immune system, thereby making it less responsive to various infections.
Long stress, on the other hand, is even more dangerous because it can result in higher chances of heart disease. The lingering of cortisol associated with prolonged stress disrupts the secretion of lymphocytes and interleukins, thus severely impairing the immune system (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). Cognitive appraisal plays a key role in the process of cognitive reconstruction that can help to reframe the perception of a particular stressor. Therefore, it essential to acquire a knowledge of cognitive techniques that help to overcome distorted thinking and change the internal dialogue to be more positive.
Rational emotive behavior therapy is known to be an efficient tool for overcoming unhealthy emotional patterns. It is believed that mindfulness and meditation can also significantly reduce the perception of stress (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
In order to measure the level of my stress, I decided to use the following assessment tools: Assess Your Stress, Perceived Stress Scale, Assessment of Symptoms of Stress, and Inventory of College Students’ Recent Life Experiences (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). I started by measuring the physiological indicators of stress that can show how my body reacts to it in the physical dimension. To this end, I used the Assess Your Stress method and discovered that my resting heart rate, pulse, and respiration rate are somewhat higher than average. Stress-o-Meter also showed that my perception of stress is higher than desired (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
The Assessment of Symptoms of Stress revealed that I experience symptoms associated with distress such as headaches, uncontrolled frustration, and difficulty going to sleep more often than I would like. It is clear that I have to learn how to get rid of those negative stress factors. The next instrument I used was the Perceived Stress Scale. I wanted to understand how I react to different situations, and if my perception of certain events significantly contributes to my level of stress.
My PSS score was 21, which fell in the moderate-stress category. To have a better grasp of the specific situations that contribute to the increase of my stress level in the most significant way, I used Inventory of College Students’ Recent Life Experiences (Olpin & Hesson, 2014). I scored 92 on the ICSRLE scale, which indicated a significant level of exposure to various sources of hassles (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
I was surprised by the results of the stress level self-assessment. The described above tools helped me to recognize the pattern of occurrence of particular stress symptoms that call for the much-needed change of my behavior. I decided to monitor my stress level regularly by using the Stress Level Checklist. The data from ICSRLE measure helped me to understand that not having enough time to meet my obligations is a source of significant distress for me; therefore, I need to make behavioral changes in order to significantly reduce the negative impact of this hassle.
Particularly, I will have to speak with my friends and relatives and explain to them that my academic commitments prevent me from devoting too much time to them. I also realized that I have to overcome sleep problems caused by the pressing need to meet the demands of a busy schedule. The measurement of physiological indicators of stress confirmed that quality of my sleep, along with other factors, plays an important role in my ability to handle stress.
Therefore, in order to reduce the chances of the physical and mental breakdown occurrence, I decided to reduce the time I spend on extracurricular activities to minimize sleep deprivation. The Inventory of College Students’ Recent Life Experiences helped me to understand that the feeling that my contributions had been overlooked was an important part of my life. I felt that I had to address this issue in order to increase my level of satisfaction and reduce stress.
I chose to interview my best friend, Stephanie. She is a highly intelligent person with an interest in psychology and close attention to details. I knew that her advice and support would help me to unleash my potential for excellence and self-development. Two days ago, I called Stephanie and asked for her help. We decided to conduct the interview in our favorite café near the city center. It lasted for fifty minutes during which we discussed the results of my self-assessment.
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I wanted to find out whether she agrees with my ranking on the Stress-o-Meter scale or she thinks that my perception of stress was somewhat distorted. Moreover, I needed her advice on possible solutions for the hassles that worried me the most during the last month.
Stephanie immediately recognized my problems. After all, she is also a student and knows all too well that educational environment can be quite stressful. Stephanie recommended me to start a stress journal where I could keep track of all stressors that cause the biggest problem for my emotional life. She insisted that it will help me to recognize patterns and common themes in my daily activities thereby adding the systematic approach to the task of stress management.
Stephanie understood that not having enough time to meet my obligations was a source of great worry to me. Her advice for dealing with this particular hassle was to reach out to my family and friends and have a frank conversation with them about this issue. She also said that introduction of regular exercise into my daily life was a great way to get a distraction from my daily worries. Moreover, she argued that I should not spend more than thirty minutes per day in a gym to feel better.
Stephanie even recommended me some music that will help me to work out more effectively. Furthermore, she said that I should not make a conscious effort to concentrate on my thoughts and feelings during the exercise; instead, I have to try and think about the physical experience itself. It was Stephanie’s contention that being mindful during a workout helps to escape the cycle of worrisome thoughts and enjoy the experience of being physically active. She told me that it is a powerful stress management technique that she uses regularly during her aerobic classes. Her final advice was to try and make time for fun and relaxation. Stephanie stated in no uncertain terms that it will help me to better cope with numerous demands of student’s life. She argued that leisure time helps body to relax and fight stress.
The key lessons I derived from the interview is that I should develop more optimistic outlook. It coincides with what I learned from course materials. People who have the ability to achieve emotional balance are more likely to enjoy high quality of life (Hales, 2013). It is related to the fact that having a control of psychological health is a key to the regulation of complex physiological responses to stress in one’s organism.
Moreover, it has been proven that such methods as cognitive restructuring and rational emotive therapy can be instrumental in changing one’s attitudes and as a result increasing their ability to cope with distress (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008). Moreover, having a positive mindset might significantly increase an individual’s chances for success in many enterprises (Mindset, 2010). I also received useful information about benefits of the physical exercises.
I found Stephanie’s advice about having a stress journal where I could keep track of all stressors that cause the biggest problem for my emotional life extremely important. My daily activities can reveal the pattern of stress triggers that cause me discomfort. Furthermore, having a daily stress diary for monitoring purpose might bring me better awareness about my cognitive habits (Olpin & Hesson, 2014).
The most significant thing that I learned from the self-assessment experience and receiving friend’s feedback is that emotional health is largely a result of the choices I make every day. Thinking in a positive manner might influence the quality of my life significantly contributing to my ability to deal with various stressors. Another key lesson from the course is that I need to achieve some balance in my schedule to prevent stress from becoming chronic.
Even when it is not always possible to eliminate all stressors it is still important to strive to manage them (Seaward, 2012). Practicing relaxation techniques along with other coping methods might prove very helpful in the task of reducing amount of negative experiences associated with college life. I understood that exploring the change in the emotional dimension of one’s health is vitally important to maintaining homeostasis (Hoeger & Hoeger, 2008).
The information studied in this course helped me to realize that difficulties with sleep onset and maintenance that I experience on the regular basis stem from the heightened level of stress. Worrisome thoughts that I have during a day alter my brainwave activity and affect my ability to relax (Seaward, 2012). Therefore, it is essential to learn how to reduce my distress that makes me feel tense and prevents me from sleeping comfortably all night. I found both self-assessment and interview extremely helpful because I was able to significantly expand my knowledge about the relationship between my daily activities and emotional health.
Hales, D. (2013). An invitation to health. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Hoeger, W., & Hoeger, S. (2008). Lifetime physical fitness and wellness. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Mindset. (2010). Mindset for Achievement. Web.
Olpin, M., & Hesson, M. (2014). Stress management for life (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark. New York, NY: Brown.
Seaward, B. (2012). Managing stress. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.