Stress: strain or straining force; mental or physical tension caused by urgency, pressure.
The pursuit of celestial ideals in a telestial world can cause frustration and feelings of inadequacy, and the frantic pace of life in the 1980s is bound to boost levels of stress in the lives of many Church members.But stress can be managed, according to Byron N. Ray, agency manager of LDS Social Services in Amherst, N.H., who has conducted many stress-management seminars for LDS Social Services.
According to Ray, one person's source of stress is another's stimulant. Stress, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. And though different things cause people to experience stress, much can be done to manage tension and strain.
"It's not really what happens that determines if something is stressful, but it is more the perception of the event," Ray explained. "Some love to speak; others dread it. People have a different perception and response to a similar event.
"Stress itself is neither good nor bad. Sometimes stress helps you perform better; you have some adrenalin going and perform better than you would otherwise. But you can get to the point where stress is overwhelming or disabling."
How does a person know if he is experiencing excessive stress? By noticing physical and emotional cues or symptoms, according to Ray.
Physically, too much pressure can trigger anything from headaches and chills to ulcers and even heart attacks. Emotionally, severe stress can contribute to extreme nervous disorders or depression. Some people react to stress by withdrawing, while others become very active and upset.
"Of course, things besides stress can cause most of these problems," Ray noted. "Not everyone with them is under stress. There are many causes of stress, and many different ways of dealing with it. So often people want to give simple answers. Most things have multiple causes and multiple solutions. We need to remember that."
According to Ray, there are three general sources of stress:
Social/psychological sources of stress include interaction with other people, adaptation to change, frustration, overload and deprivation.
"To some, interacting is stressful, but to others, it is positive or negative - and have to adapt, that can be stressful. Change could be in the form of a move, new job, new child, divorce or death of a loved one," Ray explained.
The second general category of factors causing stress is biological/environmental. Included are body rhythms, inadequate nutrition, noise, chemical pollution and too much or too little space.
"Interruption of a normal routine of eating and sleeping can be stressful," Ray said.
Inadequate nutrition over a period of time also can cause stress, as can noise and insufficient space.
Personality is a third general factor that affects a person's predisposition to experience stress.
"Some people tend to be anxious; they have a high nervous energy level," Ray pointed out. "Attitudes dictate how people perceive things. Some people feel very comfortable and confident, while others feel frightened and inadequate. A person with high self-esteem will generally handle stress better than someone who has low self-esteem."
Ray said harmful stress leads to physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual burnout if not dealt with.
He added that physical burnout is the first indicator that stress is taking a harmful toll. Symptoms include feeling unusually tired or having lingering colds, minor illnesses or other ailments.
"Part of the reason for that, physiologically, is that the adrenalin level is high and knocks out the body's immune system," Ray pointed out.
What Ray calls the social stage of burnout typically follows. Symptoms include irritability and avoidance of interaction.
Intellectual burnout is the next level. People tire of thinking and lack the ability to concentrate and work efficiently. They may regularly miss appointments and deadlines.
In the subsequent emotional stage, people want to be left alone. They feel everyone's needs but their own are being met.
"These levels are increasingly painful," explained Ray.
The final and most severe form of burnout is spiritual. "At this level," he said, "the person has generally stopped investing himself in others. His or her core values and basic beliefs get pushed aside."
Ray said stress can be diffused during any of the five stages of burnout - the earlier the better.
"We can find solutions at any level," Ray said. "The lower the level we intervene, probably the more successful it will be.
"Relaxation, nutrition and exercise are three things I feel are very helpful in reducing stress. Exercise gets the tension out and stimulates endorphins thatgive you a natural 'high.' Good nutrition gives you chemicals the body needs."
And the gospel is a big part of the stress-reduction process.
"The gospel provides answers and relief," he said. "If a person knows one thing and behaves differently, negative feelings will result. What we need to do issearch for truth and implement it in our lives. As a result of knowing the truthand behaving accordingly, good feelings will result. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:20.)
"Primarily, the solution rests internally. We frequently tell ourselves that if other people or things would change, we would feel differently. Others can enhance the process or put stumbling blocks in the way, but the ultimate responsibility falls back to the individual."
Excessive stress can be harmful physically, emotionally and spiritually - but stress can be managed. Here are several suggestions for coping that have been compiled by LDS Social Services.
- Get enough rest - Lack of sleep can lessen your ability to deal with stress. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep daily.
- Exercise regulary - Make it a point to "work off stress." Relaxed muscles make relaxed nerves.
- Learn to listen to your body - When you are under stress, your body will give you warning signals (fatigue, headaches, tight stomach, lingering colds or minor ailments) that you are overloaded.
- Plan and organize your time - Avoid the "hurry-flurry-worry" syndrome.
- Talk out your problems - It helps to share worries with someone you trust and respect.
- Balance work with play - Hobbies and recreational activities can be relaxing.
- Avoid loneliness and self-pity - Do something for others, and take the initiative in friendships.
- Take one thing at a time - Tackling too many things at once brings frustration. Organize and plan.
- Learn to accept what you cannot change - If a problem is beyond your control, accept it until a change is possible.
- Seek peace through righteous living - Learning the truth and living it results in feelings of happiness and growth.
- Avoid self-medication - Never use alcohol or other drugs to help cope.
- Pray and meditate daily - Seek comfort and guidance from the Spirit of the Lord.