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Sabra Jacobs, Professor of Psychology
Everyone experiences stress on a daily basis. For instance, you must awaken from your sleep and then feed your body and select appropriate clothing for the day. Then you may have family members to care for and a job and/or school to attend to. All the while, there will be sometimes small and sometimes large problems for you to solve each minute. Stress is a normal part of human existence. It is unavoidable and is, in fact, necessary for us to sustain life. While not all stress is bad, we can fall into bad health if we do not learn to handle our stresses well. But it is how you deal with your stress that will make the difference for your mental and physical health.
The following is a model or formula that will give you some factors to consider when calculating your own tendency toward psychophysiological illnesses (or illnesses that arise from poorly handled stresses.) The primary factors in this model include the following:
Events are always considered neutral. Whatever happens to you is merely a statistic or fact; something that either happens or does not. It is not until you consider the effect of the event on yourself that it begins to take on some personal meaning. For instance, a death or birth in your family means that the United States census drops one person from its reports or adds one more person to its reports, respectively. A marriage or divorce means that each community reports an additional union of two people or the dissolution of living arrangements between 2 or more persons in the same family, respectively. Although these are huge happenings in any one family, these events are considered merely factual, statistics in the broadest sense.
Appraisal means how you frame or interpret an event. It is the most important factor in this model because how you frame an event will determine your subsequent actions and reactions. You can see events as either personally threatening or challenging for you. Threatening events cause you to feel negative emotions like fear, hate, sadness, vulnerability, etc. Challenging events cause you to feel mainly positive emotions like happiness, excitement, love, etc. It is interesting to note that the same neutral event can cause some people to feel threatened while others feel challenged. For instance, when a baby is born, some people (new parents) feel threatened at their new overwhelming duties and responsibilities while other people (grandparents, friends) often feel challenged to lend the new parents a hand. When a couple gets a divorce, the one who wanted the divorce often feels challenged to get on with their life while the one who did not want the divorce often feels betrayed, vulnerable, and threatened.
Personal habits refer to how you treat yourself when you are encountering a stressful situation. The last time you were under stress, how did you react? Did you reach for the potato chips and ice cream? Did you pick up the bottle of beer or vodka? Did you go for a run? Did you talk with a friend and express your troubles? Did you get some extra sleep? Did you lash out at someone or your family pet? How you respond to stressful situations speaks volumes about your maturity level and your self-control. Luckily, we can all learn more adaptive ways to deal with the stresses in our lives. Healthy personal habits include: good diet, daily exercise, plenty of sleep, talking with friends, developing personal hobbies; unhealthy personal habits include: poor diet, lack of daily exercise, lack of sleep, isolation, not developing personal hobbies.
Social Support refers to the number of people you feel you could count on to assist you in times of serious stress. For instance, some people have a lack of social support, meaning that they have few or no people that they can count on for assistance while others have adequate to high levels of social support, meaning that they have upwards of 5 to10 people that they feel they could rely on in times of trouble. Social support is critical because people who have several people that they feel they can rely on to help weather the stressful storms of life fair better than people who do not. Having other people in your life permits you to share your burdens and not make you have to face them alone. Persons who do not have social support must rely totally on themselves to weather their storms and when the times really get rough and they stumble, they have no other safety nets to assist them. Homeless persons, runaways, junkies, etc. are good examples of those persons without adequate social support.
Personality type refers to the type of person you are, in general. There are two types: Type A and Type B. Type A persons are very time-conscious, talk faster than the rest of us, walk faster than the rest of us, eat faster than the rest of us, are anger-prone, and get easily frustrated. Type B persons are more relaxed, take things more in stride, are hard to get riled, and allow for extra time in their schedules for unexpected interruptions and diversions. When you are under stress, most people tend to seek out Type B persons because they help us to relax and re-frame our stressful events. Going to a Type A person when you are already stressed-out will probably push you over the edge!
Psychophysiological illnesses are stress-related illnesses that people under a lot of stress traditionally suffer from. In fact, the only thing that these illnesses seem to have in common is that people under a lot of stress often exhibit these symptoms. Some of these illnesses include: high blood pressure, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, lowered immune system, migraine headaches, chronic back aches, liver disease, eating disorders, and colon cancer. As it turns out people who tend to interpret events as challenging, have healthy personal habits, adequate social support and exhibit a Type B personality tend to suffer significantly fewer psychophysiological illnesses while people who tend to interpret events as threatening, have unhealthy personal habits, inadequate or absent social support, and exhibit a Type A personality tend to suffer many more psychophysiological symptoms.
One of the best parts of this model is that we can change each factor in the model to help us to better deal with stress. We can practice looking for the silver linings around the bad events in our lives. We can develop better, more healthy personal habits. We can always make new friends. We can learn stress management techniques that can help us to be more like Type B persons. Doing these things can have lasting positive effects on our health both now and in the future.
Here are some suggestions that you can use to help you manage the stress in your life:
Apologize for a mistake * Ask for help * Stop and look out the window * Ask for help * Call up an old friend * Tell someone I love you * Plan ahead * Climb a mountain * Get a good nights sleep * Learn to say no * Change a coffee break to an exercise break * Forgive someone * Go for a brisk walk * Listen to the birds * Hug someone you love * Massage your temples * Write a poem * Take a deep breath and let it out slowly * Take one day at a time * Make time for play * Watch a cloud for 5 minutes * Walk barefoot in the grass * Sing a song * Read something funny every day * Share feelings with someone * Plant a flower or tree * Read a good book * Look at the big picture * Laugh at something you did * Get up fifteen minutes early * Cut back on caffeine * Dance * Work a crossword or jigsaw puzzle * Count your blessings and make a list * Meditate * Get a pet * Go fishing * Take a long bath * Watch a really good movie * Eat a good breakfast * Play with your pet * Find someone youre grateful for and thank them * Stand up and stretch * Work out at the gym * Relax with a cat on your lap * Play some music * Do one thing at a time * Make a list and then follow it * Quit smoking * Write down your dreams * Do a good deed * Take time off * Wake up to prayer * Be nearsighted * Celebrate your mistakes * Dont take it personally * Educate yourself * Practice gratitude * Keep a Success Log * Nibble on dark chocolate * Find someone with bigger problems * Dump the bad guilt * Dont let fear motivate you * Be quiet * Build on your strengths * Offer it up in prayer * Err on the side of compassion * Hang on to hope * Obsess about whats right * Love Deeply
Questions or Comments? Please contact:
Sabra Jacobs, Professor of Psychology
Pike Building, room 209 f on the Prestonsburg Campus.