Understanding Stress

DEJI is an Economics graduate working in a bank. Intelligent, reliable and diligent, his head of unit in foreign exchange in the bank relies heavily on him for diverse assignments. Deji had spent only one year in the bank when Mr. Adoke, his boss quickly identified him as an exceptional and hardworking young-man. The rest is history because Mr. Adoke has made Deji his de facto deputy of the unit to the chagrin of other unit members. At present everybody in the bank knows that Deji is an asset and any assignment that needs a touch of excellence as well as delivered on time, is channelled to him.

  Added to his numerous assignments in the office, Deji is studying to earn his Master’s degree in Managerial Psychology (MMP). Also he writes a weekly column in a national daily newspaper. A fortnight ago, Deji lost his father and though he is the youngest in the home, the financial responsibility of burying the old man is upon his shoulders.

  What is stress? That is what Deji is facing. The English Learner’s Dictionary defines stress as a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.  A second meaning of stress is something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.  From these two definitions, we understand that stress isn’t the problem but a reaction or response to the problem we face in our lives or environment.  The reason is because someone can face lesser challenges and breaks down while another who faces greater obstacles manages them well.  The former experiences a breakdown while the latter enjoys a breakthrough.

  In psychology stress is referred to a joint biological and psychological response to overwhelming or threatening challenge. The challenge or threat is referred to as the stressor (stimulus) while the response can be stress or adjustment. When we encounter stress the message is relayed to two parts of the brain namely the Pituitary gland and Adrenaline medulla. However the Hypothalamus is the part of the brain generally in charge of response to stress. These three parts of the brain are implicated in dealing with stress issues in human beings. They are referred to as the Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) system.

  Generally stress is the response to any situation whereby the organism judges or assesses his/her responses to be inadequate to handle.  Consequently, stress is related to perception and emotion.

  All forms or levels of stress aren’t disadvantageous because we all need a certain level of stress to achieve success. Therefore, stress has been placed on a continuum of three levels; namely Eustress, Stress and Distress. Eustress refer to the normal degree or level of stress which is needed for daily living. This is the basic level of stress which may develop into the second level when people notice some level of discomfort, threat or danger. If not handled or well adjusted to, the stress develops into distress. At this stage, it can result into both physiological and psychological breakdown. Most people who are suffering from stress have surpassed the eustress level and are between stress and distress.

Dr. Passy Amaraegbu, a clinical psychologist lives in Lagos.


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