BOSTON — Millions of Americans share the same psychological symptoms of experiencing irritability and anger, feelings of nervousness, lack of energy, and emotional outbursts every day. Americans live in a society that is constantly changing, incredibly fast paced, and competitive.
Every day, people are challenged with the responsibilities of work, family, school and personal relationships, as well as sudden changes in their lives, such as the loss of a job, a loved one’s death, a new relationship, or the birth of a child.
The high expectations and constant change in this society have caused great physical and mental stress on a person interfering with personal lives, professional lives, sleep patterns, eating habits, and health.
Connie Brown, a junior at Suffolk University, has a hefty daily schedule on her hands. She is a full-time student, a part-time receptionist at a busy veterinarian office, and an assistant in schooling horses at a stable.
“Between being in school, the vet tech job, and the stable work, my day usually starts when I leave at 7:30 a.m. and I get home around 7:00 p.m. but around this time of year, it’s the same hours with double the work,” she said. “There are not enough hours in the day.”
According to a survey released in September 2007 by the American Psychological Association (APA), stress is taking a toll on people – contributing to health problems, poor relationships and the loss of productivity at work.
What is stress?
Stress is a stimulus that takes you beyond your ability to cope, therefore, symptoms such as headaches, body tension, upset stomach, rapid breathing, fatigue, and a change in appetite may arise.
Dr. Elliot Gabriel, a psychology professor from Suffolk University, explains that when one stresses, the body reacts like it does in a fight or flight response.
“Over a long period of time, it saps your energy,” Gabriel said. “When you’re vulnerable to stress, you get to a stage of exhaustion.”
The brain detects danger when you are being attacked or when you are fighting. It takes much energy for one to respond this way because your body increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles.
Good stress and bad stress
Everyone needs a certain amount of stress in their lives. Good stress helps to anticipate problems. It allows people to gain awareness and perspective. However, many people feel more negative than positive stress.
The body can only adapt to short-term stress responses. Some triggers of short-term stress are noise, crowding, isolation, illness, or danger.
Chronic stress could lead to effects in the brain, a decrease in memory, and the weakening of the immune system. The triggers of long-term stress are ongoing personal or work-related issue, loneliness, financial worries, a recent death of a loved one, a change in job, a move in a new home, and physical long-term illness.
According to the American Psychological Association, money and work is a leading stressor for three quarters of Americans. The expectation and competitiveness to climb the social ladder is very high. The downfall of the economy and the housing crisis has caused Americans great stress.
A cultural component to stress
Different kinds of stressors vary from culture to culture.
Dennis Hall, 21, a student at Suffolk University, said, “I do think that Americans stress so much more than in other countries, mostly because of the demand to do good in school, strive for that “American Dream,” and make a lot of money so that you can retire at a young age.”
In countries such as Italy, people invest much of their time into socializing and relaxing. They have the benefits of long lunch breaks, long vacations, and national health care that Americans do not.
Michelle Hahnl, a freshman at Suffolk University, has traveled abroad to Italy, Greece, and Hungary. “These people are much more laid back than Americans,” she said. “Americans are constantly focused on being the best, the fastest and so on. These and many other countries are more focused on personal happiness and families.”
As many Europeans have a greater focus on personal happiness and families, Americans are naturally competitive, focusing much on their future and climbing the social ladder.
Stress and collge students
College students possess the biggest pressure to shape their future. There is a high demand to exceed in school to prepare you for the real world. Projects, essays, exams, midterms, and finals are triggers of stress. Every day, students must deal with financial pressure, family responsibilities, course expectations, their social life, and the future.
As a psychology professor, Dr. Gabriel understands the enormous pressure students have on a daily basis.
“There is so much uncertainty,” he said.
Learning to manage it
The severity of stress is based on how one can manage it.
“It’s a learning experience over time,” Gabriel said. “It helps to have someone who’s a support for you.”
Dr. Ken Garni, the director of the counseling center and a psychologist at Suffolk University, believes college students today are more prepared from the academic view than from a social or interpersonal view. “
The problem with college students is they don’t have enough experience to deal with stress,” said Garni. “To effectively deal with stress, you have to see yourself as a problem solver.”
If stress is not managed effectively, it can cause a person physical or psychological harm. Chronic stress could lead to heart disease, strokes, high risk of infections, digestive problems, weight problems, or many other issues.
One cannot eliminate stress, but they can learn how to reduce or manage it. Living a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, limiting intake of caffeine or alcohol, meditating, taking one thing at a time, and scheduling time to indulge in your interest are just among the few ways to manage stress.
Keep in mind, stress is a part of life, so do not set it aside. Learn how to manage it and soon you will see that practice makes perfect.