FACULTY OF ECONOMIC AND MANAGEMENT SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF THE FREE STATE

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1 STRESS MANAGEMENT Being under pressure carries both advantages and dangers. Human beings respond to, and are encouraged by, challenges and a certain amount of tension is positive. However, the human body s biochemical processes respond to a challenge or threat by releasing noradrenalin the fight or flight hormone into the bloodstream. Modern society s rules of behaviour often prevent us from fighting or fleeing, so there is no release of physical tension. Unrelieved tension causes stress. We all experience stress and deal more or less effectively with it. Certain illnesses can be stress-related e.g. heart disease and high blood pressure. Long before we reach that extreme stage, stress can impair our performance. People react to stress differently, but common psychological responses include changes in sleep patterns, irritability, loss of temper and excessive worrying. Common physical symptoms of stress include minor stomach ailments, shallow breathing, and minor illnesses such as sore throats or more serious ones such as ulcers. If you are not sleeping well, have frequent fights or quarrels with those around you or are taking days off sick, you will not be able to get the most out of studying and enjoying life at university or college. POSSIBLE STRESSORS The activity that follows gives some indication of the wide range of stressors in our lives. Sometimes it is not only one situation, but a few factors that result in stress. ACTIVITY: STRESSFUL SITUATIONS The table contains a number of stressful situations. Those at the top of each section have the highest impact on our stress levels. Mark all the situations that you are currently experiencing. Tick off those events that are applicable to your situation: 1

2 RELATIONSHIPS EVENTS/EXPERIENCES Death of a partner Divorce/separation/break-up of relationship Death of a close family member/friend Marriage Marital reconciliation Sexual difficulties Children leaving home Difficulties with relatives Partner starts/stops working Making new friends THIS HAPPENED TO ME (TICK IT OFF) Prison term Personal injury/illness Pregnancy Outstanding personal achievement Change in living conditions Moving house/finding lodgings Change in recreational activities (e.g. sport) Change in personal habits (e.g. sleeping/eating) Holiday/Christmas Loss of job (e.g. dismissal/redundancy), retirement Balancing work and study Change in work (e.g. different work, responsibilities, work load) Begin or end school/college Difficulties with work Change in work hours or conditions Change in financial state Large mortgage, debts, no grant Foreclosure of mortgage or loan Small mortgage or loan 2

3 ACTIVITY: HOW DO YOU REACT UNDER PRESSURE? By doing the following activity you will realise how you respond to stress. Mark all symptoms that appear in the following table by noting the number of times that you experience them. Never Rarely Some= times Often feel irritable? feel restless? feel angry? feel frustrated at having to wait for something? talk fast? walk fast? feel rushed? slump? become easily confused? have memory problems? find it difficult to concentrate? think about negative things without wanting to? have marked mood swings? feel weepy? smoke? drink alcohol? eat too much? eat when you are not hungry? go off your food? do not have enough energy to get things done? wake up early? find it difficult to fall asleep? find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning? feel you can't cope? worry about the future? feel you have lost your sense of humour? take tranquillisers? take non-prescription drugs? have minor accidents? have emotional outbursts? generally feel upset? 3

4 We all feel or do most of these things from time to time, but if most of your ticks are in the often or sometimes columns it might be time to review your lifestyle. It is easy to fall into destructive behavioural habits, accept them as normal and fail to realise that they are indicators of stress which can be removed or reduced. ACTIVITY : WHAT ARE YOUR STRESS SYMPTOMS? Try to write down the first 3 things that happen to you when you stress. Use the table on the previous page to help you identify your first signs We have identified the degree of stress that you are currently experiencing. We also had a look at the way that you cope with pressure and we identified the way you react to stress. The following activity will help you to see if your lifestyle is actually increasing or reducing your stress levels. ARE MY LIFESTYLE CONTRIBUTING TO MY STRESS The lifestyle questionnaire This questionnaire will help you to see if you are actually proactively helping your body to reduce stress. Instructions: Circle the number on the right that best corresponds to your answers for each of the ten questions below. 1. How many cigarettes do you smoke every day? 1=none, 2=a few, 3=half a pack, 4=one pack, 5=more than one pack 2. How often do you drink alcohol? 1=never, 2=once a month, 3=once a week, 4=2 to 3 times a week, 5=more than 5 times a week 3. How often do you drink beverages with caffeine? 1=never, 2=once a month, 3=once or twice a week, 4=3 to 5 times a week, 5=more than 5 times a week 4. How often do you eat fruit? 5=never, 4=once a month, 3= once a week, 4

5 2=several times a week, 1=daily. 5. How often do you eat vegetables? 5=never, 4=once a month, 3= once a week, 2=several times a week, 1=daily. 6. How often do you exercise or play sports? 5=never, 4=once a month, 3= once a week, 2=several times a week, 1=daily. 7. How many glasses of water do you drink on a normal day? 5=none, 4=one, 3=two, 2= three or four, 1=five or more 8. How many hours of sleep do you normally get every night? 1=more than eight, 2=eight, 3=seven, 4=six, 5=less than six 9. How many times in a week do you take a short nap? 1=five or more, 2=four, 3=three, 4=one or two, 5=none 10. How cluttered is the room, house, or office where you spend most of your time? 1=very neat, 2=neat, 3= average, 4=cluttered, 5=very cluttered To get your lifestyle score, add the numbers you circled for every item. Your score is : The higher the score, the more your lifestyle makes you susceptible to the effects of stress. Your lifestyle Percentile Your lifestyle Percentile score score You have identified your current stressors and the way you handle the pressure at present. The question is: what are you going to do about it? Aamodt (1999) divides the management of stress into two categories. The first category is the management of stress BEFORE it happens (proactively). The 5

6 second category is the management of stress while it happens and after the stressor is gone. (DURING AND AFTER) STRESS MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES MANAGING STRESS BEFORE IT HAPPENS Exercise Diet Reduce smoking Sleep Support groups Self-empowerment Coping skills MANAGING STRESS DURING AND AFTER IT HAPPENS Relaxation techniques Time management To read more about this matter, read the appendix. Additional tips to reduce stress are: Remove the cause of the pressure You could remove yourself from the situation e.g. if you live in a shared flat and can t work because of others noise, you could move out. However, sometimes it may be better in the long term to stay and sort the problem out, and you may not be able to escape from certain situations easily. Find a better way of dealing with the pressure What could you do differently? For example: Be clearer about what you want and tell people in an assertive manner. Prepare. If you ve got an interview think it through in advance. If you have an exam, plan your revision. If you have been last minuting, forward planning might help. Take a fresh look at the situation. Write the problem down, list the options, then think about the alternative approaches. Talk the situation over with someone else to help clarify things. Put things into perspective What is the worst that could happen? How likely is this, and how important would it be in six months or a year s time? Are there positive consequences? Humor is therapeutic can you laugh things off? 6

7 Seek help If you feel under stress you could seek help. For example: Consult friends: a problem shared is a problem halved. Join others with similar concerns: you may find lists of groups in the students union or library or you could form one yourself (mature students /women s/gay groups. etc.) Consult your tutor/lecturer: s/he may help you understand a subject better, or plan your time more efficiently. Take a study skills course. This may reduce fear of exams or other coursework. Consult a counsellor. She can help you consider your work options at the end of your course, or help with interview and self-presentation techniques. Join in recreational activities. Many universities and colleges have Recreation Services that provide sports activities (at competitive and fun levels). Visit your medical centre/doctor. This may help if the symptoms have made you ill, or help you to prevent them making you ill. Join an appropriate support group: e.g. if you are disabled, your university or college may have a special unit to provide support. ACTIVITY: MY STRESS MANAGEMENT PLAN Formulate your stress attack plan for exams/tests. What are the main areas that you want to change, what actions could you could take and who or what might help. Use the following table. Areas to change Action to take Sources of help ] Drew & Bingham, 1996). 7

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