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Stress is an unavoidable fact of life, yet, what precisely is stress? It is essentially one of those things that we all have but that we all have difficulty defining and explaining. The one unarguable fact is that we all have it in our lives and, without it, our lives would be much different. If fact, the only way that one's life can be entirely stress free is upon death. Unfortunately, too much stress can be not only debilitating but fatal and it is incumbent on everyone to learn how to effectively handle stress in order to avoid adverse effects.
What creates stress in one individual may not cause stress in another. Everyone differs as to how he or she reacts to life's events and this is one of the factors that cause the management of stress such a difficult problem. With this difference in mind, there are a certain events in life that typically produce stress. Some of the most notable events include marriage, moving, divorce, and the death of loved ones. Add to this list the anxiety caused by daily concerns such one's children, job, finances, and health and you begin to understand how complex and diverse stress can be.
Before examining some of the stresses that occur through life a rudimentary understanding of what stress can do may be appropriate. When the body encounters stress, it undergoes changes that are called the stress response. The stress response is a three stage process that, unless it is properly addressed, can result in tragedy.
At the first sign of stress the body releases adrenaline which causes one's heart to beat faster and your lungs to breathe harder and more quickly. Even the most insignificant of events can cause this reaction but more often it is something like starting a new job or taking a test. In the second stage, assuming that the stress has not dissipated from the first stage, the human body begins to release stored sugars and fats from the body's resources. During this stage, one begins to feel anxious but tired and pressured at the same time. Many individuals react to this stage by increasing their intake of coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes. If the stress in this stage continues, there is often a correlating increase in illnesses such as colds or flu. With prolonged and untreated stress, the effects of stage three begin. In stage three, the body's ability to handle stress begins to break down. At this time, the stress becomes chronic and insomnia, personality changes, and serious illness develop such as heart disease, ulcers, and mental illness.
Many adults look upon childhood longingly as a stress free period. In reality, however, childhood involves a wide range of potential causes of stress. Some of these causes of stress are unique to the individual child but, more often, the events that cause stress in children are the birth of a sibling, the death of a pet, breaking a favorite toy, getting caught stealing or lying, a bad report card or grade, or parents divorcing. This is by no means an exhaustive and complete list but merely offered as an example (Elkins).
Children, like adults, react differently to stress. Each child's reactions to stress varies according to the individual child's temperament and personality and how each child manages the stress in his or her life is highly dependent on said child's developmental abilities and coping skills. Unlike adults, however, children are less well equipped to verbalize their feelings (Onchwari). They lack the capacity to formulate the words to describe their fears and worries, and they also lack the wherewithal to take the necessary action to manage stress when it arises. The result is that too often children suffer from stress in silence or act out in other ways in an effort to relieve themselves of stress. Examples of this acting act behavior are distractibility, bedwetting and other sleep disturbances, temper tantrums, running away, and refusal to play with peers.
Fortunately, stress about young children is minimal but among the next age grouping, teenagers, stress is far more prevalent and can have far more damaging consequences (Fuligni). The stress factors in a teenager's life are far more prevalent than those present in young children plus teenagers are afflicted with having to do deal with the sudden effect of the hormonal changes that are taking place in their bodies. These hormonal changes have a profound effect on the emotions of teenagers and can acerbate any stress factors that are occurring concurrently in a teenager's life. The teenage years bring with them new expectations and responsibilities (Lazaratou). The carefree life style that many teenagers knew during their childhoods has been replaced with sports, after school activities, making preparations for college, first jobs, dating, and driving. These new pressures can be overwhelming for many teenagers and contribute significantly to their experiencing stress for the first time in their young lives. For many people, the teenage years are the most stressful time in their entire life.
Learning to deal with the stress of being a teenager is an important indicator of how many individuals will adjust to handling stress throughout the remainder of their life. Those who handle stress poorly as teenagers will often suffer the same fate later in life. Some of the stress indicators that manifest themselves in teenagers are increased physical complaints, sudden withdrawal from friends and family, irritability, problems with sleeping or eating, decreased performance in school, or problems concentrating.
Teenagers are better at conveying their feelings than children but are not any more likely to express themselves when they are suffering from stress. Children do not provide information because they lack the capacity to understand how to express how they are feeling. Teenagers, however, fail to express themselves out of embarrassment or feelings of awkwardness. Persons attempting to deal with teenagers trying to deal with stress must be mindful that denial will often be present among such teenagers. Patience and understanding is an absolute must in dealing with teenagers suffering from stress.
For many, the stresses of the teenage years can be overwhelming and they cannot wait for that period in their lives to end. Trying to fit in, making life choices and adjusting to all the other changes that the teenage years bring is just too over-powering for many people. Just making it through is a major achievement and they look forward to that next period in their lives. At this point, the stresses differ among this age group differ depending on what career paths such individuals pursue. During these years, most young adults are attempting to establish some independence from their parents, making life choices relative to career choices and moving forward in their relationships. For the first time these young adults are on their own for the first time and facing the responsibilities of being an adult such as rent, insurance, utility bills, and groceries. Some young adults are able to delay this period in their lives by attending college and, possibly, graduate school where these responsibilities will be gradually undertaken but a large number of young adults leave the comfort of high school and jump right into the realities of adulthood. The experience can be quite traumatic and stressful.
This period in life represents a change in many of the stresses that most individuals face. Stress and its potential effects are often mitigated through one's support systems. In childhood, an individual's parents and siblings provide the most immediate and most willing system of support while in teenage years one's peers assume some of this responsibility. In early adulthood, however, these support systems begin to lose their importance as young adults seek new support systems. This period in life is marked by young adults pulling away from their parents in an attempt to establish independence and, whether attending college or starting new jobs, it is also a time when they begin establishing new friendships beyond their high school teammates. The result is that the lack of the old lines of support intensifies the already existing stresses. Over the course of time most young adults establish a new line of support systems that mix with the old and, with any luck, the new system works affectively to ease the stresses of everyday life.
Studies indicate that the most frequent stress experienced by this age group is making major decision about life goals. This stress is followed by changing work situations, changing of residences, changing social and recreational activities, changes in financial stability and family relationships. Fortunately, this group, as a rule, enjoys good health and does not succumb easily to long-term health problems at this point in their lives due to stress. Instead, stress is manifested at this point as headaches, weight gain or loss, unexplained fatigue, nervousness, sleep dysfunctions, and depression. Those who deal most effectively with stress in this age group are individuals who are able maintain friendly but autonomous relationships with their parents (Cramer). On the opposite end are those whose relationships…[continue]
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