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What is stress?


Do you sometimes worry what life is all about? Suffer from ‘panic attacks’? Feel continually anxious? DR VASILIOS SILIVISTRIS looks at stress

Stress is, simply put, the adverse reaction to an excess of pressure. It is a very personal thing as the amount that we can reasonably cope with varies from person to person. It is the prolonged exposure to this state of pressure that results in physical, emotional, mental and behavioural symptoms.

If we are unable to resolve these pressures, we enter a state, common to all animals, we ‘Freeze.’ Unlike our animal friends, this frozen state of heightened autonomic arousal may become chronic over time. Animals in the wild literally ‘shake off’ the threat, but we humans, with our complex brains, get stuck in frozen patterns of distress.

In addition, stress can manifest itself from mild irritation and general unease to the inability to cope or function in the usual way.

The pressure becomes stress when the demands far exceed our ability to respond effectively.


What causes stress?

We may think of stressful events as unpleasant ones, such as losing a job or having difficulties at home or school. Nevertheless, changes for the better can also cause stress, like a new baby, a wedding, or a new house. Even a lack of stimulation or demand, in other words, boredom, can also lead to stress.

In an ideal world, maybe we could get away from stressful situations, or change them. Too often, we cannot do that but we can learn to control our response to those situations. Moreover, we can develop techniques that will reduce the effects of stress on our mental and physical health.

Here are some different life events that are identified as stressful. (The higher the number, the greater the stress).

Death of a spouse, child, parent or close friend – 100 points

Divorce – 73 points

Marriage – 50 points

Pregnancy – 40 points

Buying a house – 31 points

Christmas – 12 points


Identifying Stress:

Does this sound familiar?

You find it hard to concentrate or suffer from poor memory.

Lack of confidence and self-esteem reduces your ability to make decisions.

Headaches or an upset stomach.

Irregular eating and sleeping patterns.

Loss of libido.

Back or shoulder and neck pain.


Stress Response:

The Stress response is the mechanism that stems back from our primitive past where hunters, Sabre tooth tigers, constantly threatened us.

Of course, the human brain’s initial response is to survive.

However, in modern times, we have other conditions that are stressful, such as meeting deadlines, financial worries, employment insecurities, and can peak at special times of the year (for example, Christmas, Easter, et cetera).


Break the ‘Cycle of Stress’

Have you ever tried to relax, only to find that your mind quickly wanders back to worries about money, relationships, or world events?

Perhaps it seems that the more you try to relax, the tenser you get.

Well, you are not alone; this is the common ‘cycle of stress.’

To interrupt this cycle, take back some control; start with something small and realistic such as:

Exercise regularly.

Minimize caffeine intake.

Prioritise demands in your life.

Be resourceful, and do things you enjoy doing like – going to the cinema, being with your family, or going to the beach.


The good news is that there are some simple ways you can break this cycle.

Often, it is simply a matter of remembering

to breathe properly

to be in your body

to be mindful of what is really happening.

In addition, remember to smile.


Dr. Vasilios Silivistris (Vasos) is a psychotherapist, counselling practitioner

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