Put that coffee cup down

Stress is what we perceive, it is where we think our integrity is threatened.

Saeed Rahman December 30, 2010

LAHORE: Stress management might be tricky but according to a recent lecture avoiding conflicts, reducing caffeine, increasing the amount of sleep and steering clear of psychedelic drugs might be a good place to start if your aim is to be stress-free.

The Institute for Peace and Secular Studies hosted a talk on Wednesday, Dealing with Stress made Ridiculously Simple. Dr Ali Jawaid, a neuro-psychologist, led participants through various exercises and broke down the factors that make up stress. The participants included students, businessmen, artists and teachers.

Hassaan Khan, an employee in a local NGO, said, “I want to manage the stress in my life. I came here to see what I can achieve and how to make my life more efficient.”

The lecture started with an activity, the participants were asked to draw stress. Dr Jawaid discussed the drawings and spoke about the different perceptions of stress. The second activity was a mock job interview. Both the activities were used to highlight that attitude and environment are important in the perception of stress. Stress is what we perceive, it is where we think our integrity is in danger, said Dr Jawaid.

Dr Jawaid explained that stress is evolutionary and is needed by animals to survive. When animals are under stress, they release relevant hormones and are able to deal with the situation. Similarly, when humans perceive their life is under threat they produce hormones which lead to a faster heart beat, quicker movements and sharper responses to avoid the danger at hand. Dr Jawaid said that a cognitive appraisal of the situation leads to these bodily responses. As the body produces hormones, there is a biological response which then feeds the cognitive appraisal - a vicious cycle.

Stress is not always bad, Dr Jawaid added, being stressed the night before your exams might mean that you work harder and perform better.

Stress can be of two types, Eustress, which is good stress and Distress, the negative kind. Social constructs can be the cause of stress, funerals are a socially sanctioned space where stress is permissible and actually encouraged.

Dr Jawaid drew a firm line between stress and depression, stress does not generally lead to depression, more often it causes anxiety, he said. Depression is a disease while stress is normal and does not generally need any medication.

According to Dr Jawaid, stress management involves breaking the cycle, this involves rationalising the situation. However, this can only happen when you pull back from the situation or the conditions causing you stress. The doctor spoke about the factors that can cause stress.

First, when two conflicts are combined they will lead to stress. On being asked how conflict is defined, he responded that norms define conflicts and we determine our norms.

Second, caffeine is to be avoided. Caffeine keeps you awake, boosts muscles but also releases hormones and neurotransmitters that cause stress.

Third, a lack of sleep causes anxiety. And last, psychedelic drugs like heroin, hashish, mushrooms and LSD.  Anything, he said, that takes you to an alternate reality.

Dr Jawaid recommended a few things that can aid in alleviating stress. These include rationalisation and desensitisation to the situation, avoiding a stimulating diet, sleep hygiene, avoiding psychedelic drugs, conflict resolution and time management. The participants were then involved in another activity where they were asked to imagine a stressful scenario for two minutes and note their body’s responses. They were, then, told to focus on lessening their responses, thereby tackling stress.

Dr Jawaid outlined a stress management intervention programme, BREAD which stands for breathing, relaxing, exercise, attitude change and diet. He said that for those coping with long-term stress, BREAD is the appropriate strategy instead of medication.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2010.


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