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Sometimes, spiritual perspectives and cultural beliefs offer people explanations that provide meaning to their stressful life events – and meaning can transform stress into purpose.
Although understanding the significance of a stressful event may not eliminate the distressful feelings it brings, understanding its purpose can make the event more meaningful and acceptable. When stress occurs, having a spiritual perspective may broaden our insight about any life crisis or event.
In a speech he gave in Paris early in the 20th century Abdu’l-Baha said “If material anxiety envelops you in a dark cloud, spiritual radiance lightens your path. If your days on earth are numbered, you know that everlasting life awaits you.”
Stress and Social Media
With the widespread advance in the world’s use of social media and digital technology, our thoughts and emotions are being excessively bombarded by countless stimuli. This puts pressure on the normal functioning of the brain. Constant exposure to media such as videos, texting, tweeting, and ever-increasing means of communication can overload our feeling and thinking abilities.
The undesirable psychological consequences of social media may interfere with mental and physical adaptation and require constant mental adaptation as a result – and create difficulty maintaining a balanced daily life and a healthy self image. Such an unhealthy and challenging situation can lead to more stress, distress, and anxiety.
We know that these kinds of stress can have a tremendously negative impact on adolescents and young adults.
Research studies have shown that exposure to severe and chronic stressors during children’s developmental years is associated with the risk of anxiety, depression, aggressivity, medical morbidity, and serious neurological disorders. It has been reported that stressful life events often precede the onset of anxiety disorders. A long-term study of anxiety also noted that anxiety commonly appeared before the symptoms of depression.
Impact of Stress on the Brain and the Immune System
Psychological stress isn’t only psychological – it also affects the brain’s function and hormones. Acute stress is a powerful trigger of the endocrine and immune systems of the body. According to neuroscientists, high stress can be detrimental to our brain’s decision-making capabilities, because under stress the human brain actually changes the way it works, with decision-making becoming irrational and unsystematic.
In times of severe stress, the body becomes more vulnerable to physical illness, as well.
Psychological Tools for Coping with Stress
An individual’s psychological response to stress is, to a great extent, determined by socio-cultural values and individual attitude. In North American culture, the race for material success and greater achievement leads to competitive behaviors which in turn may increase fear of failure and stress. Consequently, tireless striving to succeed may lead to a feeling of time urgency, frustration, and an inordinate desire to control.
On the other hand, one psychological tool – optimism – may counteract this tendency toward competitiveness and its attendant frustration. Research studies show a significant positive relationship between optimism and the human capacity to cope with stress. An optimistic attitude also strengthens resilience in order to overcome stressors, serving as a protective factor against stress. Optimism about the future enables a person to adapt to stressors with positive feelings.
You can increase your optimism quotient by employing some of these psychological suggestions about how to cope with daily life stresses and crises:
- Have a clear understanding of the nature of the crisis.
- Perception of and attitude toward crisis and suffering may determine the outcome. Building resilience and self confidence is very important.
- Evaluate the crisis intelligently and plan for a practical and realistic solution.
- Focus to gain some agency over the stressful situation.
- Recognize that hurtful words and actions often come from those who have been hurt themselves.
- Accept change and make failure a springboard for success.
- Regular physical exercise is very important for health – including mental health.
- Not all stressors are negative or risky – some have positive effects.
- Laughter and humor have a beneficial effect on the immune system and help alleviate stress.
In the next and final article in this series, we’ll look beyond the psychological tools that help us deal with stress, and explore the spiritual tools we can all use.