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Blog / The modern-age disease from the perspective of an expert / Evolution of the Phenomenon of Stress
08/04/2019
The modern-age disease from the perspective of an expert
Evolution of the Phenomenon of Stress
Vladimir Borovnica psychologist and psychotherapist, Clinical Hospital Centre “Dragiša Mišović – Dedinje”
Evolution of the Phenomenon of Stress
Wherever we look, we come across texts about stress, its negative consequences, and the increase in the level of stress to which we are exposed. However, if we think this through a bit, we will realize that in the past there were much more powerful stresses - imagine only the Second World War or the life 400 years ago or 50,000 years ago (at a time when, for example, we were exposed to the actual danger of being eaten by some predator). If we see things that way, we could say that we are living in a time where there is less stress. What exactly is this about?

Stress is the reaction of the body to the increased demands that are placed before it. Stress is an alarm that prepares our body for action, primarily motor action, for extreme efforts, for fight or flight. During the evolution, this reaction helped us to survive...

On the other hand, the circumstances have changed. It seems that there are less and less extreme, acute stressors (such as encounters with predators), and more and more essentially moderate but chronic stressors (such as work overload). Nevertheless, the evolution lags behind the changes in the civilization, and we (i.e. our bodies) still react as our ancestors – by alarm response. The problem is that such a reaction in the modern business environment often has many more negative than positive consequences. Namely, chronic stress endangers, above all, our well-being and satisfaction with our life, our working ability, relationships with other people and, most importantly, our health! With a few simplifications, we could say that during the evolution, we were killed by stressors (for example, predators), and that the stress response saved us. In the modern world, most people are not killed by stressors (for example, work colleagues, clients, the amount of work, etc.), but we are "killed" by exposure to chronic stress - which is a much better option, to be honest, at least if judging by the average lifespan!

Global research, as well as the experience in our own country, indicates that the key sources of stress at work are overload (by the amount of work, deadlines, so-called targets), relationships with colleagues, and balance between private life and work, i.e. a lack of time "for oneself".

The question is, of course, how to deal with stress? There are many methods, all of which can be divided into three categories. First of all, there are methods directed toward the very reaction of the body and its harmful effects. We primarily think of sports - stress reaction prepares us for motor action, fight or flight, and in the modern business environment, there is usually no significant motor action in such situation (our action is often reduced to typing on the keyboard). This category can include different methods of relaxation, meditation, yoga, hobbies, etc. All of these methods are very good in controlling the stress response and preventing consequences, but they are usually time-consuming, which discourages many people from using them.

The next group of methods refers to the control of the actual stressors, i.e. stress sources. Adequate prioritization is what we mean here. In this case, the "important/urgent" matrix is often used. It would be optimal to focus first on the tasks which are important and urgent, then those that are important, but not urgent, and only then to those that are urgent, but not so important. In practice, it often turns out that the most neglected field includes tasks that are important, but not urgent, and especially those for which there is no deadline – for example, learning a foreign language, starting your own business, etc. The focus on this task category is, as a rule, a fantastic long-term anti-stress method (doing things that make sense to us as opposed to doing things that are imposed on us). This group of methods includes assertive skills, i.e. various communication tools that help us protect ourselves in a way that will not endanger our relationships.

Finally, the last group of methods is probably the most neglected and, by its nature, "the most elusive" one. These are the methods of changing the perception of the situation. Namely, in a stressful situation, a person usually sees himself as an endangered, impotent one, a "victim", and the situation itself as a threat. It is familiar to the mind (and there is solid scientific evidence for that) that the stress response (and its consequences) will be considerably lower if in that situation we see ourselves as fighters, and the source of stress as a chance. It sounds elegant and somewhat impossible. We will find it hard to change the perception of the situation by direct efforts to "change our thoughts" (for example, to convince ourselves that we are fighters, or to use the imposed language, rather established in the culture of various corporations, such as the word "challenge" instead of the word "problem", which, at least in my experience, is very often accompanied by employees’ cynicism). We will change the perception if we ask ourselves specific questions: "For what goal I am fighting in this situation, why do I choose to behave the way I do" (the goal always exists, the question is only whether we are focused on it or not - people with a habit to focus on their goals, see themselves as fighters and take a proactive approach in their lives). We can also change the perception of the situation if we ask ourselves, "By facing these challenges, in which various ways do I evolve, regardless of the outcome in the specific situation?". The focus on the outcome of a particular situation makes us see the situation as a threat (because it is possible that the outcome is negative), whereas, if we practice, in every situation, and try to see how we evolve through it, at the same time we also learn to recognize the chances in addition to threats. In the long run this also makes us proactive, oriented toward personal development and finally it helps us to reduce the negative aspects of stress that accompany the different challenges in life.

Nevertheless, we should point out the earliest, in terms of development, and probably the most powerful anti-stress method - support i.e., good interpersonal relations - a natural dam and a channel for the spontaneous healing of various stressful and traumatic experiences. It is another point on which "common sense" and science agree - good interpersonal relations are the most important for happiness.
AUTHOR
Vladimir Borovnica
psychologist and psychotherapist, Clinical Hospital Centre “Dragiša Mišović – Dedinje”