The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Building resilience in a stressful world

Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 09:36 Last update: about 5 months ago

Anthony Zarb Dimech

Stress is a subject that is very easy to discuss with anyone as each and every one of us by and large faces stress on a daily basis. Humans have been hard-wired to face stress. Coping with stress is ingrained in the human constituency since primitive humans roamed the face of the earth.

Stress may be defined as a physical response to any demand. It is usually a normal reaction to everyday pressures. Stress becomes problematic the moment it is overwhelming as it affects daily function.


Stress is a physiological (chemical) response as well as an evolutionary (primordial) response. Stress has been developing in societies and evolving in different ways causing a paradigmatic shift in measuring it.

In primitive society humans faced stress in different ways from our present post-modern society. Humans were daily protecting and defending their territories from other tribes and savage beasts.

In our post-modern society we have doses of a much more subtle and discrete stress, which if not contained, can cause much damage to the daily normal functioning.


Top stressors

Today mankind has to face the modern “wild beasts” such as keeping with deadlines to pay bills. The following are some of the top stressors of daily living

·         The constant bombardment of the media and the bad news its presents

·         Noise pollution by way of traffic and construction

·         Density of traffic

·         Lack of clean and open spaces

·         Influencers who influence our expectations

·         Competition and greed for more wealth

·         Death of a spouse or a close family member

·         Weather

·         Co-workers

·         Divorce and marital separation

·         Daily life events (daily hassles)

Stress can be ranked by degree of change. Some struggle to keep up with change and adaptation while others look at stress as controllable and escapable. Stress poses demands on resources.

Many are stressed up as they cannot keep up with their social status to which they attach huge value and regard. Others perceive perfection as the dominant value in their life and hence struggle more than others in this aspect.


Techno stress

Another form of stress is what is called techno stress or the inability to cope with changes in technology. This has two aspects:

·         Over-identification with technology and relying too much on it

·         Individuals struggling to cope with changes in technology.

Both the above are stressful as some humans are unable to cope with this kind of stress. There is also a tendency for an over-blurring of the connectivity between work and home. Many use technology to work from home such as receiving emails and video links to attend to certain deadlines.


Technological conflicts with the human brain

The speed at which technology presents itself on the human brain is one of great concern. Technology is replacing the brain’s functions. For instance the effect of technology on the spatial abilities and orientations in visualising space is being weakened and lost. Relying too much on Google Maps to find your way is causing mental maps to be replaced by Google Maps!

The brain is being constantly re-wired to align itself with technology. Another example is how films, by ways of images per second, are becoming much faster than say 30 years ago. The opening of many apps at the same time is causing the human brain to be fast-wired. In other words, the brain can only take so much.


The effects of stress

Due to the above changes caused by techno stress and other forms of stress, the physical, emotional, social and mental effects of stress cannot be ignored as they wreak havoc on the systems of the human body as pressure is brought to bear on the respiratory, cardiovascular, hormonal, gastro-intestinal, nervous, muscular and skeletal systems. It is no surprise that overeating, undereating and sleep disturbances are becoming the order of the day.

The end results of stress are irritability, depression, apathy, overwhelmed, helpless, worrying, impaired judgement, indecisiveness, withdrawn, overly dependent, conflict and angry outbursts.


Building resilience and coping with stress

For stress to be beneficial, it needs to be managed. We need to empty the contents of our stress buckets. An accumulation of many small problems leads to a full bucket before it overflows.

One technique in managing stress is mindfulness or focusing on the here and now. One important aspect to deal with stress is breathing exercises. Being aware of one’s present emotions is another mindfulness exercise.  Accepting that certain words hurt and are having a negative impact on you is another step. Dreaming helps deal with future release making you aware that the problem is not forever. Social support is another area that helps in dealing with emotions.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. Some are more resilient than others to bounce back from difficult situations. Resilience is not a personality trait that only some people possess but it is a skill that can be learned very much like any other skill such as communications sills which can be developed through say public-speaking courses. The following points help in building resilience:

·         Strengthen your social relationships (people who can share with you and provide help)

·         Maintain a healthy lifestyle (especially in the area of mental health)

·         Strive towards a meaningful life (helping others shifts the attention from oneself towards others)

·         Establish a healthy perspective (break off any vicious circle of thoughts)

·         Seek professional help

·         Live an active life (hope, faith and love)

·         Be grateful. Gratitude journaling. Be grateful that you woke up in the morning and do not take anything for granted

·         Savouring. Take time to savour each bite of food as you chew

·         Forgiveness. Writing a forgiveness letter to express forgiveness is a healing exercise

The following support systems also help in building resilience:

·         Family support

·         Government agencies

·         NGOs such as Richmond Foundation and Victim Support Services

·         Private Services

It is noted that while stress is becoming stronger in our society, it does not mean that the battle against stress is lost. Using wisdom and approaches that help the individual become aware of stress is the first step in the right direction to combat stress and channel it in positive directions.

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