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Learn about stress, vulnerability and resilience

24.04.2021#Resilienz, #Stress

In the current context, it is increasingly important to learn how to manage stress as best we can. The advantages are many: from making our daily hassles easier, to even daring to enjoy days with energy and positive emotions.

For this, I consider it a first step to understanding what stress is, how it affects our body, who is more vulnerable, followed by getting to actually taking steps to become more resilient over time.

Stress. Factors that cause it

When we talk about stress, first of all, it’s important to identify the factors that cause it. Each of us is more or less subjected to certain stressors, some that appear only as events, others as chronic stressors.

In the first category, we include life events that had a great impact on us from a social or psychological point of view. These are events that have taken place in the recent period of our lives (for example the death of a loved one, an accident, moving to another country, job loss) or that happened in the past: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect.

Then we talk about chronic stressors, which impact us almost every day, are longer lasting and, although we do not initially perceive them as stress factors, through their persistence, they make an impact upon our health:

  • Strains due to events that require a longer adjustment time: the onset of an illness or taking care of a sick family member, the departure of teenage children from home, the birth of a child, retirement, and the disappearance of things that gave us a purpose in life.
  •  Stress-related to the roles we play at work (discrimination, conflicts, or if you are the only financial supporter of the family), at home (parenting problems, conflicts with other family members, battering), or the pressure to manage several roles in parallel: parent, employee, caregiver.

In addition to the external factors listed above, the internal stressors are not to be neglected, namely what we tell ourselves, the subjective interpretation of external stressors: “it is very difficult for me, I can't cope, I can't handle, I will never recover, I'm good for nothing”, our high expectations and the stress caused by their non-fulfillment, perfectionism.

It is important to mention that the stressors, as we perceive them, as well as the significance we attribute, differ from one person to another, each of us having a certain interpretation that determines an individual response on the whole body.

Here I would like to add that practical and personal experience has shown me that many of us, as migrants, have in common a higher vulnerability to stress, given the fact that we have moved to a foreign country, perhaps without knowing German, without a job or a group of friends, without family. In doing so, we virtually gave up much of what gave us emotional stability (career, family, friends, culture) and had to use all our strength to readjust and rebuild a new system of resources.

Effects of stress on the body:

 Here we are talking about the acute effects, which we feel when we perceive danger and which affect the cardiovascular system (increases blood pressure, palpitations, headaches), genitourinary system (increases stomach motility, we go to the toilet more often) muscle system (muscle tension, joint pain, tremor), the respiratory system (the feeling that we run out of air), and in the central nervous system (we become more irritable, tired, agitated, we have trouble sleeping).

More important is to recognize chronic stress, which persists over time and affects:

  • The immune system by decreasing the body's response to healing, resistance to infections,
  • Increased levels of inflammation in the body, making us vulnerable to many diseases,
  • Brain functions: by decreasing the ability to concentrate, memory and attention,
  • Affective: by increasing the risk of generalized anxiety and panic attacks, depression, higher irritability.

    Moreover, what I have noticed from the years of experience with clients from the Romanian community, are changes taking place on a social and emotional level:
  • There is a feeling of isolation and exclusion from the community, both for adults and children.
  • Self-esteem decreases when we fail to communicate with others, at school, at work, even at the supermarket or in public institutions
  • The feeling of uncertainty related to job opportunities increases, in the circumstances in which you do not speak the language and/or you can no longer practice your profession.
  • The feeling of dependence or financial insecurity increases if only one family member works, which can lead to a higher number of conflicts or even depression.
Stress vulnerability

Scientists have identified a personality type that is more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, type A-personality. They are often successful people, who get good results at work and are appreciated for their effort, but who have the following traits in common:

  • An accentuated sense of urgency, they are always in a hurry, they do a lot in a short time.
  • They talk fast, mainly about things that interest them,
  • Respond more easily to challenges, have a lower level of tolerance for frustration, are aggressive and impatient,
  • They have difficulties relaxing or feel guilty if they do,
  • Are always in a hurry to get results, usually without planning their action steps,
  • Are very competitive; they measure success in numbers.

An unfortunate combination comes up if:

  • You have a low level of assertiveness, you are not able to support your point of view in front of others,
  • You are not aware and do not communicate your needs effectively (both in the family and at work),
  • You have difficulty identifying and expressing your emotions and thoughts,
  • It's hard for you to say NO to others, 
  • You have unrealistic expectations from yourself and those around you, striving for perfection.

    Resilience
    However, the personality traits listed above are not something "fixed" that we cannot change. Stress management specialists have identified a feature that can be practiced by each of us. It is about resistance or resilience, and the people who have it, have the following characteristics in common:
  • They have a feeling that they can control the situations and events in their lives and that they can influence them,
  • They are dedicated to any activity they do,
  • They have a sense of direction in life, set goals, and have high self-esteem.
  • They have a fighter approach, based on the belief that change is good in life, and negative events have the potential to stimulate their development.

    A transition to this new way of thinking and acting comes gradually, with a systemic approach, namely through interventions at the mental, physical and contextual level.

Because it is a topic that deserves special attention, I will dedicate the next post to it. I will talk more about what it means to become resilient, what exercises you can practice, where you can attract resources for it. I will also talk about what helped me and especially about cultivating one of the most important traits: discipline and perseverance are extremely important qualities in maintaining a balance between stress and its effects on us.

 

Until then, my advice is to be more aware of the stressors in your life, have a compassionate attitude towards yourself, and be oriented towards attracting resources and help that can support you. Last but not least, make sure you do something good for yourself every day, emotionally, physically, or spiritually and that you are paying attention to the content of your thoughts.

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