The ABCs of Stress (page 2)
What Makes Situations Stressful?
Stress is a normal part of life. It can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry or anxious. And what is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another.
In small doses, stress can be good because it may motivate you to be more productive. However too much stress is bad. Prolonged stress can leave you vulnerable to physical and psychological illnesses. Persistent and unrelenting stress may lead to anxiety (a feeling of apprehension or fear and unhealthy behaviors, like overeating and abuse of alcohol or drugs. What follows is a more detailed description of the “ABCs” of stress and how social workers help their clients deal effectively with stress.
A: The Activating Event
The activating event is whatever happens that gets your stress going. It could be called the AGGRAVATING event because it almost always is something that disturbs you in some way. The activating/aggravating event can be something that happens in your life, something that you worry might happen.
Activating/aggravating events lead you to think and feel uncomfortable, and can cause you to have negative thoughts and feelings. If you do not deal with these negative thoughts and feelings, you are unlikely to resolve them, and as a result may end up feeling bad about yourself.
B: The Beliefs
When an activating/aggravating event occurs, you will have reactive thoughts and feelings, even if you do not think you do. There is a possibility that during difficult situations your thoughts will be negative, bringing up unpleasant emotions, such as frustration, disappointment, anger, rage, or fear. If you are unaware of having these feelings, you may act out your feelings in negative ways, rather than dealing with them effectively and solving problems that they may cause.
Our thoughts and feelings operate in a circular way, in which feelings lead to thoughts and thoughts lead to feelings. The thoughts we have about a situation will be based on the beliefs we carry from our families and other life experiences we have had.
C: The Consequences and D: The Decisions
Thoughts and feelings lead you to make decisions about how to behave and cope in situations. When decisions are made from frustration, anger, resentment, or fear, the decisions may lead to undesirable consequences (for the situation or for yourself.) Awareness of what you are thinking and feeling based on conscious knowledge of your beliefs is your best friend for making good coping decisions that will bring positive consequences for all concerned, including increased self esteem for you.
How Social Workers Help
Social workers help their clients to deal with stress by:
- Helping people identify internal and external sources of stress
- Helping people identify the coping resources they usually use in stressful situations, and evaluating the effectiveness of their existing methods
- Helping people understand how stress affects the body and the mind, and what the results of untreated long-term stress can be on both mental and physical health.
- Teaching people relaxation and meditation techniques that help to reduce stress.
- Teaching people the role of thinking and emotions in stress reduction, and helping them think through coping with stressful situations in a more productive way.
- Helping people develop more effective and healthy coping mechanisms, which then can become automatic parts of their response patterns to stress.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Association of Social Workers or its members.
- About Stress Management
- Stress Management Current Trends
- Stress Management: Your Options
- Stress Managment: How Social Workers Help
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Bette J. Freedson, LCSW, is a social worker. Ms. Freedson has taught, trained, and lectured on Stress Management for more than 25 years. Her most recent training was for a staff of an assisted living residence in Massachusetts.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association of Social Workers.
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