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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #40 of 52: Anger Management | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #42 of 52: Developmental Psychology »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #41 of 52: Stress Management

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Stress, ah stress. What are we going to do about it? You cannot live with it and you cannot live without it. (Now, don’t go talking about women, you hear me.)

Living on planet earth is stressful. Every step one takes is stressful. Just think about it. How many people are killed on a typical day in auto accidents in this great country of ours? You don’t want to know, for if you know it would make you fearful of even leaving your house, how much more driving your freaking car.

You could be killed by any human being around you, you know. Did I say that you could be killed? Didn’t that raise your blood pressure? Did it not make your heart race, pump faster, urging you to run, to do something to save your life?

You got it. That is what stress is all about. Every second of your life on earth certain things are attacking you, threatening your life and you are feeling an urge to flee or fight them. That fear and anger response you feel is what stress is all about. Hans Selye, a Canadian medical doctor initiated the study of stress. Life is stressful. What a bummer.

As I sit here typing, millions of virus, bacteria, fungus and other unicellular organisms are trying to make my body their dinner. My body is fighting back via the immune system killing those damn germs. The immune system is almost always at war with germs trying to kill us. This means that blood is rushed to where bacteria attacks your body, the spot circled off; antibodies sent to fight the freaking germs, war ensues and some cells are killed and you survive.

I will not go into detail here, it is scary, and I tell you. Old Darwin was correct, after all, life is really a struggle for the survival of the fittest.

Poor little mosquito wants to eat you and big you kills it and survive. If your immune system is weakened, say, by HIV-AIDS, those little bacterial things kill you.

What can I say? I did not tell you that life is a bed of roses, did I? Life is constant struggle for survival, visible and invisible struggles.

If you let down your physical and psychological defenses, the battle is over, and your body becomes dinner for worms.

Listen up, life is stressful and nature built into us mechanisms for responding to them. Our bodies have danger sensing mechanisms, danger alerting mechanisms, signaling systems that cue our brains that danger is around and urge us to do what we have to do for us to survive.

Theses systems are globally called fear, anger, stress and immune response systems. We have already reviewed how some of them work and you ought to know about them by now. (I did not review how the immune system works; why don’t you do so for us? You ought to have something to contribute to our people’s welfare, you know.)

The relevant point is that at all times something is attacking our bodies and is stressing our bodies.

There are physical and psychological stressors every where. Your medical doctor can tell you about the physical stressors. Let me review some of the psychological stressors. The major ones are divorce, separation, unemployment, being fired from your job, poverty, a significant one dying, a child dying, a girl friend leaving you, taking examinations, fear of failing, fear of not doing well (folks in Japan do commit suicide if they did not make perfect grades). Any number of things could stress you.

When you are stressed your body is responding like you respond when you are afraid or angry. We talked about anger and anger management. Review how your body feels when you are fearful and or angry; that is how you feel when you are under stress (rapid heart beating, rapid breathing, tort muscles, tension, urge to run or fight etc).

Think about your school days. You had examinations. How did you feel during examinations? In my school, the school authorities used to post the results on the school bulletin board. A typical class would have thirty students and they would list all of you, from who made first to who made last. If you did not do well you were embarrassed. Every person knew how every person did. There was no place to hide.

On the first day back from holidays, back to boarding school, we all came running to see how we did. I never made first in my class. I always hovered between second and anything thereafter. I envied the kid who made first and I don’t mind telling you that I prayed for him to die, so that I would replace him.

Just think about your feelings when you took your school certificate examination. I can speak for myself. I was afraid of failing. I was tense. I felt that if I failed that my folks would disown me. I was tension on legs. To avoid not failing, I studied very hard. I stayed up most of the night studying. Then the examination was taken. I believed that I did okay. Now, I developed another worry. Would I do well, have all As or not? My God, I lived in perpetual fear of failing. You made a sound and I jumped. Then the result came out and I had an excellent result but a few Bs and felt like the ground should open up and swallow me. The next year I sat for the GCE Advance level and cleared them As. The family name was redeemed. Then it was off to the USA, to college. Every quarter my father got my results. If I had poor grades, he chewed me out. You got it. I lived in tremendous tension during my schooling days. You probably did, too.

That is what stress is all about, my friend, living in physical and psychological tension. Those who live in such tension seek ways to reduce the awful feeling of pressure they are under. Some take recourse to smoking.

Have you been around high school kids during examination times? Many of them smoke to reduce the tension they are under. Have you seen folks going through separation and divorce? They are under enormous pressure and some of them start doing alcohol, big time, some even get into drugs, legal and illegal. Ah, the great American suburbs, that haven for Valium poppers.

No person can live under tension for too long. Too much tension can actually damage some of your visceral organs. So we all try to reduce our somatic tension. We do so in many ways. We drink alcohol, some do drugs, some engage in sexual activity…all these reduce physical tension.

(When Nigerian big men are under stress they have sex, lots of it. Many of them are sex addicts and do not know it. They use sex to reduce their somatic and psychological tension. Sex releases tension and becomes another addictive drug. And the sad part of this story is that many of these folks have sex indiscriminately and, of course, contract venereal diseases and die of HIV-AIDS. If only these fellows would learn to restrict their sexual activity to only their wives and seek other ways to deal with their stressful lives.)

The traditional methods of reducing tension, alcohol, drugs, etc, unfortunately, also kill you.

Stress management teaches folks alternative methods of managing their stress. Exercising is a big one. Run every other day, for, at least, an hour. Work out in the gym, at least, twice a week, an hour each time. If you can, ride your bicycle rather than drive your car to work. Swim. Do some callisthenic exercises like Yoga etc?

Exercises and healthy life styles in general, such as eating right (your nutritionist can tell you what is good meal, combining the four food groups: protein, carbohydrates, oil and fact, minerals) in a balanced manner, not eating too much, is ideal stress coping mechanism.

If you are a parent, playing with your children is, perhaps, one of the best ways to relax after a busy day at the office. Come home, put away your suit, put on your jeans and T shirt and romp on the floor with your five year old child. For one thing, playing with a child gets you out of your neurotic desire to seem like you are a big man; a very important person…that desire leads to acting, trying to seem a big man, acting as if you are what you are not. The fact is that you are just an ordinary man, even if you are the president of your country. Relax and play and have fun, for life is meant to be fun.

Listen to music, dance, have good conversation with friends, laugh a lot (look for opportunity to laugh, go to comedy clubs and laugh at jokes). Laughter, they say, is the best medicine, it relaxes you, and God knows how much you need to relax before you experience cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, strokes).

Life is stressful and we are always under stress. We cannot use a magical wand to banish stress. There are stressors everywhere we turn. In fact, some stress is good for us; running is stressful on our muscles and heart but that stress is good for us, makes our muscles healthy.

Stress is part of living. Find ways to reduce your stress; you cannot eliminate them. What you cannot eliminate you can learn to manage. Find ways to relax. You know what they say: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and all play and no work makes him a ….Balance, the middle way, is the best approach to everything in life.)

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:38 AM

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