Keywords: Stress, stressor, eustress, distress, acute stress, chronic stress, coping, Nigeria.

Introduction.

Coping with Stress in Nigeria.  What can cause stress? Are there different types of stress? What ere the complications of stress? How can stress be managed?

 Stress is actually an emotional pressure. This emotional pressure can arise from challenges that confront a person who doesn’t have the capabilities to solve the challenge. For example, one is asked to address Heads of Committees of Nations on Climate Change, when in actual fact one is a fresh graduate of Fine and Applied Arts. Just the thought of it can send shivers down one’s spine.  

Stress levels among Nigerians are quite high. The stress level among bankers in Enugu gave a rate of is as high as 85.9%. And the level among Nigerian medical students, it is as high as 94.2%. Among graduate workers the stress level can get as high as 21.1%. This necessitated a writeup on this topic coping with stress in Nigeria.

A stressor is an event, situation, experience or environmental stimulus that is seen or perceived by the individual as a threat.  This threat can lead to stress. So a stressor is a source of stress.

Causes of stress or stressors.

Stress can arise from family issues, relationship issues, parenting issues and household chores. It can also come from educational and career issues, employment issues, health issues, care giving, etc. For example, in the process of carrying out one’s job or handling demanding individuals, stress can arise. Also infections in the body, etc. can be health stressors.

Types of stress.

Actually, stress in mild form is beneficial. It helps to alert us to potential threats and enables us to focus on resolving it. Such amounts of stress can improve the way we think, plan, make decisions and function to achieve set goals. It helps in developing skills and abilities to cope with various types of problems.

When there is low level of stress, it can lead to boredom, diminished thinking and even procrastination.  But excessive stress is detrimental to both mental and physical health.

There are different types of stress.      

Eustress:

This is the good or positive stress which is beneficial in helping the person improve in his/her life. Eustress motivates one to achieve set goals by increasing self esteem, making one creative and productive. This good stress makes the person confident in handling situations, because it excites the person and improves performance.

Examples of eustress are the stress associated with falling in love, planning a wedding, being in labour and delivery. Even the stress of planning a vacation can be fun and it is a type eustress.

Distress:

This is the bad stress or negative stress. It is harmful and results from one’s inability to cope with the demand. Distress leads to poor decision making, mental and physical illness, etc.

Examples of distress stressors are the death of a loved one, injury, unemployment, excessive job demands and job insecurity. Other stressors include interpersonal conflicts, unproductive and time consuming meetings, problems at school, financial problems, abuse and neglect, etc.

Other classifications of stress:

Acute stress reaction –

This is actually not a mental disorder, but it is a transient emotional, behavioural symptom in response to exceptional stressors. But this can also come about from sudden or threatening change in social position, like sudden loss of job. It can also arise from a sudden loss of a spouse, etc.

The symptoms include being dazed, confused, sad, anxious or showing anger.  There could also be over activity, stupor and social withdrawal. The symptoms of anxiety will include palpitations, sweating, etc. These symptoms appear within hours or days of the stressor and begin to subside after a week later.

Chronic stress –

This comes about from long lasting stress which came about from circumstances beyond the person’s control. Such stressors or circumstances include poverty, unhappy marriage, dysfunctional family, etc. The person sees himself trapped without any way out of the situation. 

Complications from stress.

These include psychiatric and psychological issues.

They are anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, aggression and reduced pleasure to sex. Others are bipolar disorder, as well as abuse of substances such as alcohol, cannabis, etc. and suicidality.

There are also physical complications. And these include raised blood pressure, muscle tension, rapid breathing, heart diseases, and excessive illnesses due to reduced immunity. There could also be sexual dysfunction, recurrent headaches and migraines. Liver and lung diseases are also possible as well as heart attack, stroke and cancer. Reduced immunity can predispose someone to frequent malaria infections, upper respiratory tract infections and even pneumonia in Nigeria. Death can occur via any of these means, including death by suicide.

Managing stress.           

Stress managements are actions and processes one can take in order to control the level of stress.

There are positive and negative stress coping strategies. The positive coping strategies help one to manage or reduce the stress in a healthy manner. But the negative coping skills are abnormal and they mask the stressors, leading to complications. 

Positive coping skills:

Find out from the list what works for you. But know that one positive coping method may not work for every stressor.

Problem focused coping –

This method of stress management aims at resolving the stressful condition by eliminating the stressor. In order to eliminate the stressor, the individual takes control of the situation, by seeking relevant information and getting the needed assistance to tackle the situation. Thus the individual can talk to a trusted or knowledgeable friend, read about the topic, attend seminars and conferences, etc.

Emotion focused coping –

It aims at managing the emotional aspects of negative stress called distress. It is used when the stressor cannot be eliminated, so the individual alters his/her emotions in order to tolerate the stressor. For example, if a person has cancer and nothing can be done to eliminate the cancer the person has to change how he or she feels about the cancer. So the individual can form the habit of listening to music that can elevate the mood. Making use of distractions like joining a club to socialize or go into volunteering for charity work can help.

Exercise –

Physical activities are major stress management techniques. This will help restore the body and mind to the relaxed state.

Activities such as exercise helps to relax tight muscles improve blood flow to the brain and stimulate the nervous system. It also helps to release hormones and chemicals which improve the person’s sleep. Exercise also plays the role of distraction by drawing the person’s attention away from the stressor.

These exercises include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, dancing, etc.

Time out –

When work becomes choking after working on a project for some hours, leave the work and take a walk outside to get fresh air. After about 15 minutes of time out, go back to the work, new and fresh ideas will pop up.

Delegation –

Work at the office or at home can be delegated to others to help out.

Time management –

It is very important to have a good management of one’s time. Do not leave work to build up. So do not overcrowd your appointments. And learn to say ‘no’ when the need arises as well as set limits for yourself.

Set priorities –

Ensure that you set out priorities among the work for the day. You may need to make a to-do-list. Set realistic goals for yourself. It is good to push yourself, but ensure that your expectations are realistic.

Music and dancing –

Playing your favorite music when under stress can help in reducing the stress significantly. Even dancing can do this and more.

Social support –

Friends, family members and church members can help the person to cope with the stressors or adversities. They can for example support the bereaved at the time of need. The support can come in various ways such as being with the person physically at all times, giving financial support, prayers, or helping in doing chores.

Most importantly, one must learn to accept changes in one’s life. One should know that nothing is permanent.

Healthy eating –

Ensure that you eat breakfast before proceeding for work, because it is the most important food of the day. Make sure that all your meals are health meals with plenty fruits, vegetables and nuts. Food rich in vitamin C from fruits and Omega 3 fatty acids from fish can help reduce stress hormones and improve the immune system. 

Stay away from pastries like meat pies, cakes, etc. as well as excessive caffeine. They can predispose to depression, anxiety and increase stress. 

Adequate sleep –

People require 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to have maximum physical and psychological benefits from sleep.

Laughter –

It is said that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter produces many physical and psychological changes in the body.

Speak out –

Merely speaking out to a trusted friend about one’s challenges or stressors can help reduce stress. Also writing about one’s traumatic or stressful experience for 20 minutes per day over 3 days can reduce stress. 

Self talk –

Do positive talks to yourself. When certain challenges arise, talk to yourself positively encouraging yourself to be able to face it, rather than run away from it. For examples of self talks include ‘I am proud of myself because I am capable to achieve.’ ‘This is a good opportunity for me to learn and grow.’ ‘I can and will give it my all to make it work.’ ‘My mistakes do not define me, it helps me to learn and move on.’

Vacation –

Take a break from your everyday routine and have fun away from home.  Have a holiday away alone or with the family for some weeks. It will calm the stressors.

Negative coping:

For some people, they would prefer using the negative coping styles to cope with their stress. The effects of making use of negative coping styles are that it can lead to complications as written above.

These negative coping skills involve the abuse of substances such as alcohol, cannabis, methamphetamine, etc. This is quite a rampant method of coping with stress in Nigeria among the young people. These substances will mask the stressors and cause drug addiction. Some people will also abuse caffeine.

Other people will submerge themselves into one stressor so as to avoid another stressor. For example, someone having a stressor emanating from the home will become a workaholic. Some people will start the habit of clubbing in the evenings, just to avoid stressors at home.

Consulting a professional:

It is important that when all these self help practices do not work in achieving the set objectives of stress reduction, this is the time to seek the help of professionals. These professionals include the psychiatrist and the clinical psychologist.

The clinical psychologist –

The job of a clinical psychologist is to help the person learn to confront the challenges and overcome them in positive ways. These include making use of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive restructuring, etc.

The psychiatrist –

The job of the psychiatrist is to treat with medications the mental illnesses that have arisen as complications. When complications arise, doing self help coping with stress, especially in Nigeria, becomes difficult.

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