Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

Valor grows by daring, fear by holding back.
Publilius Syrus, Sentences (circa 100 BC)

Improving My Stress Management

Sources, Manifestations and Effects of Stress

Stress as an Alarm Response

Stress is my body’s alarm response that is set off in situations that I perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be threatening to my internal equilibrium. This reaction manifests itself in a series of physiological changes to my body as it prepares to deal with the threat, by fight or by flight: adrenaline secretion, muscle tension, accelerated heartbeat and respiration, slowed digestion, heightened attention, mobilization of intellectual functioning, etc. These physiological changes translate into physical symptoms ranging from a state of positive excitement to downright unpleasant manifestations such as perspiration, flushing, lump in the throat, trembling, blurred vision and psychologically translate into feeling a loss of control or a state of sheer panic.

These phenomena occur chiefly when I write exams, do class presentations or at the end of the semester. My cognitive-emotional reactions to this type of potentially threatening situation for myself, my future and my self-esteem, can take two forms: I deal with the situation by intensifying work efforts and by mental preparation; or I run away from the situation using magical thinking, recrimination, procrastination, false excuses and abandonment.

Resistance to Stress

Reaction to stress is, in itself, natural and normal. It does not cause my body any harm nor is it the source of any psychological disorder as long as it is kept in check. Stress actually enhances my intellectual functioning and physical activity in challenging situations. However, if my reaction to stress goes beyond mere stimulation or for extended periods of time, my body will then start eating into my energy reserves in the effort to fight off the stress. When this happens, I may experience loss of appetite, stomach disorders, sleep disorders, nightmares, headaches, constant fatigue, apathy, a general lack of interest or reduced sexual drive. These physical discomforts can sometimes be accompanied by psychological disorders: anxiety, feelings of powerlessness, guilt, vulnerability or depression. Cognitive disorders include difficulty in making decisions, inability to concentrate, feeling confused and intellectual disorientation. Behaviors generally associated with such cognitive-emotional states include withdrawal, increase of tobacco, alcohol and drug use, chronic state of anger and the need to talk continuously.


The exhaustion phase is characterized by my energy reserves no longer being able to adequately resist the agents of stress, my vital organs showing premature wear and my immune system becoming dangerously weak. These malaises transform themselves into physical illnesses and psychological and behavioral disorders, which can become serious. The phenomenon commonly known as “burnout” is a recurrent consequence of exhaustion.

Stress Management

For most of us stress is a matter of perception.

The same stressful situation can provoke different effects in different individuals, depending on their perception. Stress can prove positive and stimulating, or downright negative and disturbing. However, one can learn to improve control and better manage the inner sources of stress.

Understanding the  Phenomenon of Stress and My Sources of Stress

In order to effectively control my emotions and reduce the negative effects of stress on my intellectual functioning, I must first and foremost learn to recognize how I react to stress and accurately interpret that psychological process. Knowing about stress, its origins, functions, effects and management is a good starting point. However, everyone has their own way of emotionally reacting to a given challenge. Learning to identify the source of my stress, studying the way I react to stress and experimenting with several stress management strategies will prove useful.

Learning to Control My Body

There are various approaches to building resistance to agents of stress. Emotions have a direct impact on my physiological functioning: adrenaline secretion, increased pulse and respiration, muscle tension, etc. Paroxysmal conditions result in physical problems and can even result in fainting. One approach, characteristic of Yoga, consists of controlling my breathing and relaxing my muscles to calm myself down and drinking sufficient amounts of freshwater to reduce mouth and throat dryness and to maintain an optimal level of electrolytes in my brain.

Learning to Control My Thoughts

Emotions are also associated with thought content. A second approach, characteristic of cognitive therapies, consists of modifying my negative and defeatist thoughts by controlling my visualizations and internal dialogue, by reinterpreting the situation in a less threatening manner, by de-dramatizing the situation and by using optimistic visualizations and positive thoughts.

Developing My Learning Abilities

Negative emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, and depression can be perceived as responses to problematic situations for which easy or readily available solutions do not exist. The feeling of being incapable of solving a given problem and the resulting negative emotions, feed one another (positive retroaction or snowball effect). A third approach consists of developing my learning competence, which means to better understand my intellectual functioning and to enrich my repertoire of learning strategies. This approach fosters the development of my abilities to deal with intellectual challenges.

But, in the end, a balanced combination of the three approaches is the best way for me to master durable control of my emotions.


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