As you go through life there comes a good deal of maturity - that is to say that you make better decisions and enjoy life based on rational learning experiences over many years, through trial and error where learning from mistakes and through the luck of close shaves or the misfortunes in life from injury, love scorned and berievement.
However a parallel process in many adults is that you pick up more bugs along the way, which means that you feel stressed more often. Pyschological challenges and personality issues from childhood are often blown aside in the rush through early adulthood when we expose ourselves to many challenges and go through our young sphere with little responsibility for others and our own concentration on the pursuit of education, career and economic rewards. This headonistic period is of course these days being ever extended with the average age of committing to a mortgage in the UK now a staggering 37 years old...we are changing careers more often and seem to have an equally consumerist attitude to partners and friends. At the end of this road for most of us around the average level of sub clinical insanity which is the human condition after all, we meet with mundanity of the job, and the committments, responsibilities and joys of families. Suddenly the load we feel on our shoulders increases and the demands placed on us in terms of stability, attention, level headedness, financial responsibility and selflessness suddenly exposes our weaker sides.
We tackle stress or rather the loading often with a worse perspective in that we have been bachelors/bachelorettes or D.i.n.k.y.s. far too long. Our maturity has centred around how to suceed at work, or at least get by, and how to thereafter enrich our own selves or just hedonistically entertain ourselves in a great string of consumerist mind orgasms. Mortgage and the patter of tiny feet bring this all to a hault, but we have gone much longer and also we are the first generation who have not only moved often far away from our parents, but become so old that grand parents are too frail to be a working part of the extended family care unit if you like. Light baby sitting on occaisional visits.
This disconnection to the chain of parent skill learning and to-hand support means that we are especially challenged as parents. Often too we expose ourselves to pregnancies and births with the backdrop of unsound relationships. with some people actually having more children in order to try and make up for a failing love between them. Demands to run two careers in the one household now place larger strains on time and common interests. We cant go back to the majority of women being housewives, so we need to understand each others position in the work-life equation and how important to the old ego each respective career is.
Now, into your early or mid forties is my friend, the time to grasp the thistle of your chain of bugs and your childhood issues, insecurities, neurosies and mental ailments which have come to home to roost. Maturity runs deep, but our ability to tackle stress can run away with itself and we have to stop and not be complacent, awaiting that further maturing process will help us to grow out of it. I have not looked at the stats, but I dare say that the average age of 'nervous breakdowns' is either getting older, or fragmenting into two peaks - one in early life with the stresses of education, and early career, while the other being in middle age when trying to square the circle of work, domestic finances, ambition, family, a love life and play.
The reason these bugs and underlying neuroses will not get better with more years, is that they are intwined with biological processes. We become shorter tempered for example, if over time we allow our temper to run free. Our biological 'hackles' are up quicker and quicker so to speak. This happens subconsciously for temper and on a wider basis, stress. Our coritsol response triggers at a lower threshold, we enter a viscious cycle where we are more often in a flight or fight biological status and our experience of stress and ability to cope with life's challenges deteriotes.
One approach to how we consider how to define stress, actually helps alleviate stress. That is to not define the external stimulus, the situation, as stressful or being on overload, but in describing stress as something internal. We can consider positive stress, but for the purpose of this essay, we would talk about challenges which people set about tackling in an aroused manner. Stress is rather to my mind, the negative outfall of not having early screen tackling techniques. We let stress build and do not master being able to cope with stimulus and situations, Indeed the feelings and 'fight or flight' bio-status when we are exposed to our own internal stress responses. Stress then is an unwanted, internal outcome of having a loading upon our perceptions and interactions out in the world,.
This approach then, considers stress as an internal set of factors. composed of a biological element and a cognitive element. ie a hormonal, visceral response and a though related response. The two are inexorably linked. We can never break this link completely, because some of this is intrinsically important to our survival reactions hence they are called 'Fight or Flight'. However much of the system gets loaded up with small bugs over time. We find a job stressful. We get sacked. We get dumped by our partner. A parent dies. We are socially not accepted in a new group. The larger loadings build up and these larger negative events it is believed, especially childhood trauma or exposure to forms of abuse and bullying, then colour our the experience in challenging situations. We are more likely to have a biological stress response which is disproportionate to the more minor type of 'stimulus'. These then become a series of further bugs which collectively can then have an effect upon us. Infact I would say of course that a proportion of those suffering the severe effects of stress, including adrenal gland burn out at the extreme end, have only been exposed to series of small bugs through life and no majore traumatic events.
We must realise that we just aren't going to get better., For me it started in a professional capacity, considering assertive behaviour patterns in the workplace. Later I became increasingly short tempered in my private life, and was really more or less forced into going to anger-management if I was to continue in a family home. More recently a different perspective again from the workplace in management education on stress within individuals. I have had real benefit from the anger management, and also learned very much from the two courses, the latter being ongoing.
The main common thread between all these three courses, with the latter two being somewhat closer in language at least, is that you have to break the cycle of having a bio-emotional response to everything In assertiveness we want to have the personal tools and the team appreciation that we behave objectively and we speak to each other as adults. We stop our agressive behaviour by being aware that this can be to others at a far lower threshold than we would consider our approach is. We stop others aggressive or domineering behaviour by taking them to common perspective discussion. Playing a little chess, we have a short gambit followed by a game where we force the proponent to talk and act on level terms. It comes naturally to many people, but some go either way ....being agressive, overbearing and placing unreasonable demands from a position of authority or simply being a coworker bully, or being too inclusive, too passive, too democratic and worrying about keeping everyone on board before making decisions and requesting actions or feedback.
Anger management and stress management are far more closely related and focus almost exclusively on the internal processes of the individual. Arresting detriomental bio-emotional responses in their tracks by various techniques and employing PMA - positive mental attitude to ourselves and situations. We learn to see ourselves from an external perspective and understand that our processes are running too wild in either outcome, anger or stress.
Many physicians consider that there is a source of stress, that the stimulus is the main cause of our response, Given a large stimulus which can be removed - the workplace, a difficult partner for example - then they are likely to try and solve the situation by removing the person from source of stress. Sick leave, or 'go an live at your mums for a while'. However in doing this they may completely oversee the fact that the stress response was disporportionate and above average. It gets them out of their surgery. The situation resolves itself because the absence leads to a discussion at a later time when the patient has had time to think. However the trick is missed that this was a person in dire need of decoupling their stress response from everyday situations as much as having acute need for stress relief.
Luckily there is an entire armoury of cognitive techniques for reducing stress, many of which have been found in everyday human life and culture for several milennia. Prayer as a form of meditiation and PMA, the church and holy texts as a source of solace and therapy, our extended families in the past being around us and able to help us cope. Nowadays the modern lifestyle we find ourselves in -the secular, disjointed family non collective culture, longer working hours, a high divorce rate, children planned later in life, and so on - means that we need new techniques to practice on our own. These are well documented and can be found in many source books. courses and on line. These are cognitive and therapeutic approaches and they include (not exhaustively): The ABC/D stop model, the assertive behaviour model, self body language, meditation, PMA courses. lightening therapy.
Returning to a point about the biological-cognitive nature of stress. Cognition is a huge area of science and current research. In the stress response much of cognition is unduly influenced by the sub and peri-concsious and these processes are flawed in many of us. Further more to make matters worse, we are very used to internalising and rationalising our behaviour. We then actually start to believe that negative automatic thought patterns emulating from the feelings of being stressed, are correct and fit in with our own summation of the situation and even our own view upon our life regulations if you like. Breakign then the cycle can contribute to people becoming more positive and fulfilled individuals in society.
The author proposes that stress be considered as an internal response to challenges placed upon us. It is composed of biological and psychological components and becomes often negative when these two become grasped in a viscious circle, exacerbating each other and reducing the threshold we experience stress at, while also potentially increasing the stress response disproportionately to the challenges we meet in everyday life or exceptional situations like berievement or being made redundant.
Over time we then can develope an ever worsening ability to cope with challenges and problems in life, and we do not mature out of this, rather the opposite. The demands of the modern western lifestyle or 'human condition' impose greater strains on our coping ability, while at the same time the traditional support mechanisms of family and religious wisdom are falling away, while health care systems are more stressed and more expensive.
We need to realise the case that the biological and emotional cycle is detrmimental and much of it works on the subconscious, while we have an unfortunate innate tendency to conclude that the resulting negative thoughts are correct and appropriate for us.
Luckily there is an armoury of self help techniques which can considerably reduce the level of stress we encounter in response to life's rich pageant. Attending a course is to be recommended by the author, especially when the content includes a mix of cognitive and indirect therapeutic techniques such as posture and body language, meditation and sublimation.