Understanding stress and learning to cope with stressful situations is essential to personal health. Stressors are demands that upset balance and homeostasis in both mind and body often causing illness. Stress can cause illness through negative physiological reactions and also through poor coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking, drug abuse, lack of sleep, and poor eating habits.
In some countries, like the U.S., too many people who suffer from chronic, long-term stress resort to anti-stress prescription drugs that have addictive side-effects of their own. In the absence of legally prescribed drugs, some overwhelmed stressed-out people seek illegal street drugs that are even more dangerous. None of these coping strategies work in the long-term and they come at a high price to your health.
Certain stressful events are perceived differently by different people. Some people are more stress resistant and do not suffer severe adverse health effects from stressful situations. They generally have excellent and healthful coping skills. I learned to develop coping skills when I was an 18 year old firefighter-paramedic, and as a young man, I was witness to a large number of traumatic events where I was required to work through the problems whether it was human trauma or a very dangerous structural fire. I was fortunate to work with a team of firefighters who formed a community of support and by the time we got back to our station, we were already calming down and coping with whatever it was we had to do at the fire or rescue scene. No one suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of our occupation. But, that is not always the case in every work environment where stress is a daily partner.
And, indeed, according to current research, one of the most successful coping strategies is social support. There is strength in communities and the support they can provide to all members of the community. Communities as social support networks can do a great deal for members of the community who are under stress whether that is just one person or family or the entire neighborhood. Social support certainly may not eliminate stress but it can moderate or buffer stressful reactions that would be ultimately unhealthy. How? By knowing that no matter what the circumstances, you know you are not alone. Also, a positive outlook is a buffer against the negative effects of stress and protects against clinical depression.
When a community works together to help everyone cope with stressful situations, usually by encouraging everyone’s assessment of the stressful event as controllable within the context of the social community because no one feels alone or isolated. This means that close communities can summon incredible strength to withstand stressful events in the environment. Trust is an essential ingredient in developing good coping behaviors within families and communities.
In the U.S., and other countries, where minor and major crime can threaten the harmony of neighborhoods, we have started community watch groups to be able to determine when something is not right in the neighborhood and authorities may need to be summoned to check out an unusual situation. People often have neighbors watch their homes when they are gone. People who live in a neighborhood know the other people in the neighborhood and that constitutes a community. Everyone watches out for everyone else and that makes families feel safer because it is the entire neighborhood against whatever hostile intrusion may occur. This is very similar to the social support group that I experienced in the fire department. We were all there to watch out for each other and support each other when times were difficult due to the danger of the job.
So, if you are feeling stressed or at risk, it is time to bring your neighborhood together into a strong social support group that will have everyone watching out for each other. The same can be accomplished at your work place if that seems to be a source of stress. If you are personally feeling stressed, it is most likely that you are not the only one. It is time to come together and share your feelings and find common solutions to work or community issues that are creating a stressful lifestyle.
by Dr. Michael W. Popejoy