Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou
Translation: Evelina Koutsikopoulou
Nowadays, stress is considered inseparably linked with our daily lives and the most frequent cause of seeking help from mental health professionals. The latter is probably a sign that, despite the frequency and intensity with which people face different forms of stress and mental tension, in general, the inner coping mechanisms remain limited, leaving them being tormented by both stress and mental tension.
The first studies about stress claimed that this is caused by distinct, external, stressful daily factors. These factors, which are today indicated as stressful leading to increased mental tension, include workplace confrontations, job insecurity, lack of communication, exaggerated expectations, increased and generally long working hours, reduced and low income, relationship problems etc.
Recently, it has been hypothesized that external factors are not the singular cause of stress. Stressful reactions depend on individual beliefs and coping capabilities. In 1981, Lazarus & Folkman suggested that stress is the result of an instability between the demands and the capabilities of a person. Stress therefore appears when pressure exceeds one’s ability to cope with it. This model concludes that a situation itself is not stressful unless the person perceives it that way. In general, stress is a normal mental and physical reaction to the demands of life (Schlehelein, 2006). Stress is a generalized reaction that encompasses the entire body with its resilience, experiences and temperament to stressful factors, to anything perceived as demand, threat or harm (Wagner-Link, 2009).
The endocrinologist Hans Seyle was the first to differentiate eustress (good stress that can be a positive motivator) from distress (the stressful situation that negatively affects a subject) (Hans, 1974). Distress may cause various mental and physical reactions, which are personalized based on different variables and environmental factors. In some cases, distress can result in physical health manifestations including gastro-intestinal or cardio-vascular system disorders, headaches, or even depression, fear and nervousness. In certain cases, accumulated distress can lead to aggression, especially for people who deploy aggression and hostility when dealing with their problems. Overall, distress and disappointment have been indicated as heralds of mental tension and aggression. Temperament can be detrimental in a fight or flight situation.
The vast list of possible implications and complications arising from stress has led to the emergence of myriad of stress treatment techniques. All of them declare their aim for controlling personal stress levels and improve people’s daily functionality. These techniques range from self-help to treatment by mental health professionals. Most techniques are based on the idea that stress is not a direct reaction to a stressful factor but rather resulting insufficiency of one’s capability to decrease and finally, to control this factor. Some of the methods used are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditation, yoga, mindfulness, animal therapy, gradual muscular relaxation according to Jacobson etc.
Every technique needs to firstly, identify personal stressful factors. Based on Lazarus & Folkman’s Stress Mechanism Comprehension Model (or Transactional Model), stress is the result of the interaction between external stimuli and the way we perceive them. Therefore, this approach emphasizes the need for a change of perspective when facing external stimuli. Deconstruction of mental tension should not be its repression. Individuals can generally experience emotions of anger, aggression and tension, under control without them causing distress. That can be achieved through:
- The identification and the constraint of the releasing factor.
- Next, we must find a way to process these factors, by tracing our unhelpful beliefs.
- It is important to perceive tension and anger as a normal reaction of our body, through the activation of our sympathetic nervous system that leads us at a flight or fight state.
- There is no need to worry about this reaction. We have to try and understand when we start losing control through the observation of our physical reactions.
- Communicating of our negative emotions as well as physical exercise, in order to release accumulated tension and relaxation are all important elements in alleviating and minimsing the causes and severity of distress.
However, what happens when people for whatever reason cannot find and determine their stress inducing factors? What happens when someone cannot effectively relieve his/her distress, relax or alter his/her perception of the world? Where does this tension and negative energy goes in our increasingly stress-centric society?
Summertime, a generally less stressful period. Suddenly, an eye-catching advertisement appears around: “in Thessaloniki, Greece there is a room where you can break anything in order to simply cool off!” Relief rooms, rage rooms, general “destruction”. “100 euros buy you 60 bottles, 40 glasses, 2 televisions, 30 plates and 1 laptop to smash”. “Clients can also make special orders for additional objects they would prefer”. Such rage rooms are promoted as an instant relief in the context of the on-going Greek financial crisis, a major contributor to increased disappointment, stress and tension. Exoneration of violence attempts to bring personal fulfillment, maturation, de-escalation.
According to Dr. Gail Saltz (professor of clinical psychiatry in New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornel Medical College) the problem is not only the outbreak of tension but also the fantasy behind that. Prof Saltz says: “it comes closer to their fantasy. It’s not the bag the hit; it’s their husbands head. And while it may feel good in the moment to deliver a make believe blow to your husband’s head, the next time you feel the same anger, it might not be so easy to hold back that impulsive feeling” (Can anger rooms be used to relieve stress?, Robert Jimison, CNN, 2017)
And just like that you wonder why will someone want to do that? You visit one of those rooms, you smash everything and you cool off. Is it really so simple? I’m not having this! I will instead sit down and think. I will talk to people. I will choose to feel. And if everything else fails, I will take the roads, head to the mountain and I will scream “Freedom!”
Georg H. Eifert u.a., Mit Ärger und Wut umgehen. Der achtsame Weg in ein friedliches Leben, Huber, ISBN 978-3456846859.
Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S., Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer, 1984.
Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Candidate., “Stress Management: What can you do?”, St. Louis Psychologists and Counseling Information and Referral, Retrieved February 5, 2013.
The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness: A Four-Step Plan for Resilient Living, Amit Sood, Mayo Clinic, Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2015, ISBN-10: 0738217859.