How can I face this disaster with courage and responsibility?

How can I face this disaster with courage and responsibility?.

Even when a stressor takes us by surprise, we can regain a sense of control. Viktor Frankl (1959, p. 161), a Holocaust survivor, developed what he described as “tragic optimism” for coping with unforeseen disasters. Instead of asking why these disasters should happen to us, Frankl recommends that people exert a sense of control by asking, “How can I face this disaster with courage and responsibility?”

An obvious starting place for keeping your levels of stress low is to ask whether stressors can be eliminated. If you feel stressed about having too much to do and too little time to do it, it might be possible to reduce your workload or practice better time management skills. If money is tight, a visit to your campuss financial aid office might provide you with solutions you had not considered. The worst possible approach is to withdraw and avoid stressors in the vain hope that they will go away. Your latest credit card statement is not going to get better magically if you ignore it. In fact, your emotional response to seeing the statement on your desk every day is likely to get a lot worse over time.

A major variable that predicts our response to stress is the sense of control. Feeling surprised by life or out of control can lead to significant stress. Some of the worst stressors are those that seem to strike randomly, such as being diagnosed with lung cancer when you never smoked (Pietrzak, Goldstein, Southwick, & Grant, 2011). These seemingly random events undercut our sense of control, countering the belief that “If I dont smoke, I am ensuring my lungs will stay healthy.”

Patients who educate themselves about their conditions and participate fully in treatment decisions experience less stress.

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Many stressors are out of our control. We cant wish our cancer away or magically ensure that enough money appears in our bank accounts to pay this months bills. However, we can respond to our stressors in ways that reduce our overall stress. This approach is consistent with the elements of positive psychology, which we review later in this chapter. Even if you are struggling with a life-threatening disease, stress can be reduced by educating yourself as much as possible about your condition and participating fully in decisions about your treatment. Residents of nursing homes who have more control over their choice of daily activities live longer than those who are not given such choices (Rodin, 1986). We observed in Chapter 12 that stressors have less effect on people who experience an internal locus of control, which means that they believe most of their outcomes are because of their personal efforts as opposed to luck, chance, or other external forces.

Because of the inevitability of stress, people cope best when they keep themselves as healthy as possible. If you follow good health habits, stress will still deplete your reserves and inhibit your immune system, but a healthy body can take more abuse than an unhealthy one. Students are more likely to get sick during final exams if they have neglected good eating and sleeping habits all term.

Regular aerobic exercise appears to be especially helpful. In one experiment, people with heart disease were observed as they engaged in exercise as part of their rehabilitation programs. The exercise reduced the overall stress levels of all participants (Milani & Lavie, 2009). Exercise seemed particularly beneficial for the participants who also scored high on psychosocial stress. None of the high-stress participants who showed the greatest physical benefits from exercise (such as increased oxygen uptake) died in the follow-up period compared to 19% of the high-stress participants who showed relatively low physical benefits from exercise (see ● Figure 16.9). Students would be wise to engage in some level of activity in college to offset the effects of increased stress.

Figure 16.9Exercise Reduces Mortality in Stressed Cardiac Patients.

People with cardiovascular disease were assessed for psychosocial stress levels during a rehabilitation program that included exercise. A control group did not have a formal exercise program. Based on their improvement in physical measures following the exercise program, the study participants were divided into low and high exercise change groups. In a follow-up 5 years later, high levels of physical improve­ment because of exercise did not affect the mortality of the low psychosocial stress group but significantly reduced mortality in the high-stress group.

Source: Adapted from “Reducing Psychosocial Stress: A Novel Mechanism of Improving Survival From Exercise Training,” by R. V. Milani and C. J. Lavie, 2009, American Journal of Medicine, 122(10), pp. 931–938, doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.03.028. Illustration: © Cengage Learning®; photo: Alexander Raths/

In Chapter 15, we discussed the use of mindfulness in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness, or the trained awareness of our current thoughts, emotions, and actions, has also been shown to be an effective method for reducing stress (Tang & Posner, 2009). In Chapter 6, we explored the effects of the altered state of consciousness produced through meditation. Although many people meditate within a religious context, a large meta-analysis indicated that meditation is an effective strategy for reducing psychological stress (Goyal et al., 2014).

Specialist Lawrence Shipman and Sergeant First Class Jonathan Zeke, a combat stress–relief dog, received an award for their work in reducing the stress of soldiers deployed in Iraq. Shipman notes that Zeke acts as an icebreaker, encouraging soldiers to talk to the behavioral health counselors.Spc. Terence Ewings, 4th AAB PAO, 1st Cav. Div., USD-N/photo courtesy of U.S. ArmyOne of the most powerful antidotes to the unhealthy effects of stress is social connectedness and support. Social support from friends and family and belief systems that allow a person to make sense out of the world provide powerful buffers against stress (Montpetit, Bergeman, Deboeck, Tiberio, & Boker, 2010). As we have argued on many occasions in this textbook, people with good social relationships and support are far less vulnerable to adverse health and psychological conditions than are people who are lonely and isolated (Cacioppo, Cacioppo, Capitanio, & Cole, 2015; Hostinar, Sullivan, & Gunnar, 2013). In times of distress, people frequently turn to others in an effort to cope. According to a study of responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, nearly 100% of the participants reported talking about their thoughts and feelings about the attacks with other people (Schuster et al., 2002). More than 90% reported either praying or engaging in spiritual contemplation appropriate to their faith. More than 60% engaged in relevant public activities. Nearly 40% focused on the needs of others by donating money or blood to relief efforts.

Understanding the importance of social support for coping helps to explain why people living in poor neighborhoods often experience more stress and have higher rates of depression. Living in a neighborhood where few people know one another or help one another with tasks like child care increases the risk of developing major depressive disorder (Russell & Cutrona, 2010). These socially disconnected neighborhoods become more prevalent as the income of residents decreases, making people living below the poverty line especially vulnerable to stress and depression.

Although it is ideal to receive your social support from other people, having a pet can also provide benefits to your health. Stockbrokers with high blood pressure who lived alone were selected to receive a cat or dog from a local shelter (Allen, 2003). When stressed, the pet owners experienced a much lower increase in blood pressure than their petless counterparts. The effect was most obvious among participants who listed few social connections with other people.

Many people find that having religious beliefs helps them cope with stress. People who report having religious beliefs appear to withstand the challenges of unemployment, low income, and widowhood better than people who report no religious beliefs (Diener & Seligman, 2004). Across a number of nations practicing different forms of religion, a higher rate of belief in a god predicts higher ratings of life satisfaction and lower rates of suicide (Helliwell, 2003).

How can I face this disaster with courage and responsibility?

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