The first came from an engineering friend of mine who started a conversation about the meaning of stress and pressure in his world. He described stress and pressure as essentially the same except being applied in different forms. Pressure is applied on the external surface of a body, while stress is the internal resistive force per unit area of that body, which resists its elongation or compression.
Alternatively – Stress is generated within the material whereas pressure is the applied force.
The second example came from a stress management seminar* I recently attended, not so abstract you might say but it was the analogy the presenter used that was interesting. He asked that we thought of a bridge, the cars going over the bridge created pressure on the bridge and as a result the bridge would experience stress.
No matter how strong the bridge, there was a point that if too many cars were on at any one time it would collapse.
How does this help?
Analogies can be very helpful where it’s difficult to conceptualise or understand complex ideas. For example the bridge will show signs of stress before it collapses. This is no different for people; signs of stress will be present well before the stress levels are high enough to cause problems e.g. short temper, lack of sleep, headaches etc. Also if we carry on with the analogy, there are two ways in which you can make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse. One, don’t have so many cars on the bridge and two, support the bridge so that it can take more cars. This translates into reducing the number of external pressures you are under (less cars) and having coping strategies to help when you are under pressure (some support).
Pressures when studying
A lot of pressures when studying are time related, for example taking on too many subjects or having to study as well as holding down a responsible job. But some pressure might be created by the way you feel about yourself, not being capable or clever enough. Also people often put themselves under pressure – interesting term “putting yourself under pressure” by having very high expectations or maybe those expectations are put upon them by others.
The simple answer – take some of the cars off the bridge, reduce the number of subjects your studying, lower your expectations etc. This is not to say that having high expectations is not good, but if it is affecting your performance in a negative way, then you have to do something. And I know it may not be easy to do this in all circumstances; do you step down from that responsible job, how practical is that? Yet if you do nothing, the bridge will collapse and that has to be avoided at all costs.
The alternative to taking cars off the bridge is to add in extra support.
Strategies to cope
Lazarus and Folkman in 1984 suggested that stress is the result of an “imbalance between demands and resources” or results when “pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope”. They came up with two types of coping responses.
Emotion-focused – These techniques work very well when the stress is or at least appears to be outside the individual’s control.
- Keep yourself busy to take your mind off the issue – just keep working through the course
- Let off steam to other students/partners, anyone who will listen in fact
- Pray for guidance and strength – and why not
- Ignore the problem in the hope it will go away – not always ideal but the problem may sort itself
- Distract yourself – go for a run
- Build yourself up to expect the worse – “I will probably fail anyway”
Problem-focused – These techniques aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stress. These are similar to taking cars off the bridge.
- Take control – being out of control is often the cause of much stress. Revaluate what the problem is, and ask is it worth it!
- Information seeking, perhaps the most rational action. Find out what is causing the problem and look to solve it e.g. why do you have such high expectations, does it help?
- Make a list, evaluate the pros and cons and put in order of importance.
Studying can be stressful and this can result in feeling under pressure but this is not altogether a bad thing stress and pressure are key motivational forces, so don’t think of stress as the enemy but watch out for any cracks that might appear in the bridge.
Watch this TED – Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend.
Related posts – Exam stress – or is it your stress and Exam stress – Mindfulness and the “7/11”
* The course was delivered by the stress management society – click here for their website.