ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS

Environmental stress is all around us, it affects us and molds us into either crossing that bridge or jumping from the precipice! 

‘A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled immense stress really well!’

A very famous dictum used in counseling patients who are undergoing emotional upheaval 

This enables the person to think that even at present if the situation is out of control one can emerge a winner.

But, a winner only if he practices either Grace under Pressure or deals with the situation intelligently. 

Environment plays a pivotal role in this regard. It constantly throws stimuli at us: visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic.

And our reaction to these stimuli determines if stress will occur. 

COVID-19: a new stressor, the novel villain; The Coronavirus pandemic is the latest in a long list of stressors present in our environment at the moment.

It is the greatest public health challenge till date, causing one of the supreme stresses’ mankind has ever experienced over the centuries after the Plague. 

The uncertainty of the virus itself and the fact that no vaccine or medicine is available in the entire world to evade or treat, has left all scared and anxious.

The entire population of the world is exposed to and vulnerable to it collectively. 

Lockdowns of countries worldwide and closing down of educational institutes as well as businesses is taking a toll on the increasing stress levels as well as the economy.

People are out of jobs and staying at home, maintaining social distances like never before, have added to the generalized stress levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive global health crisis.

The crisis requires large-scale behavior change and places significant psychological burdens on individuals.

An entire cognitive shift can be seen that commenced from an initial intense fear to the alteration of an entire lifestyle.

In extreme cases of anxiety people have developed Obsessive Compulsive tendencies where they tend to wash their hands excessively, disinfecting their belongings at a high frequency than is usually required.

Coronavirus has induced severe anxiety and stress in people Governments and is leading them to take extreme measures of safeguarding themselves and their communities at large.

The ambiguity of its treatment again 

Stress has been acronymic as follows: –

  1. STRESS – Senseless Turmoil Removing Emotional Sensible Solutions.
  2. STRESS – Someone Trying to Repair Everything Solo

Stress occurs when we get overwhelmed by an event, a thought or any stimulus from the environment.

It numbs us and we lose our faculty to think or function properly.

It is not stress per se, but how we react to it that determines if the human mind processes that event as stressful or not.

Hans Selye quotes, ‘It is not the stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.’ Selye was the founder of Stress Theory, based on Physiology and Psychobiology.

He explained the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) that explains a three-stage model of the body reacting to a threat to its well-being. 

Stage 1: Alarm

Upon receiving a stressor, the body reacts in a ‘fight or flight’ response that is activated by the Autonomic Nervous System, thus releasing hormones into the blood to meet the body’s requirement to flee or face the danger.

Stage 2: Resistance

The body still stays on high alert while the physiological responses return to normal.

Stage 3: Exhaustion

If the stressors are more than the body’s capacity to tolerate then it is bound to become ill or normal functioning will be affected.  

The Sympathetic Nervous System produces an ‘Automatic Response’ at the exposure of intense stress.

The body responds with dilation of the pupils, increased heart rate, quickening the breathing, sends a flow of blood to the muscles to strengthen them, delivering fresh oxygen to the brain to increase alertness and an infusion of Glucose into the bloodstream to boost energy.

This is a defense response of the body to flee or battle the stress. 

There are many types of stressors or stress, other than environmental stress. For example, visual stress.

NATURE OF STRESS

The nature of the stressors may vary, but the reaction of the body will almost be the same.

Environment has a billion stimuli present in it. The same stimulus can have diverse effects on different people.

A stimulus for one may act as a stressor, but the same stimulus may be benign for another.

Therefore, how we process, what we extract and how we react is mostly subjective.

As Lou Holtz puts it, ‘it’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.’

Similarly, we need to ‘learn’ our reaction for any action that seems to pull us down.

This is because environmental stress has many cognitive effects. So, we should learn that life is all about ‘balance’.  

Maintaining a coordinated action reaction response is of utmost importance. 

For this we need to understand the relationship between the environment and the human behavior.

We need to scrutinize environmental conditions that are capable of interfering with optimal human functioning. 

Blair Wheaton in one of the researches begins by distinguishing stress from stressors and then examines models that have shaped our understanding of the stress concept: 

  1. the biological stress model
  2. the life-change events model
  3. the engineering stress model 

Sudden traumas, life-change events, daily hassles, nonevents (when something anticipated did not happen), and chronic stressors are described in elaboration of this continuum.

Wheaton also distinguishes micro stressors (which occur at the junctures of daily life) from macro stressors (which occur at the level of social system above the individual).

He then considers the impact of stressors on mental health outcomes, asking whether stressors have independent effects or are the effects of other stressors.

He concludes that different types of stressors have distinct and cumulative effects on mental health.

Chronic stressors have the greatest impact, although childhood traumas also have an important effect.

(PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

Although Stress induced by the environment can be debilitating, but it has a sunny side too. 

  1. It is one way of protecting the body from harm. 
  2. It helps the mind to focus on the threat.
  3. Increases alertness
  4. Gives extra strength to combat

TYPES OF ENVIRONMENTAL STRESSORS

Environmental conditions that influences human behavior includes 

  1. natural disasters
  2. climatic effects
  3. pollutants
  4. trauma (physical or psychological)
  1. NATURAL DISASTERS

Calamities occur and wipe away a person’s life time belongings, the structure to his life and the mundane of every day is rattled.

This can occur due to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, cyclones or other disasters like the death of a loved one – and humans have no hold over them.

Thus, the toll of the loss is magnanimous, because events over which we do not have any control scares us and leaves us vulnerable. 

Therefore, the stress induced due to these is also of a high volume. People spend their entire lives building up a life that can easily be taken away from them.

The loss of possessed materials and loved ones in these disasters has left many in counseling and therapy clinics for treating post-traumatic stress disorders.

These natural disasters initially instigate a Fight – Flight response, but in the long run they start taking a toll.

These may include memories of the calamity, memory loss of the actual traumatic event, getting anxious at the slightest trigger or developing a guilt of being alive when another loved one/s could not survive.

A person suffering from acute stress can undergo depression, anxiety disorders and adjustment reaction disorder as well.

An array of therapies is available for these people to cope with their condition when it starts to hinder their normal functioning.

  1. CLIMATIC EFFECTS

Climatic extremes have a diverse effect on our mood and how we behave towards others.

Intense heat brings about aggression, frustration and low threshold of patience.

People lose their temper and even the smallest of things seem magnanimous to the senses.

People living in temperatures well below zero suffer from depression due to the constant isolation that is brought on by the constant bleak ambience. 

Therefore, a change in physical environment is recommended for people living in extreme climatic conditions.

The tourism industry cashes on this very stress, cajoling people to buy holiday packages to attractive destinations.

This in turn alleviates the stress and powers them up for a few months or a year. 

Global warming is a hype these days and everyone is talking about it. Collectively as well as individually efforts are underway worldwide.

It poses a threat to the future of our existence and the way we will have to alter our life styles. 

  1. POLLUTANTS

The pollution levels are rising with each passing day, leaving the environment unclean, unsafe for propagation and non-conducive to healthy living. 

The ever-increasing population and high rate of urbanization While the world’s population is doubling, the world’s urban population is tripling.

Within the next few years, more than half the world’s population will be living in urban areas (Barbara Boyle, 2004)     

Urban population changes their environment through their consumption of food, water, land and energy.

This in turn adds to the level of increasing pollution, thus affecting the health of people as well as the environment. 

This urbanization was brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

The waste from these contribute to the pollution on land, water and in the air. Emission of harmful gases like Sulphur Dioxide in the environment of cities leads to poor health conditions. 

  1. TRAUMA (Physical and Psychological)

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event.

While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life.

In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being. 

https://www.psychguides.com/trauma/

An overwhelmingly negative event causing a lasting impact on the victim’s mental and emotional stability. 

Young children are the most susceptible to trauma, therefore, it should be carefully observed whether a child is showing symptoms after a major traumatic event.

Common emotional symptoms may include anger, sadness, emotional outbursts, panic attacks, etc. if these are not catered to or treated at an earlier stage they incubate and develop into major syndromes or underlying psychological disorders at a later age.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Environmental Stress?

Stress occurs when an event or stimulus demands an alteration in some way.

Environmental stressors are stimuli in our environment that cause stress. 

What causes Environmental Stress?

Stressors are environmental factors that cause stress.

These include any stimuli that cause a debilitating condition.

What are the types of Environmental Stressors?

Environmental stressors are usually considered to fall into one of four distinct classes: cataclysmic events, stressful life events, daily hassles, and ambient stressors (Evans and Cohen 1987). 

How do you manage Environmental Stress?

Stress can be managed by engaging in breathing and relaxation exercises.

For noise related stress, reducing exposure to the noise (e.g. noise reducing equipment) may manage the noise stressor

What are the 3 causes of Stress?

The death of a loved one.
Divorce.
Loss of a job.
Chronic illness or injury.

What are 4 signs of Stress?

Low energy.
Headaches.       
Rapid heartbeat.
Insomnia.
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability.

HOW TO DE-STRESS YOURSELF?

MEDITATE

                              
ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/meditation

BREATHING EXERCISES
ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/meditation

                     CHANGE OF ENVIRONMENT
ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/hill-stations

BE INVOLVED IN PHYSICAL EXERCISE
ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/exercise

                                   ADOPT A HOBBY

ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS (A complete guide)

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/hobbies

And most importantly as William James said, “the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

REFERENCES

  1. Effects of pollution on human growth and development: an introduction.

Schell LM1Gallo MVDenham MRavenscroft J.

  1. Effects of pollution on human growth and development: an introduction.

Schell LM1Gallo MVDenham MRavenscroft J.  trauma 

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/5/1729
  1. Van Bavel, J. J., Baicker, K., Boggio, P., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Crockett, M., … Willer, R. (2020, March 24). Using social and behavioral science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/y38m9

TITLES TO READ FORM AMAZON

  • Environmental Stress Paperback – May 25, 1984 by Gary W. Evans (Editor)
  • Environmental Stress And Its Remedies Paperback – January 1, 2015 by Dushyant Kumar Sharma et al. (Author)
  • Response to Disaster: Psychosocial, Community, and Ecological Approaches (Series in Clinical and Community Psychology) by Richard Gist and Bernard Lubin
  • Behavior, Health, and Environmental Stress 1986th Edition by Sheldon Cohen (Author), Gary W. Evans (Author), Daniel Stokols  (Author), David S. Krantz (Author)

ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS refers to a subjective psychological reaction that is triggered by a stimulus from the environment.

The nature of the stress is dependent on the intensity of the stimuli and subsequent reaction of the person to it.

It imposes on the physical and psychological health of the being. Sana Ayaz. May 2, 2020.

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.