Coping with Stress

I believe the mind to be a very powerful thing. In psychology I always find the concepts that deal with the mysteries of the mind, why it is significant and how it can overcome obstacles to be the most interesting. This is why I have chosen all mind related concepts to write about for this paper. Stress and coping, meditation, memory and phobias are all of the learned concepts that I have started to apply to my life.

I find that each year my life gets more hectic. I try to juggle things; work, school, relationships and it can be a bit overwhelming. I get run down, cranky, and my moods tend to get out of control. At times I just want to go in my room, shut the door, and sleep. According to the text this negative emotion is called stress. (Hockenbury 495) Lots of people deal with stress in different ways. Some get angry, some drink, and others actually cope. Stresses can go beyond just daily hassles like sitting through rush hour traffic or preparing for an exam. When my parents divorced and I felt that the situation was completely out of my control I felt extreme stress as the result. Also this last year I was admitted to the hospital fifteen times for abdominal pain which also felt completely out of my control. Both situations I found that I didn’t eat very well and I couldn’t sleep. There are several different coping techniques that help with the stress caused by the small and the big events that are out of our control.

To start, the first piece of advice that you can give yourself is “don’t sweat the small stuff”. The Number of daily hassles people experience causes more physical illness than big life altering situations do. (Hockenbury 501) They tend to build up throughout the day if not dealt with and start taxing on people’s well-being. Small stresses can be dealt with by changing the perception of a circumstance. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic or preparing for an exam start by taking a few breaths and giving yourself a mental discussion. “Everything is going to work out. What’s the rush? This will be over before you know it…” etc. Although this technique works with the smaller stuff I don’t think it’s recommended to try to change the perception on bigger issues because it can cause baggage and worse trauma later down the road. People who are optimistic tend to handle stress differently. According to psychologists Martin Seligman, “people who have an optimistic explanatory style tend to use external, unstable, and specific explanations for negative events. Pessimists are the opposite of this and tend to believe that no amount of effort will improve a situation.” (Hockenbury 510 & 511) Some coping strategies that help with stress are thus following, have a support system, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, deal with your problems, and practice a relaxation technique such as mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is a group of techniques that allows us to take our minds to an altered awareness without an outside substance (drugs). It can be very helpful when coping with stress, but there is a lot more to it than that. I find it intriguing that the mind is capable of expanding in such a way. Meditation is practiced in several different cultures and religions. It has been used for thousands of years in Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic practices (Hockenbury 163). I read a book a few years ago called Eat Pray Love. There’s a section when the main character goes to India and learns how to meditate. Some people find it difficult to do, especially ones like myself, a Type A personality, because of all the thoughts that go in our heads at one moment. I like the idea of mediation and how you just let everything go and think of nothing. In Eat Pray Love a character says that “When you allow your mind to be empty, there is room to let life rush in and fill the emptiness” I believe that this is referring to the altered awareness. Meditation techniques can be split into two different categories. A concentration technique focuses the mind on a specific thing; visual image, breathing, a word or a phrase (Hockenbury 164). When a sound is used it is usually a short word or phrase called a mantra. The other technique that is used is specified as the opening-up technique. This is similar as to what I described from the book that I read. You allow your thoughts to leave you and you become aware of the “here and now” without exterior or interior distractions (Hockenbury 164). Meditation has been used to improve mental health and anxiety. Although it is said that transcendental meditation is the most easily mastered, I like to use the opening up technique. I get a lot of noisy clutter in my mind so it’s been helpful for me to stop and think of the here and now. It has helped me with test anxiety and thinking clearly before responding in a heated argument.

My memory is awful. This can be really frustrating especially for the last couple of years that I’ve actually began to value education and want to learn something. I no longer wish to learn for an exam and then forget the material quicker then I learned it. Thankfully there were a lot of helpful tips on how to retain information in chapter 6. When dealing with memory there are three aspects that are important to understand; encoding, storing, and retrieving information. In order to keep something in the long-term memory all three have to be put into practice (Hockenbury 232). Encoding is changing the form of information so that it can be entered in the memory system. Storage is the actual process of keeping that information once in the memory system. Retrieval involves pulling the stored information out to be aware of it. (Hockenbury 233) There are different stages in memory of which information can be held onto. One is sensory. Sensory memory can only be retained for 2-3 seconds before it switches onto the next thing. For example, when you’re driving you become hyper aware of your surroundings. You take in everything in order to keep yourself safe, but you forget it instantly after it passes you. Another stage is known as short-term memory. I’ve noticed that a lot of people get short-term and long-term memory confused. One way to remember it is that short-term memory can only be stored for up to about 20 seconds. If it exceeds this time then it has already been passed over into long-term memory. Short-term memory relates to all current thoughts. You forget the thoughts when new thoughts come to take up the space. Long-term memory has the potential of lasting for a lifetime. (Hockenbury 233) One way to get information into the long-term memory would be elaborative rehearsal. This is where you understand the meaning of what you repeating, rather than just recognizing the words long enough to get the answer. There are certain retrieval cues that help us to better our memories. One cue is known as Flashbulb memories. Although they are not 100% accurate, emotionally charged events can be remembered more clearly when thinking of specific details. For example, I know exactly what I was wearing; holding and saying the first time I met my boyfriend of two years on Valentine’s Day. I think another way to keep memories strong is to dust the cobwebs off things every now and then. Revisit learned concepts and ideas, try to remember why they are important and you will be able to retain them longer.

The questions you need to ask yourself when it comes phobias are “What is it?” and “How do we set them apart from ordinary fears?” A phobia is “a persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity” (Hockenbury 539) A phobia is triggered by a biological need to protect ourselves. A normal fear is one that doesn’t keep a person from functioning ordinarily. I have a phobia of rats. When I was in the second grade I watched a graphic horror movie where rats ate people. This event was so traumatizing that it stuck with me into adulthood. I live in the countryside so I often encounter rats, but every time I do I get anxiety attacks, start hyperventilating and am on the verge of fainting. I often have reoccurring nightmares of falling into a pool of rats and being swallowed up by them. I often tell myself that this fear is irrational and that I am much bigger, therefore much more terrifying to them, but I can’t seem to help the paranoia. It’s crippling. I often blame every tiny rustle in my room on being a rat and live in constant fear of seeing one. This conditioned response is annoying and I want to overcome this fear. I didn’t think it was possible to overcome a phobia until I read about the Baby Albert experiment (Hockenbury 200). They used a conditioned stimulus to provoke fear in the baby, but then used another stimulus to take it away such as with the cookie. I now believe that I can overcome a phobia with the right amount of support and determination.

Stress and coping, practiced meditation, memory retrieval skills, and understanding phobias can all have positive impact on living a good and healthy lifestyle. As a college student I deal with several stresses and it’s helped a lot to learn some coping skills that seem to soften the blow. I feel better in situations and have found that I now have a more positive outlook on the annoying things that I have no control over. Meditation can go a long way in understand who you are and connecting with your environment. It gives you an appreciation for the things that you may not have had time to notice before. I want to learn concepts and remember them and memory retrieval skills have taught me how to do that. I hope to overcome my fear of rats one day in the same way that baby Albert did with the cookie. All concepts show how powerful the mind is and how fascinating it can be.

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