Tampere
20 May, Monday
13° C

The library of essays of Proakatemia

Stress in our life



Kirjoittanut: Szonja Pomázi - tiimistä Satku.

Esseen tyyppi: Akateeminen essee / 3 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 7 minuuttia.

Birds are chirping, sun is shining, plants are slowly coming to life. Spring is here again.

Springtime in the life of students means stress because of the peak of the semester. However, springtime of a student of entrepreneur studies means this stress is added to the entrepreneurial stress. And for a fist year student in entrepreneurship studies, it means the stress of the semester and the stress of being an entrepreneur is topped once again with beginner uncertainties, steep curve of learning, accommodation to the entrepreneurship and team storming. For international students the cherry on the top can be the accommodation to the country and the language exams what – regarding to the hardship of Finnish language – can be a pretty big and heavy cherry.

 

Spring is beautiful, isn’t it?

It is. In April the snow has almost completely melted, the first trees are flowering – starting the allergy season for some people meanwhile snow still comes sometimes -, more and more people use bike and the sunny hours started to become longer than in the southern parts of North hemisphere. Takatalvi, the Finnish phenomena of coming winter back again before fully turning to spring is still experienced, but the nature is slowly but surely coming alive with birds and bugs and sunshine.

Spring brings energy for us as well. Inevitable. The workload is high, the stress levels are in the sky, and still, something pushing us (beside the obvious exams and project leaders) to move, to live! On the sunny day I can see the shine comes from the people as well and on the rainy days people still have more energy than they had in the wintertime. This is not a surprise; we all have experience and subconscious knowledge of the power of the sun and the topic is also well researched. Longer days means more sunlight, what makes our serotonin level rise (Lambert, Reid, Kaye, Jennings & Esler, 2002). Serotonin is an important hormonal component in stress handling, it gives us resilience and lowers our stress vulnerability (Murrough, Charney & Mathew, 2009). In our case it means spring brings more sunlight, but there are more challenges as well: more to stress about. What will happen?

 

Let me introduce Egil, the little tree. (cover picture)

I have met with Egil lately in the forest. As it is springtime and loads of snow melting suddenly, in the side of Tampere in a small forest area I have found a waterfall. Not a Niagara-like one, but a definitely loud and vastly running flooded mini-river. And somewhere in the middle I have seen this masochistic – or just simply unfortunate – creature who decided to grow between rocks, exactly where the spring flood runs. And it seems it is not his first spring. Suddenly I felt we have something in common: the flood of spring. And watching him made me think of couple of things. First: my flood is not so bad. Overwhelming, yes. I must grind and stand? Yes. But I have a grip on things. I can move. I can time tasks. I have control, at least a bit. Not like Egil, who even if he would be close to burnout (and fell) could not do anything against it, just surrender. Instead, I have control. And second: If Egil can do it, and survive the waterfall, I am definitely can survive with my flood as well. If a young tree, living on rocks can survive, then I can do it as well. And this little tree does not even seem like he is close to give up. But the flood will end soon. And he will grow stronger, next year he will just laugh at the face of spring louder.

 

Yerkes-Dodson law

Bout is there a flood what would wash away Egil? Is there a workload and stress amount what even with all the timing skills and control we could not stand?

Yerkes-Dodson law says: yes, there is.

PICTURE 1. Yerkes-Dodson law (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-model-of-the-Yerkes-Dodson-1908-law-of-interaction-between-arousal-and-performance_fig1_369113195)

In short to understand what the picture shows us (Harrington 2012):

  1. Low Stress Level (Boredom): At the low end of the arousal spectrum, individuals experience low levels of stress or arousal, which can lead to boredom or under-stimulation. In terms of performance, being in this state may result in reduced motivation, engagement, and productivity.
  2. Moderate Stress Level (Optimal Performance): In the middle range of the arousal spectrum, individuals experience moderate levels of stress or arousal, which are conducive to optimal performance. This is the sweet spot where individuals feel challenged but not overwhelmed, leading to increased focus, motivation, and performance. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, performance peaks at this moderate level of arousal.
  3. High Stress Level (Burnout): At the high end of the arousal spectrum, individuals experience high levels of stress or arousal, which can lead to burnout or exhaustion. While individuals may initially be able to cope with high levels of stress, prolonged exposure can lead to decreased performance, increased errors, and mental and physical health problems.

If we look at the picture, we see stress does not necessarily mean bad, but until a certain point it is even useful: it motivates us, helps us move forward, puts us in focus and flow mode. When I listen people around me, I hear the same in their words: it is much easier to do things and get things done when there is a good amount of load. It motivates. Instead, when there is little to do it is easier to just not to do anything (Satku Solutions, spring pajas).

But what if the load of stress reaches the sweet spot – and rise over it? According to Yerkes-Dodson law we start to perform worse, we start to distress, our focus is not sharp anymore. Too much stress leads us to ineffectiveness. In other and modern words, we start to burn ourselves. And if we do it too much it leads to exhaustion, uncontrollable emotional reactions, brake down and in the end to complete burnout.

 

How to handle stress?

We are also individually different: what cause stress for one might not cause stress for another or cause a different level of stress. Different people have different tolerance, depending on age, personality, or life experiences (McGonigal, 2016). The ability to handle stress also depends on multiple factors. One key point McGonigal discusses is the importance of mindset and beliefs in shaping how individuals perceive and respond to stress. She introduces the concept of “stress mindset,” which refers to an individual’s beliefs about the nature and impact of stress on their lives. It means if we change our mindset to “stress-is-enhancing” from “stress-is-debilitating”, we can handle the same event with calmer mindset and grow potentially more from it.

Changing the mindset is not easy, especially when we are already facing with our floods, we are busy in minds and we have already distressed or started to burn ourselves, but considerable idea to implement on a longer term. Researching the literature of stress handling and how to reduce stress I have encountered one idea what seems easy, we have everything for it right now and works effectively.

 

Nature as a recreational tool

There are several writers, researchers talking and writing about dozens of methods and strategies: why is important to spend time in nature, related to our stress handling ability, happiness, and emotional well-being. In the library several books discuss about the topic fully or just partly, and I was happy when I have found one of Shaw Achor’s book related to my topic: The Happiness Advantage. (Achor, 2018)

In this book the author focuses more on the transformative power of positive psychology principles in enhancing both personal and professional success, but he touches upon the role of nature in promoting well-being. One of Achor’s key points regarding being in nature is its ability to facilitate a mental shift away from stress.

He suggests that spending time in natural environments, such as parks or forests, can help individuals break free from the constant pressures and distractions of modern life. He is emphasizing the importance of incorporating nature into daily routines as a proactive strategy for maintaining mental health and happiness. He advocates for simple practices such as taking short walks in green spaces or spending time outdoors during breaks from work. By making time for nature amidst the busyness of life, individuals can prioritize their well-being and reap the numerous benefits that come from connecting with the natural world.

For me this message is in a minute got aligned with the personal experience of the effect what Egil and a forest trip brought to me. I felt in the beginning I have neither time nor energy to go out. I did not even know that the snow has melted already in the forest. But as soon as I arrived to the first entry point to a forest and I stepped off from the man made roads I felt myself home and happy, and that I had a hidden longingness towards nature true the whole winter time. I feel I forgot how great to be in nature during the dark and cold times.

 

My summary:

We have our floods, either in student life, work life or family life. We encounter stressful situations; we face with emerged workflows, and we experience mentally challenging times. This is part of life. As creatures closer to animal kingdom than to plant kingdom, we have the ability to move, and as humans we have ability to influence our life. At least with a simple, everyday decision of going to natures walk or not? We have great sources what confirms the individual experiences: nature have stress-releasing, calming, and therapeutic potential. We have green places at our disposal in Tampere. We have time, despite it feels we have not. And we gain more energy than it takes to go out if we decide to go to explore nature.

Nature inspired me to write and to dive deeper into the topic of well-being and stress-handling and I am pleased of the founding’s. Overall, I would like to close with Shawn Achor’s discussion of being in nature in “The Happiness Advantage”: He underscores the profound impact that natural environments can have on human psychology and well-being. By recognizing the therapeutic potential of nature and incorporating it into daily life, individuals can enhance their happiness, productivity, and overall quality of life.

 

 

Resources:

Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, and Esler MD: Sunlight and serotonin: A mechanistic approach. The Lancet, 2002.

Murrough JW, Charney DS, and Mathew SJ: The role of serotonin in stress resilience and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 2009.

Rick Harrington: Stress, health & well-being: thriving in the 21st century. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.

Kelly McGonigal PH. D: The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Avery, 2016.

Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Crown, 2018.

 

Human on Earth. Originally a Hungarian anthropologist, living in Finland and studying business & entrepreneurship and team leadership. Interested in psychology, human behavior, nature and health in all levels.

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