Stress is our response to thinking or judging that the demand of an event or situation goes beyond our being able to cope with the situation. Coping is the key word. Stress is based on our automatic thoughts about inside or outside events. Our ability to manage stress well depends on many factors, factors such as; Personality Traits, Health Habits, Coping Skills, Social Support, Material Resources, Genetics and Early Family Experiences, Demographic Variables, and Pre-existing Stressors. We will focus on the four following underlying causes of stress in this post:
- Expectations: You expect (worry about) something bad will happen to you because of the outside events.
- Appraisals: You judge that the demands of the event go beyond your abilities or resources to meet those demands.
- Attribution: You blame the causes of your stress on the outside events or to on upsetting memories of past events.
- Decisions: You decide you cannot handle the demands of the outside world.
The Roots and Sources of Stress
Your inside world: We call these “internal stressors”: the memory of past experiences/events that are negative of difficult, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or childhood trauma. These are now “internal” but are “triggered” by on-going life experiences.
- The stressor event may be inside you if you cannot tie the mental, physical or emotional responses to something outside.
- Such “internal events” could be a memory of a past trauma or losses, high need to be successful, having failed at something you deemed important.
- Internal stressors will be based on outside events that have happened sometime in the past.
Your outside world: There are three major outside root causes of stress.
- Major negative events such as death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or major illness.
- Daily negative or difficult life events such as demands of family and work. Theses are “external”.
- Major and minor positive happenings such as a new job, getting married, having a baby or a salary raise.
Stages and Effects of Stress on the Body
Long periods of exposure to stress can hurt the body. It can cause us to become physically ill. Research has shown that we go through three steps when faced with stress:
- Alarm: The body steps up its inside resources to fight the stressor or cause of stress.
- Revolt: The body resists and fights the stressors. Body chemicals are released to help us cope. For awhile, these chemicals help keep the body in balance.
- Exhaustion: The body gets tired. We might collapse. We are more likely to get sick or emotionally upset. Now, because of ongoing stress, the chemicals that once helped us now make us weaker.
Signs of Stress and Efforts to Cope
Stress can throw us out of balance. We call this homeostasis. The body and mind work at keeping balance through coping responses. These are the efforts to control or cope with the stress reactions inside of you. But they are also signs of stress.
- Mental: Mental worry is a major cause of stress. Worries are thoughts and views of what might happen. Your thoughts are the key. When we manage stress this comes first. If our thoughts fail to give us self-control we lose control over the body, emotions, and behaviors.
- Physical: Our body becomes upset. Our hearts beat fast, we get sweaty, feel weak. We breathe hard and lose control of our breathing. We hunger for air or oxygen. Being in control of breathing helps us to be in control of our stress response.
- Emotional: These are your efforts to cope with stress. They are signs of stress.
- Anxiety: We feel uneasy, anxious. We can’t pin down why.
- Panic: A sudden intense fear or anxiety with body symptoms – hard to breathe, tight chest, heart beats fast.
- Emotional stress syndrome: Guilty, angry, or depressed. Managing anger, guilt, and depression helps us manage our stress.
- Behavioral: You may drink, go running, distract with a movie, gamble, view pornography, masturbate, smoke, talk with a friend, etc.
Schemas — What They Are
A schema is an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas. When one does not learn a healthy theology and understanding of who they are in Christ, these schemas take root where theology should live.
Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating, and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.
It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation. Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood. For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships while seeking maladaptive ways (often sinful but functional) to satisfy his or her longings.
Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.
There are eighteen specific schemas. Most individuals have at least two or three of these schemas, and often more. A brief description of each of these schemas is provided below.
This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance—needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy—needs to be listened to and understood; Protection—needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents are cold or removed and don’t adequately care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.
This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end eminently. As children, these individuals may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.
This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these individuals were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.
This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.
This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.
This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These individuals may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.
This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage these children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.
Vulnerability to Harm and Illness
This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.
This schema refers to a pattern in which you experience too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or so overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.
This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these individuals fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. Individuals who subjugate ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.
This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these individuals pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often individuals who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.
This schema refers to the belief that you must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. You may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.
This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these individuals’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.
This schema refers to the belief that you should be able to do, say, or have whatever you want immediately regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. You are not interested in what other people need, nor are you aware of the long-term costs to you of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.
This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior rule your life. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.
This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. individuals with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.
This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Individuals with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these individuals had a parent who worried excessively.
This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these individuals usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.
There are two primary schema operations: Schema healing and schema perpetuation. All thoughts, behaviors and feelings may be seen as being part of one of these operations. Either they perpetuate the schema or they heal the schema. We will explore both in part 2.
What is trauma and what does it mean to survive and heal from it? This is a poignant question on the heels of another attack on our country. The bombings at the Boston Marathon will naturally impact those in attendance differently than those who watched the events through a screen, but we will all be impacted regardless.
Have you ever been just sailing along smoothly in life and then BAM? Trauma strikes and nothing in your life will ever be the same again…
Maybe it’s because of a talk you had with a student, maybe it was the phone call where you found out that one of your students was killed in a car accident, or worse, they died at their own hands. Maybe it is a natural disaster that wrecks your community like a flood or tornado. Maybe it is a senseless school shooting like Newtown. And in that moment, nothing makes any sense. What do you do? Do you run away? Do you decide you are not cut out for this kind of work? Do you just withdraw or run to something that will anesthetize you from the hurt? What do you do?
Before trauma occurs you and your students operate from a belief that the world is orderly, that most people are kind, and that there is meaning to life. You believe that God is in control of all things but prior to trauma that is a shallow belief because it has never been tested. Post-trauma you are awakened to the awareness that you are not in control of anything and that you are vulnerable. You begin to realize that you are no longer safe and secure. Often, what gave you meaning before the event leave in a smoke cloud and we are left grasping at straws. Life no longer feels fair or just.
In the PSTD Workbook (2002) Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula inform us that many factors impact how an individual reacts to a traumatic event. Age, time preparing for the event, amount of damage done to you, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), the amount of damage witnessed, and the degree of responsibility one feels for causing or not preventing the event (pg. 5).
The authors go on to say that there are three major types of factors that influence the development of PTSD. They are pre-event factors, event factors, and post-event factors.
- Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
- Hx. Of clinical depression
- Poor coping skills
- Unstable family system
- Early substance abuse
- Family hx. of anti-social / current anti-social behavior
- Poor social support
- Multiple early losses of people, places, or things
- Gender (women 2x as likely to develop PTSD)
- Geographic nearness to event
- Level of exposure to event
- The event’s meaning to the individual
- Age: being young at the time of the event
- Being victim of multiple traumatic events
- Duration of trauma
- The existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue (e.g., war)
- Participation in an atrocity, as a perpetrator or witness
- The absence of good social support
- Not being able to do something about what happened
- Indulging in self-pity while neglecting oneself
- Being passive rather than active – letting things happen to you (disempowered)
- Inability to find meaning in the suffering (Viktor Frankl – Logotherapy)
The PSTD Workbook by Williams and Poiluja, New Harbor Publications, Inc. 2002
As I read through these lists I can’t help but think that our ministries could play a central role of addressing many of the present factors surrounding traumatic events.
Spend some time this week talking with your staff or volunteers and discuss the factors on these lists and ask, “How can we be incarnational in the midst of trauma and tragedy?” I’d love to hear your ideas on this…
As a youthworker you may be struggling with how to talk with your students about a shooting rampage. It may be difficult to talk to your students about the devastation of an F4 tornado that wipes out a small town. It is important to remember that children look to the adults in their life to make them feel safe. This is true no matter what age the children are, be they toddlers, adolescents, or even young adults.
Consider the following tips for helping your students manage their distress.
Talk with your students. Talking to your students about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all students need to be able to know you are there listening to them.
- Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, while dinner, with peers, or at coffee shop.
- Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
- Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don’t interrupt–allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
- Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
- Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.
Keep your ministry settings a safe place. Youth, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. But sometimes home is the environment in which the crisis lives. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your students may come to youth group seeking the safe feeling they denied at home. Help make it a place where your students find the solitude or comfort they need.
Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for teens (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your student’s behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your students and their parents to create space where they can convert feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some youth may find it helpful to express their feelings through art. Make concession for artistic expression during your gatherings. Many student lack a broad emotional vocabulary to accurately reflect what’s going on inside their head.
Take “news breaks”. Your students may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.
Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your students and their families. Be a model for others on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
These tips and strategies can help you guide you’re your students and their families through the current crisis. If you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to someone who could help. A licensed mental health professional or counselor can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.