People should embrace stress as part of life, doing what they can to alleviate it and learning to develop coping strategies, rather than fighting it.
This was expressed by US-trained clinical psychologist, Assoc Prof Dr Gabriel Tan, during the WOU public lecture on ‘Saying Goodbye to Stress and Chronic Pain’ organised by the School of Foundation & Liberal Studies (SFLS) at the main campus today.
He explained that stress happens when anything disrupts the balance in the brain, leading to fatigue, pounding heart, anger, sleep difficulties, diseases, common cold, and so on. When people cannot return to their baseline, relaxed state, this then causes stress problems. He added that how a person interprets the situation – whether as benign, threatening, challenging or harmful – is important, and that lacking resources to cope with stress can create a potentially threatening situation.
He told that the major sources of stress are environmental (e.g. construction), crowding (e.g. traffic jam); pollution, noise, urban press (e.g. living in city), occupation, personal relationship, and sleep problems.
“Two aspects of managing stress, one is coping with the stimulus of the situation. Another is building up your repertoire. For example if you are in good health, good diet, strong physically, you are more able to cope with stress,” remarked Dr Tan, stressing that people can learn coping strategies like relaxation techniques to calm down.
He stated that stress can directly influence the central nervous system, endocrine system and immune system. As stress suppresses the immune system, people fall sick, while prolonged stress can lead to diseases. He mentioned that stress can cause headaches, infectious disease, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, diabetes mellitus, premature deliveries, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
He also shared that stress indirectly influences health behaviour and practices, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, sleep problems, and leads to negative mood like depression and anxiety disorders, with mood affecting the immune function.
Dr Tan found people with better control over life’s stress are less prone to its consequences. “You can train yourself to be hardy person that would be resilient to stress by focusing on three factors – commitment, control and challenge. Are you the kind of person who is always committed to what you are doing? Are you the kind of person who develops control over your achievement and commitment? Are you the kind of person who rises up to the challenge?”
He said the stress implications for illnesses can also be buffered by feelings of personal control via family, social support groups or religious groups, stressing that relationship and caring/helping others can help protect from stress.
He conducted a practice session on how to breathe out slowly for a calmer, relaxed state. The crowd counted their breathing, slowly adding sound, smell, visualisation, sensation of going down lift/steps, and imagery of drifting. He suggested they develop their own breathing relaxation system and do that at least once a day, ideally down to 6 breaths a minute to improve health, dealing with stress, and recovery from chronic pain.
Over 200 people attended the lecture including Vice Chancellor Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye, SFLS Dean Dr S Nagarajan, and WOU students.
Earlier, WOU Pro-Chancellor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon introduced the speaker as a childhood friend from Medan who spent 40 years in US and Canada before joining the National University of Singapore (NUS) as Director of its Clinical Psychology Programmes.