Stress from a perspective of a professional


As the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is stress, we decided to ask doc. dr Nikola Petrović from Department of Psychology at Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade a few questions about it…



1.       What are some of the most common reasons why people are under stress?

Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone has different stress triggers. People usually get stressed about work, family issues, illnesses, deaths, financial issues or big changes in their lives, sometimes even very positive changes like getting married or winning the lottery.

2.       What are the typical thoughts of a person dealing with stress?

Everyone reacts differently to stressors, but some people are more resilient than others. That means that some people have very irrational thoughts such as „This is horrible, I can’t handle this!“ that lead to undesired psychological outcomes and worsen the situation. On the other hand, there are people who would say to themselves „This is really bad, but I can get through this.“  

3.       What are the effects of chronic stress? How does it affect our lives?

Some studies have shown that chronic stress can affect our mental and physical health. However, other studies have shown that the belief that stress is harmful to our health leads to more health problems and deaths than stress itself. Chronic stress affects our musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive and nervous system negatively. Prolonged stress basically drains the body, messes the function of these systems and puts people at greater risk for various diseases.

4.       Can you name some useful tricks for coping with stress during the exam week?

Try not to procrastinate learning and to endure even if its very hard, prepare for possible failure (which is not a catastrophe, but only an obstacle) and give it your best shot. If you fail, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again and don’t give up. Grades are important, but not that important that you should lose sleep over them or ruminate about them. Those who have bigger problems in life know that grades don’t really matter.

5.       What is the best way to take care of one’s mental health and prevent problems?

Be physically active, hang out with friends and family, have hobbies, manage your free time and include fun activities in your weekly schedule, try to avoid the stressful situations that can be avoided such as meaningless quarrels and most importantly try to think rationally about stressful events.

6.       Since you are also a REBT therapist, tell us a little about how REBT therapy deals with stress.

A fundamental premise of Rational emotive behavior therapy is that humans do not get emotionally disturbed by stressful circumstances, but by how they construct their views of these events through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others. The goal of this therapy is to resolve emotional and behavioral problems and to help people to lead more fulfilling lives. In order to do this, one must learn to dispute irrational beliefs (rigid, extreme, unrealistic, illogical and absolutist) that lead to self-defeating behaviors. In this way REBT stress management helps people recognize the true source of stress, be more flexible and adaptive and deal with stressors better.

7.       Do you ever suffer from stress, and if so, how do you fight it?

All people are sometimes under stress. It is a normal part of our everyday lives. Personally, I try to be with the people I love and to organize social gatherings. It helps me focus on little things in life that I enjoy and that really matter and bring me happiness. I know I can’t avoid all stressors and I am not even trying to, but what I found very helpful was to meet the stressful event head on, trying to solve the problem if it can be done or accepting the consequences if I can’t do anything about it. It is not an easy task.

8.       Can stress sometimes be good for us? Can we benefit from it in some situations?

Humans can feel stress for a reason, so it has to have some benefits. Short-term stress is motivating and it could be a cognitive enhancer that could help for example pass exams more easily, because it gives us focus and we are more efficient, among other things. It also increases our physical performance and endurance, our whole body is mobilized for defense and completing various tasks. So, in short, the answer is yes, but prolonged stress is dangerous as it can lead to system breakdown.


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