Stress Self-Management: Series



Stress and Conventional Medicine

Medicine as a whole is based on the materialistic paradigm of reality that serves as the foundation of science. Medicine, like the physical sciences, is basically a mechanical discipline that considers the human person as a body. Medicine studies human health by piecing the body apart into systems, organs, tissues, and cells. It studies these parts in relation to disease-causing factors, and offers solutions that treat the symptoms and eliminate the causes where possible.

Since mental health evolved as medical a discipline, it adopted this same materialistic approach and basically treats the mind as an ‘invisible tissue’. The focus is on detecting signs of depression and managing its symptoms through counseling and drugs. What is certain is that the root of mental health issues belongs to a domain that is beyond the scope of conventional medicine.

As health systems around the world continue to grapple with the challenges posed by mental health issues, there is more and more justification to complement conventional therapies with a more proactive approach to stress management and depression prevention.

This involves engaging people at an early stage and empowering them to master their stress and prevent depression, thereby mitigation the heavy burden placed on families, schools, work places, and communities by depression and suicide. The best way to health the world of the catastrophic effects of depression and suicide is to empower people to prevent depression by having a mastery of their stress dynamic.

Aim of the Course

The aim of this course is to introduce the learner to the general scope of mental health from a layman’s perspective, as a means of equipping people to take charge of their own mental health through a disruptive and collaborative approach. This could effectively complement existing mental health services within the community, or go a long way to alleviate the sufferings of people in communities where mental health services are not readily available.

The specific objectives of the course are as follows:

  • 1. To introduce the concept of mental health.
  • 2. To show the scope of mental illness worldwide.
  • 3. To identify barriers to mental healthcare.
  • 4. To introduce learners to the Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
  • 5. To outline the deprivation of needs as the origins of stress.
  • 6. To show how deprivation of different levels of needs lead to the different levels of stress.
  • 7. To describe the common ways in which people respond to stress in the short term.
  • 8. To portray the complications of stress, or the ways in which people adapt to stress in the long term.
  • 9. To propose a system of analyzing one’s own stress.
  • 10. To suggest a system for planning for one’s own mental wellbeing.
  • 11. To elaborate a model of peer-to-peer mental health therapy for victims of stress.
  • 12. To recommend techniques for preventing stress


Definition of Mental Health

The constitution of the World Health Organization states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It further elaborates that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. Although a holistic approach to health is preached worldwide, the apportioning of resources to tackle health problems is hugely disproportionate. Mental health receives only a tiny fraction of the health budget of many countries.

Scope of Mental Illness Worldwide

Depression is a major health problem worldwide. According to statistics, about 500 million people suffer globally from this mental disorder, which tends to affect women more than men. Depression is different from the mood swings and temporary emotional disruptions which characterize our daily lives as we deal with life’s challenges. Depression is the major cause of disability worldwide as it severely impairs people’s ability to attend school, work, function normally in the family and community, and so on. When depression is long lasting and moderately or severely intense, it can lead to suicidal tendencies. Close to 1million people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

Estimates in the United States suggest that only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment. Logically, the figures are expected to be worse in developing countries where the infrastructure to identify and manage mental health problems is severely limited due to the channeling of scarce resources to tackle infectious diseases and other public health priorities. Whether it is in the developed or developing countries, there are significant barriers to mental health care, the leading ones being:

  • • Low self-perceived need:
    People with mental health issues are usually not aware that they have problems, until things get out of hand.
  • • Self-sufficiency:
    Peoples’ desire to handle their problems on their own
  • • Limited access to mental health services
  • • Insufficient numbers of mental health professionals
  • • Stigmatization:
    Talking about mental health issues is a taboo in some societies where mental illness is synonymous to madness.
  • • Gender issues:
    In societies where the mantra “big boys don’t cry” is popular, men find it extremely difficult to admit that they have mental health issues, since this is attributed to being weak.


The Hierarchy of Human Needs

In his 1954 book, “Motivation and Personality” Abraham Maslow proposed the Hierarchy of Human Needs that has become a landmark in psychology and the social sciences. It is interesting to note that Maslow developed this theory based on his study of positive human qualities and the lives of exemplary people, much the same way that Napoleon Hill developed the Science of Success Course that was the basis of the bestselling book ‘Think and Grow Rich’.

Over the decades, Maslow’s theory has become the property of academics who use it to frame their intellectual jargons while paying little attention to actual solutions that create meaningful change in the lives of individuals. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs as the basis of this course is a means of returning to the spirit of Maslow. This course encapsulates an inspirational perspective to mental health, as a means of empowering people with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are required for the effective self-management of stress, thereby mitigating depression and its costly complications.

Physiological Needs

The physiological or bodily needs are the activities of daily living which include eating, drinking, bathing, clothing; the normal homeostatic functions of digestion, excretion, respiration, circulation; as well as basic needs like housing and energy. The physiologic needs constitute the elements that the body requires in order to function optimally.

Safety Needs

Safety needs address the need for one to be safe in one’s environment by having their body, property, health, rights, and employment, protected. It includes intangible securities such as education and the freedom of speech and worship. The safety needs provide for mental wellbeing the same way that the physiological needs provide for physical wellbeing.

Love and Belonging Needs

This category of needs represents one’s need for friendship, intimacy, and sexual union. It is the need for a person to feel bonded to another person. The love and belonging needs address the person at an emotional level.

Self-Esteem Needs

This category of needs reflects one’s need to respect and be respected. It is one’s sense of worth, value, confidence or achievement in society. When the physiological, safety, and belonging needs are met, self-esteem is the natural outcome.

Self-Actualization Needs:

Acceptance of facts, lack of prejudice, non-judgement, detachment, morality, creativity, problem-solving, and spontaneity constitute that category of human traits that may be termed spiritual traits. The term spirituality is very unpopular in conventional science, and this is the reason why despite its great strides on the material plain, science is still lame when it comes to adequately addressing the issues of human life as a whole.

The terms ‘synchronicity’, ‘grounding’ and ‘flow’ have emerged recently in the personal development literature to describe the state of being at-one with the Universal Presence from which the material universe (and hence our bodies) originates, in which all things are sustained, and to which all things return.

  • • Physiological needs address the physical body, and constitute the domain of clinical medicine.
  • • Safety needs address the mind, and constitute the domain of the social sciences, including psychology.
  • • Love and belonging needs address the emotions, and constitute the domain of psychiatry.
  • • Self-esteem needs encompass the physiological, safety, and belonging needs, which are collectively handled by the domain of mental health.
  • • Self-actualization needs belong to the spiritual plain of existence and are not part of main strain science. Because of this void, both clinical medicine and mental health fall short of being truly holistic, and it is no surprise that close to 500million people are estimated to be suffering from depression worldwide while one million die each year as a result of complications of depression.

The Head, Heart, And Hand Model of Transformational Change:

Although its roots can be found in the mid-20 th century like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is only in the early 21 st century that the Head, Heart, and Hand Model became popularized in the education and business literature. The model was introduced by Orr in 1992 and expanded by Sipos, Battisti and Grimm in 2008.

It shows the holistic nature of transformative experience and relates the cognitive domain (head) to critical reflection, the affective domain (heart) to relational knowing and the psychomotor domain (hands) to engagement. This course is designed to serve as a tool for personal transformation, and not just the clinical approach of managing symptoms. The head, heart, and hand modal is therefore being incorporated into this course as a blueprint to the transformation that the learner will undergo by engaging the three processes of critical self-reflection, empathy, and taking action.

By doing physical work, we secure our physiological needs. By doing mental work we secure our safety needs. By doing emotional work, we secure our belonging needs. When our physiological, safety, and belonging needs are met, our esteem needs are taken care of. Here, we see an interesting new model of living that weds Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with the Head, Heart, and Hand Model. This blended theory forms the philosophical basis of this course.


Stress is simply a disruption in the state of balance or harmony that the human body and environment requires to thrive. Stress is part of our daily lives and constitutes the driver for our pursuits and we seek the satisfaction of ever increasing desires. It is when stress is sustained, intense, and/or poorly managed that it leads to disease states.

Just as we have a hierarchy of needs, we can infer a hierarchy of stress. Physiological stress is a result of deprivation of physiological needs. Mental stress results from deprivation of safety needs. Emotional stress results from deprivation of belonging and self-esteem needs. Spiritual stress results from deprivation of self-actualization needs. The following section gives an overview of each of these categories of stressors.

Deprivation of Physiological Needs

There are many events that can occur in the environment to either deprive them of their physiologic needs or significantly diminish their access to a reasonable amount and quality of their various physiological needs:


Due to extreme poverty, there are millions, if not billions of people around the world who cannot live in decent houses. Even in this 21 st century, there are people still living in shacks, under bridges, and so on. In some societies where family structures permit, many people live with extended family members and friends.

There is a silent form of child trafficking that involves people sending their children to live with relations in the cities where they exchange manual labor for education or cash.

Children who live in other peoples’ homes usually suffer various forms of stress ranging from discrimination, excessive labor, verbal abuse, physical abuse, even sexual abuse. Overcrowding usually creates a conducive environment for discomfort, self-consciousness, and easy spread of infectious diseases.


Food insecurity is still a major developmental issue in the world. In 2017, billions of people were reported to be malnourished. Lack of proper nutrition has severe consequences especially on children. Impaired mental development, stunted growth, micro-nutrient deficiencies, and obesity are among the major clinical complications of lack of proper nutrition. Many people in the world do not have food because they are caught up in conflict, because they are living in draught areas, or simply because they do not have the money to afford it.


It is hard to imagine life without water. But if you are one of those who has so much water to drink, cook, bathe, do your laundry, and water your garden, you probably take the importance of water for granted. The amount of water you used in bathing this morning without even thinking about it is the amount of water some people trek hundreds of miles to fetch and preserve for drinking for at least a week. Access to potable water is still a major problem in developing countries. In some regions the problem is made worse by natural causes such as draughts and climate change that is systematically drying up water sources. Again, poverty is implicated in water access in the sense that some people are stuck in dry places simply because they have nowhere else to go to.


Clothing is been transformed capitalistic society into a lucrative fashion industry to the extent that we have lost sight of the fact that the ability to decently cover one’s nakedness is a fundamental human need. There are millions of people around the world who do not have clothes and shoes to wear. While this does not matter to some indigenous communities where everyone is running around half-naked, it can be a serious problem when you live in a modern society and you are always feeling self-conscious because of that one pair of shoes and one shirt that has become like a uniform to you.


Healthcare is a crucial physiological need because it involves all the interventions, both preventive and curative, that ensure that the homeostatic functions of the body are in optimal shape. Where people lack access to basic healthcare whether due to financial, geographical or social barriers, the quality of life is severely impaired. Unfortunately, this is true for billions of people across the globe.

Deprivation of Safety Needs

You feel secure when you are able to function optimally as part of a society. There are some needs that are as essential as the physiologic needs but they are not as tangible. Such needs include education, employment, communication, safety, energy.


The illiteracy rate in the world is still alarming for the 21 st century, especially in developing countries. In many developing countries women have limited access to education while in developed countries, minority groups are often the victims of limited access to education. Education is an essential ingredient to optimal living in the modern world, so when one is not educated, it poses a real threat to survival.


There is hardly anything one can do these days without using a telephone and the internet. The digital technology is rewriting the modern world in every aspect; trade, education, banking, transportation, leisure, you name it. It is obvious that in order to function optimally in the modern world, ones consistent access to affordable internet connection. In developing countries, internet coverage is still very limited, the cost is still too high and quality often posses a problem to the degree to which one can use it. Communication is not only about phone and internet. Good roads are still a major problem in many countries and in developing countries, a car is still a luxury or status symbol.


As a member of a community, a person is supposed to be able to move around freely without fear of assault or violation of their human rights and dignity. Where there are recurrent acts of violence, brutality, banditry, or abuse, the lives and property of people are no longer safe. This is a major stressor in the lives of people who live in communities where they are victimized by racial or religious discrimination. In societies where women are not respected and can even be raped simply because they found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time, it is hard to be a woman and feel safe. Growing up in a neighborhood that is controlled by gangs is a stressful experience. Being an immigrant in a country where refugees are not welcome can be very painful whether or not a person has papers. Unfortunately, there are billions of people around the world who do not feel safe due to one or more of the above reasons.


Various forms of energy are required for cooking, heating, food preservation, powering automobiles and other engines that make life easier, and most importantly lighting. Whether it is firewood or gas, whether it is hydroelectricity or solar energy, a person must have sufficient supply of the energy form that is most conducive for his/her environment in order to live a comfortable or decent life. This is however not usually the case for most people, especially in developing countries where power supply is either unavailable or erratic, and where bills are usually a pain in the neck.

Freedom of worship and expression

In many places around the world, people are subject to abuse because of their religious beliefs, political affiliations, language, cultural practices, gender, and even the color of their skin. Where people do not feel safe, they live in a state of stress.

Deprivation of Love and Belonging and Self-Esteem Needs (Social Needs)

The love and belonging needs and the self-esteem needs can be grouped under social needs. While love and belonging belong to the Feeling domain, self-esteem belongs to the Ego domain. For the purpose of this course, both have been treated under emotional health.

Humans are social beings by nature. They require deep and meaningful relationships with other humans as a means of experiencing their sense of being. In the absence of genuine love and friendship, a person feels empty and unworthy.

Parental Love and affection

In homes where there are so many children, most kids feel lost in the crowd as the parents are preoccupied with providing the physiological and safety needs of the children and have no time to attend to their emotional needs. School makes things worse with large classrooms and so many students per teacher. Billions of children grow up feeling like a vacuum because no one is actually paying attention to them. When emotionally abandoned kids cluster together and start improvising their own reality, society complains about peer pressure. What those kids, and every other human yearns for, is to be seen, heard, and felt, that is, to belong.


Capitalism has influenced the modern way of thinking to the degree that it is hard to make a distinction between the words friendship and transaction. When humans were more innocent and less self-centered, you were certain that a person was your friend because they genuinely loved you and enjoyed sharing their life with you. Today, friendship is mostly transactional, and in western societies, this includes dating and marriage. People think more about what you have that they want, then about what they have to share. As people are busy trading material favors, the emotional self silently starves and withers like an unused muscle.

Sexual intimacy

As people mature into adulthood, the love and protection they get from parents and siblings, and the acceptance and identity they get from peers, matures to the need for an intimate, sexual, and exclusive relationship. In tradition societies where sexuality is still considered sacred, it is obvious that sexual intimacy plays a great role in keeping people happy, productive, healthy, and living longer. In western society, sexuality has been vulgarized and commercialized to the degree where it is hard to tell how deep relationships really go, even when sex and babies are involved.

Being valued as a person

While our physiological and safety needs cater for the health and comfort of our bodies and minds, our need for love goes deeper into the essence of our being. If we consider that the inner self is the real person and the body is just a container, then we will immediately recognize the crises that arises when a person’s life is void of love. In the absence of love, the inner essence of a person is not awakened. Such a person feels like he/she is just an object or a machine.

At the work place, the employee is often a machine that gets the job done and brings in the profits and gets paid.

At home many women feel like they are just a machine that provides the sexual pleasure of their partner and takes care of the children and the house.

The sports star or entertainment artist is usually just a machine that performs at its peak to please the fans and bring in the profit that the team or producer wants.

There are several other disruptions in human society that create the unhealthy environment in which people starve emotionally. The problem with emotional starvation is that it is not immediately visible. It builds up without notice, and often erupts only when it has reached a critical stage.

Deprivation of Self-Actualization Needs

Since most humans are still trapped in the race for survival a very tiny minority of humans ever attain the stage of self-actualization. The educational systems are designed for the mass-production of a labor force that will drive the economy. No one really talks about self-actualization or purpose in life. The multi-billion dollar personal development industry emerged to fill this gap, but even there most so-called teachers and mentors base their teachings on philosophies and methods that turn people into peak performers, rather than self-actualized beings. In other words, most of what the motivational industry does is to make the machines perform better.

Your Identity

Beyond the emotional self lies one’s sense of identity or what we may call the essential self or spirit of a person. A self-actualized person is a person who knows who he/she is, and is living in the progressive realization of his/her purpose in life. This implies that the physiological needs have been met, the safety needs have been met, the love and belonging needs have been met, and the person is now soaring on the wings of self-knowledge, self-expression, and peace of mind or self-fulfillment.

Your Gift

Every human being has a gift that he/she is here to bless the world with. The spontaneous overflow of your gift is the state known as self-actualization. In order to find your gift you must first know who you really are. Your gift is often not something that is immediately related to what you studied in school or what you are doing for a living.

Your Purpose

It is funny to imagine that humans came to earth just to wake up every morning to run around looking for money to come and pay bills. But the pressure to keep up with the bills is so great that most people hardly thing of anything else. They are trapped in the maze of survival.

Everything in creation has a purpose. The purpose of the orange tree is to blossom into the most fruitful orange tree it can be. It is the same thing with humans. Meeting our physiological needs, safety needs, and belonging needs is just a means of creating the ideal conditions for our body, mind, and heart to play their role in aiding us the inner being to live our purpose.

Spontaneous self-expression

Spontaneous self-expression is what is referred to as creativity. Humans are creative beings and it is only when you have started expressing your creativity that you can be said to be living life to the full. He who has not attained the state of creativity is still busy surviving. For example, if you have a gift for poetry then your bliss lies in writing poetry. When you surround yourself with the conditions that make it possible to spontaneously express the poet in you to the benefit of the world around you, then you could be said to be self-actualized. It is immediately obvious that this state of being is not practicable if you are uneducated, unemployed, unable to meet your daily needs, and lack the emotional security of a loving relationship.


Bliss is the perfume of self-actualization. It is when a person is naturally and spontaneously joyful that we say a person is successful. There is really no standard that one can use to determine what amount of the physiological, safety, and belonging needs can be considered enough for a person. It is purely subjective. While one person needs a private jet, the other needs just a bicycle. While another needs just one loving wife and one kid, another may desire four wives and twenty children. While one person desires just a road side shop from which to earn a decent living, another desires to be the CEO of a multinational company. What determines the value of an object or experience is the degree of satisfaction that a person derives from it, rather than its intrinsic value. You will agree that Ferrari has no value to a Pigmi in the rain forest of Africa. There are far more happy people who are homeless than those living in mansions. The ultimate test for a self-actualized person is thereby not the amount of external things they have accumulated but rather how joyful they are.

Materialism and spiritual starvation

Modern society is characteristically materialistic, shallow, and egotistical. The systematic sacrifice of the deeper need for purpose and self-actualization on the altar of survival and peak performance leads to a society in which people are chronically stressed because their lives feel empty and meaningless. This is a very dangerous place to be in.

Tragedy and shock

On some occasions, a sudden tragic event may occur that shakes a person to the core of his/her being. Natural or man-made disasters, heartbreaks, death of a loved one, abandonment by a parent, forced separation from parents, rape, an unexpected termination of a job, a business deal that goes south, diagnosis of a life threatening disease like cancer, etc., are among the many triggers that cause people to question the meaning of life, the meaning of their existence, and so on.

Persistent Suffering

In many situations, people reach the stage where they give up on life only because they have suffered for too long and have come to the end of their road. When poverty, misery, or abuse is consistent the deprivation of a person’s physiological, safety, belonging, and self-esteem needs becomes a normal. This state of normalcy gradually deteriorates to despondency as the person’s sense of residence diminishes with time.


As mentioned earlier in this course, stress is a normal response to either positive or negative stimuli in our daily lives. In a sense, stress is actually healthy. It is simply a signaling system to tell us that something has changed in our internal or external environment, thereby inviting us to take action to adapt, such as to protect ourselves. Understanding one’s stress and developing proactive strategies to cope with stress is therefore a vital part of human life.

When stress is poorly handled, depression is the result. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of their stress dynamic and it often only when they have developed mental health problems that they start seeking solutions. As is always the case, we find that prevention is better than cure. Empowering people with the skills to understand their stress dynamic and proactively manage their stress will keep many people out of depression and avert the many morbidities and mortalities that are engendered by depression.

Just as we have a hierarchy of needs, we can infer a hierarchy of stress. Physiological stress is a result of deprivation of physiological needs. Mental stress results from deprivation of safety needs. Emotional stress results from deprivation of belonging and self-esteem needs. Spiritual stress results from deprivation of self-actualization needs. The following section gives an overview of each of these categories of stressors.

Distress: Response to physiologic stress.

When a person person’s physiological needs are not adequately met, the state of distress is the result.

A distressed person is basically an uncomfortable person. Discomfort is so common that people hardly notice that it is a form of stress that often leads to more serious mental health issues if allowed to persist for long. The cycle of desire-satisfaction- desire is normal in human life. We all wake up every morning with the goal of making our lives more comfortable.

When an environment is conducive for the progressive improvement of a person’s conditions in life to something more and more comfortable, then that person is in a state of health. When an environment is so hostile that one’s basic needs are not met and one is forced to live in perpetual discomfort, say hunger, then that person is in a state of stress. When discomfort is allowed to persist for long, it degenerates to a more serious mental health issue.

So the thing to note here is that as humans, some form of distress or another is part and parcel of our daily lives. It is our distress that pushes us to seek a more comfortable and more expanded life. What is undesirable is deprivation – the situation in which people are unable to meet their needs because of hostile circumstances beyond their control.

Responses to distress

When people are uncomfortable on a consistent basis, the next thing is that they start worrying. For example, they worry about where their next meal will come from, they worry about when they will be kicked out of the place where they are taking shelter.

An uncomfortable and worrisome person usually finds it difficult to focus on the present moment or on the task at hand. Since their thoughts are always buried in the memory of past discomfort and fear of future discomfort, they are often very distracted from current reality.

Worrisome and distracted people also have the tendency to be very irritable. The feeling of uneasiness or embarrassment is also a common feature among people who are conscious of their lack of basic needs.

Adaptations to distress

It is hard to imagine life without water. But if you are one of those who has so much water to drink, cook, bathe, do your laundry, and water your garden, you probably take the importance of water for granted. The amount of water you used in bathing this morning without even thinking about it is the amount of water some people trek hundreds of miles to fetch and preserve for drinking for at least a week. Access to potable water is still a major problem in developing countries. In some regions the problem is made worse by natural causes such as draughts and climate change that is systematically drying up water sources. Again, poverty is implicated in water access in the sense that some people are stuck in dry places simply because they have nowhere else to go to.


Clothing is been transformed capitalistic society into a lucrative fashion industry to the extent that we have lost sight of the fact that the ability to decently cover one’s nakedness is a fundamental human need. There are millions of people around the world who do not have clothes and shoes to wear. While this does not matter to some indigenous communities where everyone is running around half-naked, it can be a serious problem when you live in a modern society and you are always feeling self-conscious because of that one pair of shoes and one shirt that has become like a uniform to you.


Healthcare is a crucial physiological need because it involves all the interventions, both preventive and curative, that ensure that the homeostatic functions of the body are in optimal shape. Where people lack access to basic healthcare whether due to financial, geographical or social barriers, the quality of life is severely impaired. Unfortunately, this is true for billions of people across the globe.


Greed is the selfish and excessive or intense desire to have more material things like food, money, etc. than one really needs. A greedy person is basically possessive of material things because he/she has an unconscious fear of the absence of these things. Most of the times we judge greed on the surface, but when we look deeper, we will usually find its origins in some past state of chronic deprivation.


Hoarding is an obsession with things and constitutes one of the variants of greed. A hoarder piles up things that he/she does not need, and cannot explain why he/she is piling them up.


We are all family with those people who go to a party and eat enough food to last them a week, or youths who once they have started drinking, will not stop until the bar is empty. Binging is a very common tendency in all societies both affluent and poor. With the advent of movie series, people now binge with TV as well, since they won’t stop watching a movie till they have completed the whole season.


Some people resort to taking what belongs to others as a means of meeting their own needs. Stealing usually begins as the innocent childhood tendency to grab something that no one would otherwise give you, out of sheer survival instinct. But the more habitual it becomes, the more it takes root into a person’s personality. Some people grow out of it as life gets better, but others never recover. They go on to become robbers, gangsters, or the white-collar gangsters we find in business and politics.

Fear: Response to mental stress.

When people are deprived of their survival needs, mental stress results. The state of mental stress is basically the state of fear. The common types of fear are:

Fear of failure

People are afraid to enter into relationships, apply for jobs, start businesses, make a speech, and so on because of the gripping fear that it will not work out.

Fear of the unknown

That which is familiar is the comfort zone for most people. The sense of self is often so fragile that people will rather remain in their comfort zone they know, no matter how ‘uncomfortable’ it is, than venture into some unknown territory. They feel safe, even in their pain because it is the only thing they know.

Fear of pain

People who have ever experienced pain naturally have their system programmed to avoid pain. This is the case especially with people who have in the past suffered injury or abuse. It can be physical or emotional.

Fear of loss

We are all too familiar with the paradox where a person is passionate about having a certain object or relationship, and then the moment they have it, that same passion becomes transformed into the fear of losing that thing or person. The fear of loss makes people behave in weird ways, although in their eyes they are being protective and loving.

Fear of rejection

The major reason why people fear failure is that in their minds, failure is synonymous to loss. This is especially true among people who are under peer pressure to maintain certain standards as a condition to deserve membership in a certain click. In a broader sense, people whose sense of self is attached to the ego and the social perks they received from society are terrified by the prospects of losing this social pride should they encounter defeat or failure in a certain venture.

Conditioned fear

A conditioned fear, also known as a phobia is an exaggerated, often illogical and inexplicable fear for an object, a group of things, or an experience. The number of phobias that are now recognized by the psychological community is way above one hundred.

Response to Fear

The state of fear is the state in which a person feels insecure because of their awareness that something of vital importance is missing in their lives. Fear goes deeper than the physiological responses. It is a conscious awareness of deficiency.

The survival needs are the needs that a person needs to function normally in the physical environment, but unlike tangible (physiological) needs like food, the survival needs are intangible, such as education, employment, safety, human rights, freedom to enjoy life, etc. Just as the adrenaline rush is triggered to prepare the physical body for fight or flight when one is physically threatened, the mind has its own defense mechanisms that are triggered when one’s survival is threatened by the absence of the safety needs.

People respond to fear in various ways, the common ones being the feeling of inferiority,

  • • Avoidance
  • • Negative Self-talk
  • • Anxiety
  • • Pessimism
  • • Complaining
  • • Blaming
  • • Excuses
  • • Discouragement

Adaptations to Fear

When the passive responses to fear become permanent, the mind naturally improvises a means of survival. People who live in chronic fear demonstrate tendencies such as:

  • • Bitterness
  • • Envy
  • • Cynicism
  • • Discouragement
  • • Panic
  • • Substance Abuse
  • • Self-sabotage
  • • Paranoia

Depression: Response to emotional stress.

Human beings are social animals. The fact that we are created for community means that it is in relationship that we gain our sense of identity, our sense of worth, and our sense of fulfillment. The types of relationships we cultivate can be distinguished along the lines of the seven kinds of love that have been postulated by modern psychologists.

  • • Erotic or sexual love (Eros)
  • • Friendship and sharing (Philia)
  • • Parental love (Storge)
  • • Universal love (agape)
  • • Playful or flirtatious love (Ludus)
  • • Practical or dutiful love (Pragma)
  • • Self-love (Philiautia)

Developmental psychology is the branch of psychology that studies human needs and behavior across the lifespan. Children rely on their parents and siblings for the fulfillment of their love and belonging needs. When they become adolescents their focus shifts to their peers. Later as they become young adults, and subsequently adults and seniors, they rely on their sexual partners and life-long friends for their love and belonging needs. Understanding this dynamic is a crucial step to identifying the vacuum in the life of a depressed person.

Depression results when a person experiences a consistent emotional vacuum. In the modern world, parents are too busy to give attention to their children. Even in homes with many children sibling river is an easy way in which the need for attention is demonstrated by children.

In the community or at school, children and adolescents turn to their peers for a sense of belonging. If for some reason a child is excluded by his/her peers, this becomes a source of depression. As people become older and ready for intimate friendships and romantic relationships, the lack of these or failures in relationships become a source of depression especially among middle-aged adults.

People who experienced loved and acceptance through all the stages of their development, that is from parents and siblings, from peers, from friends and partners, grow up to have a healthy sense of self-love which reflects on their relationship with others. Depression is common among those who were deprived at one stage or another, maybe because they grew up in broken homes or were maltreated by peers, of suffered abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.

We also have those who have developed an unhealthy sense of self-love due to the fact that they were pampered and spoiled as kids. These people indulge their ego to the degree that it feels like the only reason why other people exist is to make them feel good about themselves. When flattery is not forthcoming they sink into depression because they do not feel appreciated. Conventionally, depression is categorized clinically into recurrent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Recurrent depressive disorder:

This disorder involves repeated depressive episodes. During these episodes, the person experiences depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to diminished activity for at least two weeks. Many people with depression also suffer from anxiety symptoms, disturbed sleep and appetite and may have feelings of guilt or low self-worth, poor concentration and even medically unexplained symptoms.

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities, but will probably not cease to function completely. During a severe depressive episode, it is very unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work, or domestic activities, except to a very limited extent.

Bipolar affective disorder:

This type of depression typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, pressure of speech, inflated self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep.

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities, but will probably not cease to function completely. During a severe depressive episode, it is very unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work, or domestic activities, except to a very limited extent.

Response to Depression

Just as distress is physical stress and fear is mental stress, depression is emotional stress. This means that just as the response to physical stress is seen in a person’s bodily disposition, and the response to mental stress is seen in a person’s mental attitude, the response to emotional stress can be seen in the person’s emotions. The common signs of depression are:

  • • Sustained sadness
  • • Sustained apathy
  • • Insomnia
  • • Too much sleep
  • • Persistent pains and aches
  • • Persistent digestive problems
  • • Change in appetite
  • • Disruption in daily activity pattern

Adaptation to Depression

The adaptations to depression can be considered as the things that people do subconsciously to cover up the void that has been left by their lack of love, acceptance, and belonging. In order words, a depressed person’s adaptation mechanism is to do anything that will get him/her noticed. Some of these changes in lifestyle or behavior include:

Body Piercing and Tattooing

While we cannot say for sure that everyone who engages in body piercing and tattooing is a depressed person, the fact of the matter is that there are many people who pierce and tattoo their bodies because they want to become noticed or because they want to blend with a certain culture or peer group. The need to noticed and the need to succumb to peer pressure are classic adaptation to depression.


Anorexia is a form of self-torture in which people starve themselves into losing weight due to obsession over the need to slim down. It usually has dire health consequences but the victim is not attention to them because he/she is preoccupied with attaining the ideal shape and weight that will make him/her feel good and accepted.

Being possessive

Possessiveness is the emotional equivalent of greed and hoarding. It is inspired by the fear of losing the person we love.

Craving for attention

There are many ways in which people crave for attention. Some people become loud and aggressive when they are among people. Some people are a nuisance to their neighbors. Some people over dress while others move around half naked. Even the car you drive could be a way of drawing attention to yourself. In this digital age, the fastest growing outlet through which people crave attention is social medial platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Stressing out

Stressing out is a way of focusing the energies on the body to make up for the deeper feeling of emptiness. This includes workaholics, people who are addicted to work, as well as those who are obsessed with working out in the gym.

Anger/temper tantrums

Depressed people are not only very irritable. They flare up at the slightest even that threatens their frail sense of self. Some express their temper tantrums through violence while others express theirs through withdrawal.


Depressed people have the need to take attention away from themselves and stay busy with external things. Obsessive behaviors like gambling, talkativeness, gossiping, and fanatical tendencies (religious fanaticism, entertainment fanaticism, sports fanaticism, etc.) are some of the common outlets.

Bullying and superiority complex.

Bullies are people who gain their sense of being by lording it over other people. Their ego feeds on their ability to make other people look and feel small. They are compelled to make themselves feel important in this way, because otherwise, they feel inferior. Superiority complex is a silent form of bullying and really stems from a deep sense of insecurity.

Despondency: Response to Spiritual stress.

The ultimate form of stress is what we may call spiritual stress. Of course you won’t find the term spiritual stress in the psychology text books and journals, for the simple reason that conventional science limits itself to the superficial things that can be measured and manipulated.

The inability of conventional mental health and psychiatry to tackle the spiritual roots of mental health problems accounts for the overwhelming failure of this discipline in solving the problems that people go through. To be spiritually stressed simply means to lack a sense of identity and purpose. This is the state of despondency or hopelessness.

There are three paths that commonly lead to despondency:

The first and most common path is the lack of a spiritual foundation due to the materialistic culture in which people are raised. This is the epidemic of the western world.

The second path is when a person goes into shock due to some sudden tragic event and does not recover from it.

The third path is when a person progresses from distress, fear, depression, and ultimately enters the state of despondency, because his/her bitter experience of life has provided evidence that living is not worthwhile.

Response to despondency

Despondency is the end stage of depression and manifests in very obvious ways. The expressions of despondency are the classic red flags of suicidal tendencies. These include:

Researching ways to die or to kill

Talking about:

  • • Killing themselves
  • • Killing someone else
  • • Hurting themselves
  • • Hurting others
  • • Feeling hopeless
  • • Having no reason to live
  • • Being a burden to others
  • • Feeling trapped
  • • Unbearable pain

Becoming obsessed with violence. Being extremely aggressive

Adaptations to despondency

When the spirit is broken, the final defense mechanism is to end it all. Suicide is ending one’s life physically. But there are many ways in which people tune out of life mentally, emotionally, and spiritually long before they ever end their physical life. These include:

  • • Sadistic Behavior
  • • Masochistic Behavior
  • • Psychopathic Behavior
  • • Sociopathic Behavior
  • • Craving Risk or Danger
  • • Dying by Suicide


Identifying your Stress Pie

The image below represents what I term Your Stress Pie. Based on what you have learned about the human needs and how deprivation of these needs lead to the various levels of stress, you are now invited to fill out the blank spaces with all the signs and symptoms of stress that you can identify in your life.

You may want to take another look at the table below to remind you of these signs and symptoms and where they belong on your stress pie. It is a good practice to do this exercise with a friend who knows you well, since other people are more likely to recognize your stress signals than yourself.

Holistic Health

Holistic health is the state of balance that we seek. While it is impossible for a human being to have all his/her needs adequately met at a given point in time, life is a dynamic process that will maintain an overall state of health if the various components are balanced. According to the African traditional concept of human life, a balanced person is a spiritual entity who possesses emotional and mental faculties with which he/her operates the body through which he/she interacts with the environment, as part of a community.

Taking all these components into consideration (spirit, emotion, mind, body, environment, and community) is crucial if the state of holistic health is to be attained. The table below summarizes the state of balance or holistic health that every individual is seeking to attain.

Building your Happy Pie

Now you have arrived at the exciting stage of constructing your happy pie. Your Happy Pie is essentially the opposite of your stress pie. It is a mental model of how your ideal life will be if you had everything you wanted in your life. Building your happy pie yourself is a powerful tool for engaging your head, heart, and hand in proactively creating the reality you want.

Take another look at the table above for key attributes that you can use to fill your happy pie, and where to categorize them. Make these attributes as personal as possible by translating them to specific goals that are unique to your life. As in the stress pie exercise, doing the happy pie exercise with a friend, mate, or group will greatly enhance its effectiveness.


Steps in stress self-management

The National Institute of Mental Health recommends the following ways to manage stress:

Recognize the Signs of your body's response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.

Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.

Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress.

Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.

Set Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.

Stay Connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.

Seek Professional help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.

The Value of a Support Community

Stress is not a personal issue. Stressed individuals are symptomatic in a stressed society. The only genuine remedy for stress is a balanced society that values humans and celebrates life.

The modern world has built a capitalistic society that values money, celebrates power, and uses humans. The good news is that you do not need to wait for the world to change before you can change.

Rather you can contribute to changing the world by beginning to change your life. Begin where you are to build a community of love. We need communities of love, not therapy or support groups.

There is a world of difference between the two. Therapy groups work on the premise that you are sick, weak, and needy. Although they benefit people in the short run, they are indeed disempowering and in the long term constitute part of the problem.

A community of love is a totally different concept that changes the conversation by flipping the paradigm. We are strong, we are amazing, we are great, we are sufficient, and we thrive by bringing out the best in one another.

When communities of love emerge everywhere, we will eventually have the critical mass that will cause a massive shift in society.

Some Stress Prevention Exercises

Following are some self-help stress relievers that you can incorporate into your daily routine to get your stress under control:

  • ⋅ Trying meditation, yoga or deep breathing
  • ⋅ Getting regular physical activity
  • ⋅ Getting enough sleep
  • ⋅ Eating a healthy diet
  • ⋅ Managing your time
  • ⋅ Cutting back on obligations



Coming Soon...

© 2018 by Godfrey Esoh. Stress Self-Management: An Inspirational Approach to Mental Health

About Author

Godfrey’s Biosketch

Author of Books:
  • The Secret is You

  • Wake Up and Get Rich

  • The Miracle is You

  • LEAVE your own LEGACY
Portfolio :
  • Fellowship in Medical Education, Research, and Leadership, at the Sub-Saharan FAIMER Regional Institute in Cape Town, South Africa

  • Clinical Laboratory Scientist with the Cameroonian Ministry of Public Health

  • Administrative Director of the Higher Institute of Applied Medical Sciences Buea

  • Founding President of Jomatt Polytechnic Higher Institute Batibo

  • Dean of the School of Medical and Biomedical Sciences at National Polytechnic Bamenda
Author Bio :

Godfrey Esoh was born in 1981 into a family of ten siblings in the rural part of Bamenda, Cameroonian. He was raised as a Roman Catholic Christian and educated as a medical scientist. While on a quest to survive the harsh realities of his underprivileged background, he took keen interest in personal development literature and became a ferocious reader. His further search for the deeper meaning of life led him to a study of Western Philosophy and Eastern Spirituality, in which he saw striking correlations with the tenets of the African Spirituality he had inherited from his ancestors.
The evidence that Godfrey’s intellectual and spiritual quests yielded fruits is most tangible in his life. Although all the odds were against him as a child, he grew from a highflying student who topped his class at all levels of the academic ladder, through a youth who was always entrusted with leadership functions in any environment he found himself, to a successful clinical pathologist and educator who at the age of 35 had already ascended to the prestigious office of collage president.
Godfrey now lives with the singular passion of inspiring billions of people around to world to rise out of their ashes, take charge of their lives, and alter the course of their destinies. His unique teachings are founded on spiritual principles that are informed by the most recent breakthroughs of modern science, and evidence by his personal experiences.