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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder22. Coping with Stress
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentIdentifying Stress Symptoms
View the documentTechniques for dealing with Stress
View the documentKey References


1. Stress is a feature of life which can be both protective and harmful. Unfortunately "stress" is too often viewed in a negative context when, in fact, it enables us to cope with change. Protective stress is part of a natural process - when threatened, the body always reacts with the same general adaptive mechanisms. The physical symptoms that occur when we are under stress enables us to "flee" or "fight" the threat. This response is a basic life protecting mechanism, enhancing physical and mental defences and preparedness - it focuses attention, and mobilizes the energy and resources necessary to be able to take appropriate action. Stress therefore allows us to remain productive even in the face of changing and challenging situations. Stress reactions are dependent on our personality, our professional experience and our physical and emotional well-being.

In an emergency, reactions to stress are normal.

2. However, when the circumstances inducing the stress are excessive, very intense or continuing over a period of time, stress may begin to negatively affect an individual's personality, health and ability to perform.

3. Stress takes up an enormous amount of energy. Being in a stressful situation is physically and mentally exhausting. However, once out of the crisis environment and given time to rest, people usually recover their normal equilibrium.


Understanding normal reactions to stressful situations, knowing how to handle these and early attention to symptoms can speed recovery and prevent long-term problems,