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What is stress?
'The human response to any demand of life, to anything that causes readjustment.' - Bans Selye
'A non-specific physiological and psychological chain of events that are triggered by an external disruption of one's equilibrium or homeostasis.' - John Adams
Types of stress
You may think that all stress is bad and that any amount of stress causes mental and physical health problems. In fact, we need a certain amount of stress to work efficiently; too low a stress level can lead to lethargy and a lack of attention — which in itself could be dangerous. So, stress can be both positive and negative:
|Positive||Like preparing for battle|
Stress only becomes negative when too high a level of stress is sustained over long periods. For some people stress becomes negative at a lower level and others have a high tolerance to stress; we all have our own optimum stress level. The following discussion will be examining the effects of negative stress.
Symptoms of stress
|Increased heart rate||Faster breathing|
|Tense muscles||Muscle aches|
|Sweaty palms||Loss of appetite|
|Shortness of breath||Fatigue|
|Increased blood pressure||Bursts of anger|
|Fits of crying||Forgetfulness|
|Unexplained irritability||Menstrual cramps|
|Vague feelings of discontent||Dermatitis|
Some long-term effects of chronic stress
|Overactive thyroid||Inflamed bowel|
|Diabetes||Some forms of cancer|
|Heart disease||Migraine headaches|
|Substance abuse||Sexual dysfunction|
Stress costs in the United States
- 10% of adults have hypertension
- 35% of deaths are due to heart disease
- 11% of deaths are due to strokes
- 400,000 attempted suicides yearly: 1 in 8 successful
- 11% of all doctors abuse chemicals (includes alcohol)
- 10% of adults are alcoholics
- 40% of the population use tranquillisers
- Estimated $75-90 billion loss to the economy due to stress conditions.
Causes of stress
|Negative attitudes||Competive behaviours|
|Internal conflicts (decisions etc)||Anxiety, Fears|
|Nutritional deficiencies||Financial concerns|
|Concerns over house upkeep||Family v job demands|
|Avoidance of conflicts||Mistrust|
|Feelings of lack of support||Feelings of dependence|
|Competition||Concerns with children|
|Changes in social life||Concerns with spouse|
|Conflict with other departments||Job uncertainty|
|Too much work, too little time||Frequent travel|
|Pressure to achieve||Decision-making|
|Relationships with colleagues||Fear of failure|
|Management styles||Organisation changes|
|Remoteness||Lack of participation|
|Light, heat, cold||Traffic|
|The neighbour's dog||The weather|
How to keep stress to a healthy level
You may be thinking that stress could be adversely affecting your life and leading to unwanted consequences, so you are probably wondering how you can keep your stress at a healthy level.
To answer that question, we will examine how the body responds to stress. Then, we will consider techniques to interrupt our negative ways of handling stress and look at how to replace them with more helpful ones.
When you sense a threatening event, whether it be as simple as not receiving the morning newspaper or as dramatic as being in a car accident, your body goes into the 'fight or flight' response.
Heart rate and blood pressure rise
More blood to the muscles
More sugar into the blood
Muscles strengthened, ready for action
Digestive system becomes inactive.
This is essentially an alarm reaction involving a release of extra hormones, including adrenaline, that increase the heart rate and step up the flow of blood to the muscles. The senses become more sharp and, in essence, you get ready to flee - or fight - the new situation. Most of us recognise this as the extra rush of energy that helps us to meet a deadline or avoid hitting a stalled car.
Then, after the event, you usually calm down and the body recuperates. However, if you don't find ways to react: to fight - or flee - and the body continues to produce its chemicals, you get into trouble. When you experience too many stressors and have too few ways to cope, you develop chronic health conditions.
So what can be done? The first thing is to listen to what you say to yourself when you encounter a potentially threatening event. Try to quieten the inner voice that says: 'This is terrible' and replace it with one that says: 'I can handle this.' The other things you can do are modify your physical and emotional habits.
Stress management techniques
Recognise what you value and want out of life. This is the first step to modifying or changing your behaviour. Be attentive to what is really important to you. Set action plans to reach your life goals.
When you feel yourself becoming agitated about not completing all your work in a given day, ask yourself: 'In 100 years, who will know or care?'
Reduce your tendency to think and speak rapidly by making a conscious attempt to hear what other people are saying. Curb the possibility of interrupting others by taking a slow, deep breath every time you feel the urge to finish someone else's sentences.
Give priority only to those matters that require attention. Then, do only as many of those items as time allows. Delegate routine tasks and less important ones.
Attempt to do only one thing at a time. While waiting for a phone call, instead of trying to accomplish a second or third task, relax. Choose to look out the window, or gaze at a tranquil picture to avoid having to do something in the 'waiting' time.
Relax without guilt. For example, instead of feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the family, turn those feelings around. Let them motivate you to spend time relaxing, talking and enjoying the company of family members.
Re-focus your desire for recognition. Seek recognition on a human and personal level by enriching the lives of those people you are in touch with. Turn recognition inwards when you satisfactorily reach a goal. Tell yourself: 'This is a good job, a useful result and something I can be proud of.'
Look critically at the games you and others play, such as manoeuvring, putting others down, stealing ideas and currying favours. Usually these are done for advancement purposes, but often with little idea of what success really is - or entails.
Try to view competitive, aggressive behaviour in a new perspective. Ask yourself: 'Is the behaviour appropriate, useful or necessary to accomplish a desirable, worthwhile, personal or business goal?' Discard aggressive behaviour as a tool to get ahead.
Play soft background music at home and in your office to provide a soothing backdrop to the hustle and bustle.
To reduce possible irritating situations, try to plan your schedule so that you are driving or commuting when traffic is light.
Stop evaluating your success in life in terms of how many material things you have acquired.
Be responsive to the world around you. Adapt yourself to a reasonable pace.
To reduce some of your self-imposed time pressures, allow yourself more time to get a job done. If you normally plan a half hour in which to complete a project by rushing through it, schedule 45-60 minutes. Work more deliberately and thoughtfully. This can improve the quality of your work.
Start your day 15 minutes earlier than usual and do something nice for yourself. Jog, walk the dog, share breakfast with your family, leisurely read the newspaper, or just sit quietly and think.
Attempt to make your lunch break a respite from work. Shop, browse, read, have lunch with a friend. Keep business lunches to a minimum.
When at home, try to spend some time alone. At work, find some moments by yourself, even if it means walking around the building or sitting quietly in the car.
Develop interests and hobbies just for pure enjoyment. Avoid making hobbies work-related.
Keep a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers at home or in the office. When you feel yourself becoming tense, immerse yourself in this natural beauty.
Don't indulge in competitive leisure activities. Avoid tournaments and races which escalate competition. Enjoy a game of backgammon or tennis and be willing to quit even if you have not won. Muse at your opponent's frenzy to win at all costs.
Establish life goals apart from the eternal clutter and frantic pace of your everyday living. Make peace of mind one of your goals.
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