Stress management Is the need of the hour. However hard we try to go beyond a stress situation. Life seems to find new ways of stressing us out and plaguing us with anxiety attacks. Moreover, be it our anxiety, mind-body exhaustion or our erring attitudes, we tend to overlook causes of stress and the conditions triggered by those.
In such unsettling moments we often forget that stresses, if not escapable, are fairly manageable and treatable. Stress, either quick or constant, can Induce risky body-mind disorders. Immediate disorders such as dizzy spells, anxiety attacks, tension, sleeplessness, nervousness and muscle cramps can all result in chronic health problems. They may also affect our immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems and lead individuals to habitual addictions, which are inter-linked with stress. Like “stress reactions”, “relaxation responses” and stress management techniques are some of the body’s Important built-Len response systems.
As a relaxation response the body tries to get back balance In Its homeostasis. Some hormones released during the ;fight or flight’ situation prompt the body to replace the lost carbohydrates and fats, and restore the energy level. The knotted nerves, tightened muscles and an exhausted mind crave for looseness. Unfortunately, today, we don ‘t get relaxing and soothing situations without asking. To be relaxed we have to strive to create such situations. There have been many different definitions of what stress is, whether used by psychologists, medics, management consultants or others.
There seems to have been something approaching open warfare between competing definitions: Views have en passionately held and aggressively defended. Now, the most commonly accepted deflation of stress by Richard S Lazarus Is that stress Is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobile. People feel little stress when they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation. They feel great stress when they think they can’t handle the demands put upon them.
Stress is therefore a negative experience. And it is not an inevitable consequence of an event: It depends a lot on people’s perceptions of a The word ‘stress’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy”. A condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physiological and psychological functioning of an individual. In medical parlance ‘stress ‘ is defined as a perturbation of the body ‘s homeostasis. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life.
There are two types of instinctive stress response that are important to how we understand stress and stress management: the short-term “Fight-or-flight” response and the long-term “General Adaptation Syndrome”. The first is a basic survival instinct, while the second is a long-term effect of exposure to stress. A third mechanism comes from the way that we think and interpret the situations in which we find ourselves. Actually, these three mechanisms can be part of the same stress response – we will initially look at them separately, and then show how they can fit together. Fight-or-flight” Some of the early work on stress (conducted by Walter Cannon in 1932) established the existence of the well-known fight-or-flight response. His work showed that when an animal experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases ermines that help it to survive. These hormones help us to run faster and fight harder. They increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we are damaged.
And as well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events. The General Adaptation Syndrome and Burnout Hans Sells took a different approach from Cannon. Starting with the observation that different diseases and injuries to the body seemed to cause the same symptoms with which the body reacts to a major stimulus. While the Fight-or-flight response works in the very short term, the General Adaptation Syndrome operates in response to longer-term exposure to causes of stress.
Sells identified that when pushed to extremes, animals reacted in three stages: First, in the Alarm Phase, they reacted to the stresses. Next, in the Resistance Phase, the resistance to the stresses increased as the animal adapted to, and coped with, it. This phase lasted for as long as the animal could support this heightened resistance. Finally, once resistance was exhausted, the animal entered the Exhaustion Phase, and resistance declined substantially. Sells established this with many hundreds of experiments performed on laboratory rats. However, he also quoted research during World War II with bomber pilots.
Once they had completed a few missions over enemy territory, these pilots usually settled down and performed well. After many missions, however, pilot fatigue would set in as they began to show “neurotic manifestations”. In the business environment, this exhaustion is seen in “burnout”. The classic example comes from the Wall Street trading floor: by most people’s standards, life on a trading floor is stressful. Traders learn to adapt to the daily stresses of making big financial decisions, and of winning and losing large sums of money. In many cases, however, these stresses increase and fatigue starts to set in.
At the same time, as traders become successful and earn more and more money, their financial motivation to succeed can diminish. Ultimately, many traders experience burnout. We look at this in more detail in our section on burnout.. Stress and the way we think Particularly in normal working life, much of our stress is subtle and occurs without obvious threat to survival. Most comes from things like work overload, conflicting priorities, inconsistent values, over-challenging deadlines, conflict with co-workers, unpleasant environments and so on.
Not only do these reduce our performance as we divert mental effort into handling them, they can also cause a great deal of unhappiness. We have already mentioned that the most common currently accepted definition of stress is something that is experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobile. ” We’ve already looked at the survival benefits of the fight-or-flight response, as well as the problems this caused for our performance in work-related situations. We’ve also seen the negative “burnout” effect of exposure to long-term stress.
These effects can also affect your health – either with direct physiological damage to your body, or with harmful behavioral effects. The behavioral effects of an over-stressed lifestyle are easy to explain. When under pressure, some people are more likely to drink heavily or smoke, as a way of getting immediate chemical relief from stress. Others may have so much work to do that they do not exercise or eat properly. They may cut down on sleep, or may worry so much that they sleep badly. They may get so carried away with work and meeting daily pressures that they do not take time to see the doctor or dentist when they need to.
All of these are likely to harm health. The direct physiological effects of excessive stress are more complex. In some areas they are well understood, while in other areas, they are still subject to debate and further research. Stress and heart disease The link between stress and heart disease is well-established. If stress is intense, and stress hormones are not ‘used up’ by physical activity, our raised heart rate and high blood pressure put tension on arteries and cause damage to them. As the body heals this damage, artery walls scar and thicken, which can reduce the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.
This is where a fight-or-flight response can become lethal: Stress hormones accelerate the heart to increase the blood supply to muscles; however, blood vessels in the heart may have become so narrow that not enough blood reaches the heart to meet these demands. This can cause a heart attack. Other effects of stress Stress has been also been found to damage the immune system, which explains why we catch more colds when we are stressed. It may intensify symptoms in diseases that have an autoimmune component, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It also seems to affect headaches and irritable bowel syndrome, and there are now suggestions of links between stress and cancer. Stress is also associated with mental health problems and, in particular, anxiety and depression. Here the relationship is fairly clear: the negative thinking that is associated with stress also contributes to these. The direct effects of stress in other areas of health are still under debate. In some areas (for example in the formation of stomach ulcers) diseases traditionally associated with stress are now attributed to other causes. Regular exercise can reduce your physiological reaction to stress.
It also strengthens your heart and increases the blood supply to it, directly affecting your vulnerability to heart disease. Although this site focuses mainly on stress and work performance, many of the tools and techniques within it will help you manage stresses that would otherwise adversely affect your health. However, if you suspect that you are prone to stress- related illness, or if you are in any doubt about the state of your health, you should consult appropriate medical advice immediately. Keep in mind that stress management is only part of any solution to stress-related illness.
So far, we have seen that stress is a negative experience. We have seen the short- term negative effects that stress hormones can have on your performance, and have seen how stress can contribute to burnout. The Positive Effects of Pressure Sometimes, however, the pressures and demands that may cause stress can be positive in their effect. One example of this is where sportsmen and women flood their bodies with fight-or-flight adrenaline to power an explosive performance. Another example is where deadlines are used to motivate people who seem bored or unmotivated.
We will discuss this briefly here, but throughout the rest of this site we see stress as a problem that needs to be solved. And the Negative… In most work situations Jobs, our stress responses causes our performance to suffer. A calm, rational, controlled and sensitive approach is usually called for in dealing with most difficult problems at work: Our social inter-relationships are Just too employ not to be damaged by an aggressive approach, while a passive and withdrawn response to stress means that we can fail to assert our rights when we should.
Before we look further at how to manage stress and our performance, it is important to look at the relationship between pressure and performance in a little more detail, first by looking at the idea of the “Inverted-U”, and second by looking at “Flow”. This is the ideal state of concentration and focus that brings excellent performance. Pressure & Performance – the Inverted U The relationship between pressure and performance is explained in one of the eldest and most important ideas in stress management, the “Inverted-U” relationship between pressure and performance (see below).
The Inverted-U relationship focuses on people’s performance of a task. The left hand side of the graph is easy to explain for pragmatic reasons. When there is very little pressure on us to carry out an important task, there is little incentive for us to focus energy and attention on it. This is particularly the case when there may be other, more urgent, or more interesting, tasks competing for attention. As pressure on us increases, we enter the “area of best performance”. Here, we are able to focus on the task and perform well – there is enough pressure on us to focus our attention but not so much that it disrupts our performance.
The right hand side of the graph is more complex to explain. Negative Thoughts Crowd Our Minds We are all aware that we have a limited short-term memory: If you try to memorize a long list of items, you will not be able to remember more than six or eight items processing power in our brains, we cannot be conscious of more than a few thoughts at any one time. In fact, in a very real way, we have a limited “attention capacity’. As we become uncomfortably stressed, distractions, difficulties, anxieties and negative thinking begin to crowd our minds. This is particularly the case where we look at our definition of stress, I. E. Hat it occurs when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobile. ” These thoughts compete with performance of the task for our attention capacity. Concentration suffers, and focus narrows as our brain becomes overloaded. As shown in the figure, this is something of a slippery slope: the more our brain is overloaded, the more our performance can suffer. The more our performance suffers, the more new distractions, difficulties, anxieties and negative thoughts crowd our minds. Other research has shown that stress reduces people’s ability to deal with large amounts of information.
Both decision-making and creativity are impaired because people are unable to take account of all the information available. This inability accounts for the common observation that highly stressed people will persist in a course of action even when better alternatives are available. It also explains why anxious people perform best when they are put under little additional stress, while alma people may need additional pressure to produce a good performance. Notes on the research behind the Inverted-U While this is an important and useful idea, people’s evaluations of stress and performance are by necessity subjective.
This has made it difficult to prove the ‘Inverted-U idea formally. Also, for ease of explanation, we show a smooth curve here. In reality, different people have different shaped and positioned inverted-us at different times and in different circumstances. This is all part of “life’s rich tapestry. Entering a State of “Flow” When you are operating in your “area of best performance”, you are normally able o concentrate, and focus all of your attention on the important task at hand. When you do this without distraction, you often enter what Professor Mildly Sentimentally of Chicago University describes as a state of flow.
This involves “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing Jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”. You perform at your best in this state because you are able to focus all of your efforts, resources and abilities on the tasks at hand. While you are sufficiently motivated to resist competing temptations, you are not so stressed that anxieties and distractions interfere with clear thought.
This is an intensely creative, efficient and satisfying state of mind. It is the state of mind in which, for example, the most persuasive speeches are made, the best software is developed, and the most impressive athletic or artistic performances are Helping Yourself to Get Into Flow One of the frustrations of management is that managers can feel that they lose the right’ to these periods of deep concentration when they must be readily available to others, and be able to deal with the constantly changing information, decisions and activities around them.
Studies of good managers show that they rarely get more than a few minutes alone without distraction. This alone can be frustrating, and can contribute strongly to managerial stress. In Jobs where concentration is a rare commodity, there are various solutions to creating the periods of flow that sustain good performance. Solutions include working from home, or setting aside parts of the day as quiet periods. Another elution might be to delegate the activities that require the greatest levels of concentration, allowing the manager to concentrate on problems as they arise, serving to create a flow of its own.
One of the key aims of this site is to help you manage stress so that you can enter this state of flow, and deliver truly excellent performance in your career. The following are the some useful tools that help to understand the sources of stress in our life. This also helps to understand the way to react to stress, so that you change the way you handle it. Tools of Understanding Stress Diaries Stress WOOS Analysis Self-Help Tool Finder Stress Management Plan Stress Diary Stress Diaries are useful for understanding the causes of short-term stress in our life.
They also give us an insight into how we react to stress. The idea behind Stress Diaries is that on a regular basis you write down how stressed you’re feeling, so that you can understand these stresses and then manage them. This is important because often these stresses flit in and out of our minds without getting the attention and focus that they deserve. As well as helping you capture and understand the most common sources of stress n our life, Stress Diaries help you to understand: Stress Diaries are useful in that they gather information regularly and routinely, over a period of time.
This helps you to separate the common, routine stresses from those that only occur occasionally. This helps you understand the pattern of stress in your life. SOOT Analysis is a useful technique used for understanding an organization’s strategic position. It is routinely used to identify and summarize: Strengths: The capabilities, resources and advantages of an organization. Weaknesses: Things the organization is not good at, areas of resource scarcity and areas where the organization is vulnerable.
Opportunities: The good opportunities open to the organization, which perhaps exploit its strengths or eliminate its weaknesses. Threats: Things that can damage the organization, perhaps as people exploit its limitations or as its environment changes. The Stress SOOT tool is a variant of this technique, focused on helping you to understand your unique strengths and weaknesses in the way you manage stress. It also helps you to identify the resources you have available to you, and points out the consequences of managing stress poorly. Making A Stress Management Plan
So far in this section, we have looked at the Schedule of Recent Experience, Stress Diaries and Stress SOOT. In this article, we use the self-knowledge you have gained with these techniques to think about how you can manage stress. By making a stress management plan, you can focus your attention on the most serious sources of stress in your life, so that you can work on bringing these under control. The diagram below shows the stages of the stress management planning process: We looked at the first stage of this process in our articles on the Schedule of Recent Experience, Stress Diaries and Stress SOOT.
If you have used the tools we discussed, you should already have a good idea of the most important sources of stress in your The next step is to prioritize these sources of stress so that you can separate the important stresses that must be dealt with from the minor, infrequent irritations that do not need as much attention. Start by writing down a list of the sources of stress that you identified with the Schedule of Recent Experience. To this list, add the most frequent and serious sources of stress you identified with your Stress Diary.
Finally, add the weaknesses and threats you identified with Stress SOOT. Review this consolidated list and redraft it in order with the most important things at the top. The items at the top of the list should be the most important for you to resolve, while the ones at the bottom of the list can wait until you have the time to deal with them. Once you have done this, the next step is to think about how to deal with each source of stress. One-by-one. For each source of stress, work through the Stress Key. This will help you find the techniques that are most relevant.
Also, think about what you learned about yourself when you used Stress SOOT Analysis. As part of this, you may have identified people or resources that can help you in managing stress – co-workers, friends, mentors, team members or many other people, or additional resource. Make sure that you make appropriate use of all of the help, skills and resources that you have access to. Also, make a note of the skills that you need to acquire to manage stress effectively. And then think through for yourself whether these are the most effective techniques or skills to use, or whether others may be more appropriate.
Then, based on this, write down what you are going to do to manage each of the important sources of stress that you have identified. This is your Stress Management Plan. Our main definition of stress is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobile. With this in mind, we can now look at how you can manage all of the stresses that your career will bring.
From our definition, there are three major approaches that we can use to manage stress: Action-oriented: In which we seek to confront the problem causing the stress, hanging the environment or the situation; Emotionally-oriented: In which we do not have the power to change the situation, but we can manage stress by changing our interpretation of the situation and the way we feel about it; and Acceptance- oriented: Where something has happened over which we have no power and no emotional control, and where our focus is on surviving the stress.
Action-oriented approaches To be able to take an action-oriented approach, we must have some power in the situation. If we do, then action-oriented approaches are some of the most satisfying ND rewarding ways of managing stress. These are techniques that we can use to manage and overcome stressful situations, changing them to our advantage. The early sections on the navigation bar to the left focus on action-oriented coping. These sections introduce skills that help you to manage your Job actively, work well with your boss and co-workers, and change your surroundings to eliminate environmental stress.
The Action-oriented sections of this site are: Cope with the Stress of Work Overload Survive the Stress of Problem Jobs Deal With Problem People Manage Performance Stress Avoid Burnout Emotionally-oriented approaches – subtle but effective If you do not have the power to change a situation, then you may be able to reduce stress by changing the way you look at it, using an emotionally-oriented approach. Emotionally-oriented approaches are often less attractive than action-oriented approaches in that the stresses can recur time and again; however, they are useful and effective in their place.
The section on Reducing Stress With Rational Thinking explains some useful techniques for getting another perspective on difficult situations. Acceptance-oriented approaches – when there’s no valid alternative… Sometimes, we have so little power in a situation that all we can do to survive it. This is the case, for example, when loved-ones die. In these situations, often the first stage of coping with the stress is to accept one’s lack of power. The section on Defenses Against Stress looks at building the buffers against stress that help you through these difficult periods.
Arguably, the section on Useful Relaxation Techniques also falls into this category. These different approaches to stress management address our definition of stress in different ways: the action-oriented techniques help us to manage the demands upon s and increase the resources we can mobile; the emotionally oriented techniques help us to adjust our perceptions of the situation; and the acceptance-oriented techniques help us survive the situations that we genuinely cannot change.