Stress is an expensive problem for businesses in America. Very few workers have ever not been impacted by stress in the workplace. Some facts about the impact of stress in the American work force include:
•Those who work longer hours (a twelve hour day) increase their risk of injury and illness by 37% over those who work fewer hours.
•One study done by Northwestern National Life showed that one quarter of people interviewed consider their job the most stressful thing in their lives.
•A study by St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company showed that health complaints are more tied to problems at work than any other stress or in life
• It is estimated that 50% of absenteeism in the workplace results from stress
• It is estimated that 20% of the nation’s heart disease results from stress
•The World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 stress-related health conditions will be responsible for five of the top ten of the world’s medical problems
Stress in the workplace tends to lead to more stress. For example, if you are too stressed out at work, it will often lead to:
• Reduced job performance
• Decreased job satisfaction
• Increased conflict
Which in turn, creates more stress!
In many cases, employees are unlikely to report their stress or their stressors because they believe it is unimportant and won’t gain any attention from the employer. Instead, they tend to stifle their stress, which just allows it to fester and grow. The fact is that employers should be on the look-out for ways to reduce stress for their employees. What if a great deal of employee stress could be eliminated by simple changes like adding a sound-barrier wall between co-workers or making sure that your employees’ chairs are correctly positioned for them at their desks? Or what if you could generate a significant reduction in stress for your staff by simply praising them sincerely when they do something well? We’ll look more at what employers can do to reduce stress for their employees in the final chapter.
In many cases, employees are unlikely to report their stress or stressors because they believe it won’t gain any attention from the employer.
Levels of Stress
All stress is not created equally. Stress can be mild and temporary, or it can be severe and experienced repeatedly. There are three different levels of stress,each of which often has its own types of symptoms.
Stress is considered to be either acute, episodic acute, or chronic.
Have you ever been about to fall asleep and you jerk awake suddenly? Or have you ever had a near-miss collision with an eighteen-wheeler on the interstate? What about watching your favorite team win the final match with an incredible play?Those moments of sharp, sudden stress are examples of acute stress.
Luckily, these incidents are the easiest to overcome. The symptoms of acute stress are:
• Brief jump in heart rate
• Increase in blood pressure
• Possibly followed by a tension headache
• Momentarily strong emotions such as anger or fear
• Recovery is fast and normal activity is resumed
Episodic Acute Stress
In this situation, we seem to encounter those acute stress moments repeatedly overtime. We seem to just constantly run into trouble, roadblocks, or difficult situations. Our emotions rise quickly and we seem to have raw nerves. Episodic acute stress occurs when you have multiple disasters in a short time period, such as losing your job, your house, and your good health all in the same month.Yes, the situation may be temporary, but it causes repeated episodes of acute stress before it is done.
Episodic acute stress occurs when you have multiple disasters in a short time period.
This type of stress can also arise when we have unexpressed emotions or we don’t speak up about something that we think we should. If you stay in a situation where you feel undervalued or passed over for a promotion, you might feel sharp anger every time you interact with the person who did get the job. Or if you feel like you need to address someone’s bad behavior but you just feel uncomfortable doing it so you delay saying something, you may feel that sharp stress whenever you talk to that person and don’t say something.
Once you address what is bothering you, acute episodic stress will dissipate.
But if you don’t address it, it can develop into chronic stress.
Once you address what is bothering you, this type of stress will dissipate. But if you don’t address it, over time it can develop into chronic stress. Some of the symptoms associated with acute episodic stress are:
• Recurring headaches
• Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
Eventually,repeated stress becomes chronic. It becomes the normal state of being instead of an occasional occurrence. The level of stress makes it feel as if there is nothing that you can do to make it better and it can feel as if there is no way out of the situation. When you reach this level of stress, there are a number of symptoms that can be very dangerous for your health and well-being, both at work and in your personal life. These may include:
• Radical mood swings
• Severe temper
• Grinding teeth
• Serious, chronic physical conditions
• Depression or other mental disorders
When repeated acute stress becomes the norm, you are dealing with chronic stress.
So how does a person move from one level or type of stress to the more serious levels of stress? One model for how we react to and progress through the stages of stress is called the General Adaptation Syndrome(GAS).
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
GAS describes the stages that the body goes through as it experiences the different levels of stress and attempts to adapt to that stress. There are three general stages that correspond to the three types of stress described in the last section. These stages are:
•Alarm – the body perceives the threat or risk and sends out the biological responses necessary to respond.
•Resistance – the body has to remain in a state of response above the level that the response mechanisms are normally able to produce and is tiring
•Exhaustion – the body can no longer resist the damaging effects of stress after chronic exposure. Response systems may stop functioning and the body is more vulnerable to the effects of stress.
General Adaptation Syndrome describes the stages the body goes through as it experiences the different levels of stress and attempts to adapt to them.
Once you are no longer able to adapt to stress, the body will be more susceptible to disease as well as emotional and psychological consequences. The longer that your body is forced to adapt, the more severe the consequences can be. Warning Signs of Excessive Stress at Work
How can you know whether or not you are experiencing just a bad day or an excessive amount of stress?
There are some warning signs, some of which we have addressed earlier in this article. But if you find that your feelings about work, your tasks, or the people you work with are deteriorating and that those feelings occur more than just sporadically, you may be under excessive stress and need to take some proactive steps to reduce your stress level. More warning signs of excessive stress in the workplace may include:
• Constant anxiety
• Regular irritability
• Loss of interest in work
• Loss of concentration
• Muscle tension
• Social withdrawal
• Loss of sex drive
• Use of alcohol or drugs to cope
To respond to these symptoms, you need to equip yourself with tools to deal with and prevent excessive stress. We’ll examine a number of such tools in the following articles.
How You Currently Cope with Stress
Before we move on to a discussion of the tools you can use to cope with stress, it’s important that you examine the tools you are already using. Are you doing things to deal with stress that are actually contributing to your problems? Or are you using healthy stress-management tools that you should keep using but just need to add to them with additional coping techniques?
Are you doing things to deal with stress that are actually contributing to your problems?
Many of us have adopted unhealthy ways of coping with stress. They may work temporarily, but in the long run they will cause additional problems. For example, if you are a smoker, you might find the moment of smoking a cigarette to be relaxing. But eventually you’ll be faced with the stress of the resulting health problems that you are likely to develop. There are many coping mechanisms that are actually delaying stress, not managing it. Additional examples include:
• Drinking too much alcohol
• Using drugs
• Sleeping too much
• Withdrawing from your social network
• Avoidance habits like watching TV for hours
• Lashing out at others
• Ignoring your feelings and stressors
As you learn new tools for dealing with stress, you will also want to take steps to eliminate your unhealthy coping mechanisms. It can be stressful at first to do things like giving up smoking or television, but in the end you will be better off if you can exchange these habits for healthier coping mechanisms.