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Autor: anton 08 January 2011
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What is Stress?
According to the Organizational Behavior textbook, it is an individualÐ²Ð‚â„¢s Ð²Ð‚Ñšadaptive response to a situation that is perceived as challenging or threatening to the personÐ²Ð‚â„¢s wellbeingÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (p.198). Stress is a feeling that is created when we react to particular events, the body's way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. The events that provoke stress are called stressors, and they cover a whole range of situations, everything from outright physical danger to making a class presentation or taking a semester's worth of your toughest subject.
The Stress Response
The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones that speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, putting our muscles on alert. Pupils dilate to improve vision. The liver releases some of its stored glucose to increase the body's energy. And sweat is produced to cool the body. All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment. This natural reaction is known as the stress response. Working properly, the body's stress response enhances a person's ability to perform well under pressure. But the stress response can also cause problems when it overreacts or fails to turn off and reset itself properly.
The stress response (also called the Ð²Ð‚Ñšfight or flightÐ²Ð‚Ñœ response) is critical during emergency situations, such as when a driver has to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. It can also be activated in a milder form at a time when the pressure is on but there is no actual danger - like stepping up to take the foul shot that could win the game, getting ready to go to a big dance, or sitting down for a final exam. A little of this stress can help keep you on your toes, ready to rise to a challenge, and afterwards, the nervous system quickly returns to its normal state, standing by to respond again when needed.
The Stress Experience
Stress, however, does not always happen in response to things that are immediate or that are over quickly. Ongoing or long-term events, like coping with a divorce or moving to a new neighborhood or school, can cause stress too. Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that is hard on people. The nervous system senses continued pressure and may remain slightly activated and continue to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period. This can wear out the body's reserves, leave a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, and weaken the body's immune system, among other problems.
People who are experiencing stress overload may notice some of the following signs:
Ð²Ð‚Ñž anxiety or panic attacks
Ð²Ð‚Ñž a feeling of being constantly pressured, hassled, and hurried
Ð²Ð‚Ñž irritability and moodiness
Ð²Ð‚Ñž physical symptoms, such as stomach problems, headaches, or even chest pain
Ð²Ð‚Ñž allergic reactions, such as eczema or asthma
Ð²Ð‚Ñž problems sleeping
Ð²Ð‚Ñž drinking too much, smoking, overeating, or doing drugs
Ð²Ð‚Ñž sadness or depression
Everyone experiences stress a little differently. Some people become angry and act out their stress or take it out on others. Some people internalize it and develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems. And some people who have a chronic illness may find that the symptoms of their illness flare up under an overload of stress.
The Stress Process
One of the earliest theories about the stress process is that of the American physiologist Walter B. Cannon known as the Fight or Flight Response (1932). His work showed that when a person (or an animal) experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases hormones 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. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive threatening events.
The General Adaptation Syndrome provides another description of the stress process. Developed by Hans Selye (1907-1982), an Austrian-born physician who immigrated to Canada in 1939, this theory represents a three-stage reaction to stress (see Figure 1 below). Selye selected the term adaptation to focus on stress as a physical reaction that stimulates defense from a threatening situation.
The Alarm Stage is the start-up stage which defines the first reaction to the stressor. There is over-acting of the sympathetic nervous system wherein adrenaline and cortisol increase and blood flows away from the brain to the muscles. As a result, the brain moderates the flow of information, slowing or closing down the nonessential body functions. The whole body starts preparing itself to fight against the reason of stress. The fear, excitement or pressure is evident on the sufferer's face. If the cause of the stress is removed, the body will go back to normal.
If the cause for the stress is not removed, GAS describes a second stage called Resistance or Adaptation. This is the bodyÐ²Ð‚â„¢s response to long term protection. It secretes further hormones that increase blood sugar levels to sustain energy and raise blood pressure. The adrenal cortex (outer covering) produces hormones called corticosteroids for this resistance reaction.
In this stage, the body keeps making continuous efforts to cope with stress and if it continues for a prolonged period of time without periods of relaxation and rest to counterbalance the stress response, the person starts to feel run-down and exhausted, becomes irritated, over-reacts to minor situations and gets mentally and physically weak. Psychological, physical and behavioral changes are also clearly visible.
In the Exhaustion Stage, the body has run out of its reserve of body energy and immunity. This stage is further divided into two phases. There is an Initial Phase where mental, physical and emotional resources suffer heavily. The body experiences "adrenal exhaustion". The blood sugar levels decrease as the adrenals become depleted, leading to decreased stress tolerance, progressive mental and physical exhaustion, illness and collapse. Extreme cases lead to the Burnout Phase, when the person is completely exhausted and drained of all energy reserves. The increased cortisol production has exhausted the stress mechanism, and lead to chronic fatigue and depression; cortisol also interferes with serotonin activity and leads to suppression of the immune system making the body more susceptible to all kind of illnesses from common cold and flu to cancer.
Prolonged exposure to stress can have other negative health consequences including the clogging of the arteries by the fat and cholesterol released by the body during the attempt to fight stress, which may increase the risk of heart diseases and strokes. Stress can also contribute to ulcers, gastritis and other digestive problems as well as lead some people to develop alcohol or drug dependency. It is important to note that stress in the exhaustion stage generates a complete physical, psychological and emotional breakdown that requires attention and possibly medical or psychological treatment.
The Fight or Flight Response may be seen as an immediate survival reaction to stress while the General Adaptation Syndrome describes the long-term effects of exposure to stress. Although both mechanisms are natural responses to stressors that everyone experiences, they can manifest themselves with different degrees of intensity depending on the individual. Individual responses to stress depend upon each personÐ²Ð‚â„¢s interpretation of the stressful situation, their individual skills to fight and overcome those situations, and their personality.
Stressors in the Workplace
There are a complex set of reasons that explain why job-related stress occurs in the workplace. Some of the most common ones are: job insecurity, high demand for performance, technology, workplace culture and personal or family problems. Additionally, there is also a complex relationship between gender, work and stress.
In todayÐ’Ò‘s highly competitive business environment, the demands for company as well as employee effectiveness grow larger each year. Nowadays, as companies try to survive and succeed in the competitive business world, they turn to reorganizations, takeovers, mergers, downsizing and other changes, all of which have become major stressors for employees. These economic transformations have increased the demands and pressures on everyone, from CEOs to mere executives.
Especially during corporate reorganizations, there are unrealistic expectations put on employees. These expectations can cause unhealthy and unreasonable pressures for the employee and can be a tremendous source of stress and suffering. The high demand for performance includes increased workload, extremely long work hours and intense pressure to perform at peak levels all the time and commonly for the same pay. The unreasonably high demands can have physical and emotional effects on employees. Also excessive travel and too much time spent away from the family can become stressors for employees.
Heightened expectations for productivity, speed, and efficiency can also be caused by the expansions of technology which increase the pressure on the individual worker to constantly operate at peak performance levels. Employees are forced to learn new software all the time as technological breakthroughs happen. Older employees and those assigned to work with heavy machinery might experience extra stress as they must adapt to changing work environments.
Adjusting to the workplace culture, such as to the working and behavioral patterns of the boss as well as the co-workers, can be intensely stressful for many employees. Maladjustments to the corporate cultures may lead to subtle conflicts with colleagues and in some cases even with superiors. Office politics or gossip can also be major stress inducers.
Personal and family problems are obvious additional stressors because it goes without saying that individuals tend to carry their worries to the workplace. Depressed employees with lack of motivation can affect their coworkers negatively.
It is well-established that the total workload of women who are employed full-time, particularly when they have family responsibilities, is higher than that of full-time male workers. Mental and physical harassment in the workplace has been a long-time major source stress for women. Women may suffer from tremendous stress such as 'hostile work environment harassment' which consists of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Apart from the previously mentioned stress factors, subtle discriminations in the workplace, family pressure and societal demands add to the common stress factors of women.
Corporate Stress-Management Strategies
Many companies have confronted the organizational causes and consequences of stress by developing unique strategies to manage workplace stress and by creating work-life balance initiatives. Chapter seven of McShane and Von GlinowÐ²Ð‚â„¢s Organizational Behavior textbook highlights Deloitte & Touche partners as a leading example of a company dedicated to helping employees experience a better balance between their work and personal lives (p.212). The accounting giant describes their cultural value of Ð²Ð‚Ñšwork flexibilityÐ²Ð‚Ñœ on their website by stating Ð²Ð‚ÑšWe recognize that a healthy work life balance enables our people to perform at their optimum level and juggling multiple commitments can sometimes be an on-going challenge. For this reason we have developed a set of guidelines for work practices designed to provide an environment that is flexible to our peoplesÐ²Ð‚â„¢ needs including reduced workload (part-time), flexitime, job sharing, telecommuting and buying additional annual leaveÐ²Ð‚Ñœ
(www.deloitte.com). Deloitte & ToucheÐ²Ð‚â„¢s focus on work-life balance initiatives has been extremely positive for female employees, particularly mothers, who often must divide their time between raising children and work. An article on flexible work arrangements by a womenÐ²Ð‚â„¢s advancement group called Catalyst emphasizes the importance of internalizing as well as sustaining a commitment to flexibility, strategies which Deloitte & Touche have taken to heart with their flexible work arrangements implementation guidelines binder, brochure, and newsletters (www.catalystwomen.org).
Royal Bank Financial Group has taken a similar approach as Deloitte & Touche with their efforts to alleviate employee stress by providing flexible work options. The company reported that flexible work arrangements not only support their work-life and diversity efforts, but it also improve business performance, reduce workplace stress, enhance customer service, reduce expenses, and position the company as a desirable employer.
Royal Bank Financial Group understands that flexibility is a way to define how and when work gets done and how careers are organized. They see it as a critical ingredient to overall workplace effectiveness as well as a tool for attracting talent, retaining valued employees, raising morale and job satisfaction, improving productivity, and reducing stress or burnout.
In implementing flexible work arrangements, Royal Bank Financial Group advocates a process similar to the following:
1. Develop the business case Ð²Ð‚â€œ Know what problem you hope to address by increasing flexibility. Look at and use other companies as models/benchmarks for success. Conduct internal studies diagnosing flexibility as a business problem-solver.
2. Review your own companyÐ²Ð‚â„¢s experience Ð²Ð‚â€œ Review any existing programs or policies, assess employee experiences, select supervisors to play leadership roles in the creation and implementation process, and consider creating a task force.
3. Define policies and practices Ð²Ð‚â€œ Determine which flexible work options you will create or improve and how they are to be negotiated and reviewed.
4. Create tools and resources Ð²Ð‚â€œ Provide employees and supervisors with examples of how to think through their options.
5. Help supervisors learn to manage flexibly Ð²Ð‚â€œSupervisors need help with learning new ways of managing, including how to problem-solve and look for win-win solutions. Include managing flexibly as a part of existing or new training. Web-based tools, briefing sessions, and coaches can also help with implementation.
6. Communicate Ð²Ð‚â€œ Make sure all employees and supervisors are familiar with the companyÐ²Ð‚â„¢s stance on flexibility and the implementation process to be sure it will work.
7. Evaluate usage and effectiveness Ð²Ð‚â€œ Plan to review how flexible work options are working for the employee, for the supervisor and the work group. Align job performance measures with new workplace flexibility options.
8. Highlight success stories Ð²Ð‚â€œ In newsletters, on bulletin boards, or in on-line databases, collect and disseminate examples of successful flexible work options for others to learn from (http://familiesandwork.org/3w/tips/downloads/companies.pdf).
American Express is another large company that is concerned about the problem of stress in the workplace and is taking action to find solutions. In regard to allocating resources to help employees reduce their stress levels, American Express feels "If they spend a little in the long run, they'll save money and have more productive employees, happier employees. It's a good investment." Mike Collins, the leader of American ExpressÐ²Ð‚â„¢ Ð²Ð‚ÑšBest Workplace Stress RelieversÐ²Ð‚Ñœ program, recommends the following stress-reduction strategies to employees:
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Know your body clock. Knowing whether you're a morning or night person can help you figure out when is the best time to schedule meetings or work on big projects.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Get Physical. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and recharge. Sneak some activity into your day by making an effort to get outside for a 10-minute walk, especially before a stressful meeting. Make sure you follow through on this goal by asking a coworker ahead of time to go with you.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Stretch It Out. If you hunch over your keyboard or have bad posture, you're probably wasting energy trying to sit up straight at meetings. Feel better and make it easier on your body to look alert by stretching.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Get Perspective. Imagining some time and distance from a problem can give you perspective about a crisis.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Yoga in the Conference Room. In some cases, it is a good idea to work with employers to bring stress-relieving classes to offices. Options might include yoga, tips for learning to meditate and regain focus at your desk and, for employees who spend all day sitting in their cubicles, ergonometric coaching.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Leave Your Desk For Lunch. If you're eating lunch under stress, you're slowing your digestion and probably not paying attention to what or how much you're putting in your mouth. Set time aside to leave your desk and enjoy your food.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Tell A Joke. Laughing when you're stressed out can help you gain a little bit of control over a situation.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Make Fun Happen. Sometimes you have to plan for fun. When you're at work try thinking of yourself like a tightrope walker. It's OK to stop and regain your balance.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Plan before your next business trip to prevent stress. When you've got a trip coming up, think about what you could do with an extra hour if you hit a snafu. You could hammer out e-mails, walk the airport or eat at a leisurely pace. When a stressful situation occurs, you will be prepared (www.forbes.com).
Besides removing or alleviating stressors through the implementation of work-life balance initiatives, many companies provide avenues to temporarily withdraw from stressors while at the workplace. Creative benefits in the workplace, according to a Wall Street Journal article, Ð²Ð‚Ñšcan boost productivity when there are older workers with sore backs, or young parents with sometimes sleepless nightsÐ²Ð‚Ñœ as well as Ð²Ð‚Ñšproduce better morale, increased motivation and less stressÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (www.collegejournal.com). Burton Snowboards in Burlington, Vermont, for example, allows employees to bring their dogs to work as part of an effort to promote a fun and stress-free environment. SAS Institute Inc. in Cary, North Carolina hosts lunchtime musical performances in an effort to keep their employees relaxed and healthy. Part of their mission statement on their website boasts of a work-life balanced environment that Ð²Ð‚Ñšencourages the integration of the companyÐ²Ð‚â„¢s business objectives with [employeesÐ²Ð‚â„¢] personal needsÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (www.sas.com). SAS InstituteÐ²Ð‚â„¢s headquarter facilities include two on-site childcare centers, an eldercare information and referral program, an employee health care center, wellness programs, and a 58,000 square foot recreation and fitness center. Baystate Health System in Springfield, Massachussetts is another company that seeks to provide a respite from stressful working conditions by encouraging employees with musical talent to perform for their co-workers during lunch.
Other companies promote physical activity breaks as stress-withdrawal strategies. Network Appliance Inc. in Sunnyvale, Califonia has a putting green and a beach volleyball court available to its employees, Orvis Co., a sporting-goods company from Vermont, stocks a lake on its property with bass and encourages employees to fish during their breaks. The global advertising agency DDB Worldwide Communications Group offers yoga classes in its conference rooms and on-site bicycles and even provides alcohol to Ð²Ð‚Ñšcelebrate or to ease tensions during a hard project.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ
Segal Co., a New York benefits-consulting firm, provides a nap room for its employees complete with a massage recliner, a rocking chair, and abstract art. An entire business called Metronaps also exists in New York to provide sleep breaks for stressed workers. In London, another consulting firm called Vielife provides a dark room with a reclining chair and soothing music where employees can nap. Firefly, a UK public relations agency, also provides a similar nap room for employees to recharge. Even the manufacturing giant 3M has embraced such Ð²Ð‚Ñšrelaxation roomsÐ²Ð‚Ñœ with its shiatsu massage/nap area. There seems to be a consensus that allowing employees to temporarily remove themselves from stressful environments will boost company productivity (www.FT.com).
In conclusion, what can one do to deal with stress overload or, better yet, to avoid it in the first place? The most helpful method of dealing with stress is learning how to manage the stress that comes along with any new challenge, good or bad. Stress-management skills work best when they are used regularly, not just when the pressure is on. Knowing how to "de-stress" and doing it when things are relatively calm can help you get through challenging circumstances that may arise. Here are some things that can help keep stress under control.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Take a stand against over-scheduling. If you're feeling stretched, consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important to you.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Be realistic. Don't try to be perfect - no one is. And expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level, too (not to mention put a lot of pressure on them!). If you need help on something, like schoolwork, ask for it.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Get a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep your body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Learn to relax. The body's natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. It's your body's opposite of stress, and it creates a sense of well-being and calm.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Treat your body well. Experts agree that getting regular exercise and eating well helps people manage stress.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Watch what you're thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things. A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best of stressful circumstances.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Solve the little problems. Develop skills to calmly look at a problem, figure out options, and take some action toward a solution. Feeling capable of solving little problems builds the inner confidence to move on to life's bigger ones - and it and can serve you well in times of stress.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Build Your Resilience. Researchers have identified the qualities that make some people seem naturally resilient even when faced with high levels of stress. If you want to build your resilience, work on developing these attitudes and behaviors:
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Think of change as a challenging and normal part of life.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž See setbacks and problems as temporary and solvable.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Believe that you will succeed if you keep working toward your goals.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Take action to solve problems that crop up.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Build strong relationships and keep commitments to family and friends.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Have a support system and ask for help.
Ð²Ð‚Ñž Participate regularly in activities for relaxation and fun.
Learn to think of challenges as opportunities and stressors as temporary problems, not disasters. Practice solving problems and asking others for help and guidance rather than complaining and letting stress build. Make goals and keep track of your progress. Make time for relaxation. Be optimistic. Believe in yourself. Be sure to breathe. And let a little stress motivate you into positive action to reach your goals (www.kidshealth.org).
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