Don't Sweat The Stress!

Stress can kill you! Now that I got your attention, I am going to go over what stress is, how to manage it and how it effects you.

Quick, name a leading cause of concern to the workers of North America? That would be... getting sick. Many employees (and employers) are worried about getting sick because time is money. Although a lot of companies have compensation packages for people who fall ill, in the long run it still comes down to less productivity and more spent money, so it's best not to get sick. But how do you not get sick? To know this, one would have to understand what makes them sick in the first place. Why is it that so many hard workers get sick quite often? A simple answer to that question would be stress.

A common term for too much stress in the workplace is 'burnout'. Workers complain about it all the time, citing it as the main reason that they cannot work to their capacity . Burnout doesn't just happen to workers: students can suffer from burnout, as well as housewives and even children.

Why so people suffer from burnout? What can they do to stop or prevent it? Stop working? Sure, but people just can't quit their jobs; there needs to be a better way.

Employers are beginning to understand the need for their workers to be healthy in order keep productivity at its maximum and sick days at their minimum. Larger companies are making it easier for people to release their pent up stress by installing fitness facilities within their company. Other companies have deals made with fitness facilities where employees get a significant discount off a yearly membership. Some companies offer a more flexible work schedule for their employees, instead of the usual 9 to 5 schedule.

People also need to deal with the 'stress' outside their work lives. But first they must understand exactly what a stress is, how the body reacts to stress (and too much stress), then they can figure out how to control it.

What about stress?

A stress can be defined as a temporarily-induced physiological and/or psychological imbalance that is caused by any action/ situation (stressor) which an individual regards as a possible danger. The key word in this definition is 'regard', because in most cases (except maybe if you were dodging an oncoming car or herd of Waterbuffalo, depending on your geographic location), it's not the actual stressor that creates the stress response, but the person's reaction to the particular stressor (or possible stresor).

Depending on a person's personality, people will respond in varying ways to the same stressor based on their individual ways of reacting. It is when people perceive many situations as stressful that they can become overloaded with stress.

Stress overload can be caused by various predicaments that are believed to be stressful. Such stressors include:

  • Critical life events
  • Chronic work strain
  • Accumulating everyday life hassles.
  • Environmental pressures (eg: noise pollution)

When one is 'stressed out', one tends to show signs of being tense and overanxious, along with bouts of depression and emotional distress. These symptoms tend to be more prevalent with people who lead very inactive lifestyles. It makes sense because it is usually inactive people who do not have an outlet for their tensions and turmoil.

When one does not have a way of releasing tension, anxiety, or any other manifestation of stress, except for just having nervous breakdowns, this can lead to many health problems (eg: heart disease, cancer, flu and colds) and general deterioration of health. In other words, stress can age you prematurely. Stress can kill you too. Conversely, a complete lack of stress can kill you too.

The body and mind require a certain degree of tension to stay fit and healthy. A comfortable level of stress is essential. It spurs creativity and productivity; it makes life worth living because it requires us to strive and achieve. Few things are as frustrating as complete inactivity, for we cannot just simply vegetate. We must learn to deal with out stress response in a more appropriate manner.

Fight Or Flight

During a stressful situation, our adrenal glands secrete the hormones Epinephrine and Norepinephrine (collectively known as adrenaline). These hormones help prepare our bodies for the stressful situation by speeding up our heart rate to increase the amount of blood pumping through our bodies. Also, the blood vessels going to our muscles are expanding, allowing for greater blood flow to those regions needing it. This is in order to fight or to run away from a situation (hence the term 'fight or flight'). The vessels going to the stomach and the intestines are shut off, in order to halt the digestion process.

Other adrenaline-induced bodily functions include stimulation of the liver to release glucose (ie: blood sugar) stores for quick energy, especially to our working muscles. Our fat cells release free fatty acids for fuel, plus we have a heightened state of awareness that helps us think more clearly and quickly.

The fight or flight response is of great value in truly stressful situations because it enables you to deal with a stressful situation by either fighting or by running away. This response is not of good use in situations where it is only you who perceives it as stressful ( such as cramming to meet a deadline at the office) because all the adrenaline-induced functions are in action, but there is to be no fighting or fleeing.

If stressors are maintained for prolonged periods of time, the body tends to follow the three following stages:

  1. An Alarm reaction, where we would have the fight-or-flight response.
  2. A Resistance, where the bodily functions would return to normal.
  3. Exhaustion, where the fight-or-flight symptoms would again return, and could possibly lead to death if not dealt with accordingly.

Certainly, one must prevent oneself from ever reaching the point of exhaustion, even prevent the whole stress response altogether when it is not needed.

Stress Management

In order for one to prevent stress from getting the better of them, one should employ some good stress management principles, including regular exercise.

As one adapts to exercise, one also produces a mental adaptation. The mental and the physical benefits seem to work hand-in-hand. People who exercise regularly more than often tend to display emotional stability, as with being more resistant to depression and anxiety. Weight training would be a very good form of exercise for this purpose.

While exercise (ex: weight training) itself ia a stress, if it is performed in a progressive manner on a regular basis, it teaches the body to resist stress and to adapt to it so that it your body never moves to the exhaustion stage. There seems to be a direct link between a person's physical fitness and his/her ability to adapt to business pressures, social stress and emotional overloads. Also, a person's ability to recuperate more from injury is enhanced as well as their ability to prevent the onset of disease.

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