Like most things in life, stress can be good or very bad.
Good stress (eustress) motivates us, bad stress is debilitating. Mountains of research over the past few decades has clearly shown how damaging occupational stress is, radiating out to all areas of our lives. It’s vital to ensure that you have good coping strategies and the confidence to use them in the most productive way.
Being stressed at work can lead to all sorts of physical, and emotional difficulties like depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal disorders, and headaches, just to name a few. Stress can affect our work performance, damage our relationships with family, friends and colleagues and have severe consequences on our health. In fact, stress is associated with the six leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide – with 75 – 90% of all doctor’s visits being for stress-related complaints!
Work stress is complex and can involve environmental or personal factors, or both. Environmental factors include long hours, heavy workloads, conflicting or ambiguous demands, strict or shifting deadlines, job insecurity, and interpersonal conflict. Sometimes we can change these things, sometimes we can’t. Personal factors determine how we respond and this is something we can change. Change your thinking, change your world. Basically, we all respond differently according to our model of the world.
Personality, past events, coping strategies and resources all play a role. We only interpret events as stressful if we think they exceed our resources, or coping strategies and that’s why some events are perceived as stressful while others are seen as a challenge, and why different people respond differently to similar events. Challenging stressors produce excitement (good stress), threatening stressors produce anxiety (bad stress). When we have the time, knowledge and resources to manage a situation we feel very little or no stress. However when we don’t, we rely on our coping strategies.
Problem-focused coping strategies work on altering the stressor in some way (eg. reducing workload); Emotion-focused coping strategies alter how we feel about a stressor (eg. “I’m doing my best”), whereas;
Avoidance coping strategies are aimed at escaping from or disengaging from the situation either emotionally or behaviourally (eg. chatting with friends, surfing the net).
Each of these strategies are important and can be useful in the right circumstances, but if we use the wrong strategy we actually make the situation worse. For instance, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload and use avoidance (ie. phone a friend) you actually make the situation worse by wasting valuable time. Chatting to your friend no doubt makes you feel better temporarily, but it doesn’t solve the problem. A short conversation to vent may be helpful, but an hour long conversation really won’t. Whereas, discussing the situation (and preferably offering a potential solution), with your supervisor may solve the problem.
If you need help managing your stress levels, arrange an appointment today.
DEBORAH FARRELL (MCounPsych)