The word stress derives from the Latin word “stringere”, a word that describes drawing tight, as well as hardship or affliction. Whilst this still applies to stress today, the modern day description is that of a disorder triggered by pressures such as work, conflict, money and family issues.
Stress can be induced by both actual physical threats, as well as perceived threats. Perceived threats can arise from any situation where a person feels out of control or has limited control over their environment. This could be anything from a request to do additional work when already overloaded, to a possible affront to our personality, to being stuck in a traffic jam.
When we experience stress, our bodies react in both a physical and mental manner. The body reacts to both perceived and actual danger by increasing physical capacity through increased heartbeat and respiration, tensed muscles and adrenaline. Essentially, our bodies are preparing to “fight or flight”, building up the physical capacity to enact either. From a mental perspective, intellectual capacity actually decreases, as brain functioning reverts to basic and vital functions only. In corporate environments, where there is huge pressure to be faster and smarter than the competition, this has profound implications, as stressed out employees are acting neither intelligently nor creatively.
The effects of prolonged stress are multitudinous, playing a major factor in hypertension, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, tension and vascular headaches and decreased immunological functioning. It also impacts negatively upon health-related behaviours, such as smoking, alcohol consumption , work productivity and absenteeism.
From a psychological perspective, stress is linked to the development of mental disorders, and can lead to an overall decrease in life satisfaction. It also leads to increased anxiety levels, uncertainty and confusion, and may manifest in anger and frustration.
How people respond to stress is uniquely individual. Who we are and how our personality is made-up will determine how we respond to external circumstances. Each individual will differ in terms of whether they are naturally prone to stress, or whether their stress is specifically generated by certain issues or events. Therefore, acknowledging one’s own unique responses is key to stress management.
Stress management is not so much an external set of circumstances as a response to those circumstances. Essentially, how we cope with stress is up to us! Just as we need to know what triggers our stress, so stress management is a process of finding what tools and techniques can bring about stress relief. There is strong evidence that the following can play a role in alleviating stress: meditation; visualisation therapies; exercise; play; healthy diet and hobbies. However, as people become more and more stressed, they are less likely to employ any of these strategies. Ironically, it is when we are de-stressed that we become more effective and more creative. As Stephen Covey so eloquently puts it, we can chop down the forest far quicker when we take time out to “sharpen the saw”.
Need to find out more about stress management for your staff?
Contact Andrew @ The HR Hub