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Stress in the Workplace
Stress is unavoidable. If you are a living, breathing person, you experiece stress. Stress is not a bad thing. It motivates us and gets us to get off our bottoms to do what needs to be done. Without it we would become lumps of lard. Our reaction to stressful situations is what social scientists call an adaptive response. Our ancestors relied on it to get them out of sticky situations. When they encountered the occassional tiger with a gleam in her eye, they got the rush of adrenaline and other hormones that allowed them to react quickly with a sudden increase in strength and mobility (translation: they ran like… a tiger was chasing them). These days the irrate boss or customer has replaced the tiger and there is no place to run. Instead we must work to try to placate the beast. Often, this is at best only a temporary reprieve.

Consequences of too much stress
Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can have accumulative effects on an individual. That is, it can result in both physical and mental problems. While the list of physical symptoms that are related to high levels of stress is long, one the most notable physcial side effects is a weakened immune system. Individuals coping with a high degree of stress over time become more suseptable to viruses and infections. They also may find that they get tired easily and little energy. Prolonged exposure to stress can also lead to problems with concentration and depression. This in turn can generate additional stress in a downward spiral that can lead to more serious mental and physical problems.

Are you stressed out?
Your resources are limited. Imagine your energy supply is contained in a small ball of clay (this is a fun workshop activity). Now take the ball and start to divide it into sections. Make a section for each identified stressor in your life. Make certain that the size of each section is representative of the "amount" of stress for a particular stressor. If you're like most people, your ball probably runs out before you finish the exercise. If so, you are "stressed out." People in this category are rarely surprised by this diagnosis. They have long realized their stressed state but are not certain what they can do about it.

One of the primary components of stress is our perception of events. Sometimes a simple reframing of a situation can help us react differently to it. I have a colleague who often quotes the old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff. And remember, its all small stuff." Of course, I think he started saying this after he had retired and his kids were all on their own. While I don't agree that "it's all small stuff," I do think over 90 percent of the situations that add to the stress of our daily lives perhaps are "small stuff." Just ask the question, "Is this important enough for me to expend my valuable resources on it."

Fighting the Beast
Here are some ways to effectively deal with stress:

#1 Breaking Bad Habits
Often our reaction to events is "automatic." That is, we have a tendency to react without thinking. There are volumes of literature that describes the way we process information. Suffice it to say, we tend to react as we have reacted in the past to similar situation and this, in turn, is often the way we learned to react during our formative years. So what's a person to do? To begin, you must understand that your reaction is a habit and changing a habit requires a great deal of persistences and effort. Any time you feel emotions related to a stressful situation try to let them signal you to THINK! I call this raising the red flag. Try to detach yourself from your emotions and do some "self talk." The first question should be "Is this small stuff?" You'll be surprised how often the answer is "yes." This one simple technique can save you vast amounts of energy during an average workday.

#2 Other People's Shoes
This technique is actually a continuation of the first. A great deal of the stress in the workplace is due to our interactions with other people. When people don't behave the way you think they should (which probably should read, the way you would), you may feel stressed. During your moment of self talk, reflect on the issues previously mentioned as well as attempt to take the other person's perspective. Take into account their situation and always remember that there are issues they are dealing with that you don't know about.

# 3 RELAX!
When someone says that they work hard and play hard, you can just about bet they are under a great deal of stress. Stress not only comes from the things we don't like to do, but also from many of the things we enjoy doing. Combat stress by taking some time to do things that are soothing and relaxing to you on a daily basis. Read a book, take a walk in the park, meditate, etc. There are those hyperactive types who can't sit still. People in this category can still find activities that are meditative. Gardening is a great choice for folks in this category.

#4 Exercise
Make sure you do some form of aerobic exercise for at least 10 minutes four days a week. This will charge your body's energy system tremendously. When working long hours on projects take a break and go for a brisk walk or climb some stairs to get your blood flowing. Also develop a stretching program If you're not familiar with stretching exercises, go to your nearest bookstore or library and read up.

#5 Hugs
Probably the most overlooked remedy for a hard day at the office. Hug your family and any friends who are agreeable. I personally suggest the long bear version.

T.L. Sheets, Ph.D.
Boomer Biz Editor


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