We are built to cope with bouts of highly charged danger. For example, when spotting a bear in the forest, we instinctively choose between running or staying put. However, these kinds of stresses are fleeting, and directly following such an experience our body returns to optimal functioning.
Our true problems lie not with extra-ordinary circumstances, but rather in the persistent, prolonged, chronic stress that results in fatigue, shallow breathing, elevated heart rate and higher cortisol levels. With chronic stress, our brain and body are generally on full alert—all of the time. The energy spent in this high state of anxiety can hinder the immune system, exacerbate existing ills and rob us daily of vitality and joy.
The American Institute of Stress states that, “Job stress carries a price tag for U.S. industry estimated at over $300 billion annually.” These costs are the result of a variety of workplace stress causes, including unrealistic deadlines or workloads, lack of control over the working environment, lack of support, difficult co-workers and feelings of powerlessness. Personal stressors, such as children, marriage, family, health and personal finances, also contribute to workplace stress. Becoming aware of the aspects of your professional or personal life that are adversely affecting you is the first step in stress reduction.
In reviewing your level of stress and tolerance, the next most essential thing to realize is that stress is highly personal and subjective. Understanding your personal boiling point is your best line of defense against losing your cool. Having root canal treatment is preferable for some than giving a public presentation. Identify your nemesis!
What makes you mildly flustered, when are you most anxious and whose behavior pushes your buttons on a regular basis? What are the physiological woes you are experiencing when dealing with these stressors—head/back/neck/jaw aches, fatigue, nervous tics, or lowered immune symptoms? Are mental, emotional or behavioral problems manifesting themselves as a result of this chronic stress, and how are the results of these negative psychological stressors affecting your life?
As you develop your stress reduction strategy, accept that there is no ONE perfect cure-all; your plan has to be tailored just for you. Whatever plan you select, finding a release is paramount to combatting stress. While monk-like meditation may work for one person, a high-speed, dirt-bike race may be the best coping strategy for another. Seeking and adopting healthier lifestyle solutions, and developing personal techniques to live and cope with stress in more constructive ways (better than, say…beer or wine every night), have been shown to significantly reduce tension.
Now is the time to review your intake of stimulants after 3pm, assess if you are getting good quality sleep, gauge if you are you eating real, healthy food and ensure that you have a good social circle whose laughter and support improves your life.
Simply acknowledging and being cognizant of the effects that stress plays on your body and mind can help you cope with life in a more productive, good-natured way, and adjust your perspective before you are launched into another stressful workplace setting.
Maeve Perle is an adjunct instructor of business at Central Oregon Community College. She can be contacted at 541-383-7710.