Get Touch With Stress

The British believe stress costs their economy staggering £5 billion year. And stress claims in the Australian public sector cost an estimated A$35 million last year.
Given these figures, it amazes me that stress management is still called “soft skill”. The impact on the bottom line is hard reality. In my experience stress management training can make significant difference in developing stress toughness and improving workplace productivity.

Stress toughness
Ironically, some personalities seem to be stress immune or resistant. Stress-tough people apparently thrive on stress and cope with pressures that would put the average person into tailspin.
The concept of stress hardiness was first investigated by Professor Salvador Maddi and his colleagues at the University of Chicago in 1975. Their research identified three personality dispositions that contribute to stress toughness. They are commitment, control and challenge.
If you enjoy your job, have sense of control over your life and see stress as challenge rather than threat then, you will cope with stress better than people who feel helpless and constantly threatened by stress.

Stress management
Rapid global change is now impacting many societies. The effects reach into every crevice of life putting more and more people under increasing pressure. Our biological evolution is lagging behind the revolution in technology and lifestyle. Physiological and psychological stress emerges as result of growing deficit between daily demands and coping resources.
To cope with the stress of “future shock” people need to get tough. The social science vernacular used to describe stress-toughness is “hardiness”.

What is stress?
Stress is different things to different people. To mountaineer it is the challenge of pushing physical resources to the limit by striving to achieve demanding goal. To the homeward bound motorist it is invariably the hassle of heavy traffic and inhalation of obnoxious exhaust fumes.
Take piece of paper and write the word stress at the top. Now write down all the words and images that spring to mind as you think about the word. Most of us respond to the word stress in negative ways.
But, not all stress is negative. The word eustress has been coined to describe positive stress. Eustress results from exhilarating experiences such as winning and achieving.
Negative stress is distress. It is the stress of losing, failing, overworking and not coping. Distress affects people in negative often-harmful manner, but it is normal, unavoidable part of life
Stressors cause stress
Stress results from failure to adequately cope with stressors. Stressors can be anything from loud noise, uncomfortable air-conditioning, debt, ringing telephones, broken relationships, unrealistic deadlines, discouragement, fear, pain or thousand other things that impact daily life. It is impossible to avoid stressors. The only totally stress-free state is death!
We experience stress as the body adjusts to external demands placed upon it. Our body constantly seeks to maintain stability and stress is usually sensed as the body readjusts to too much pressure. Scientists call it homeostasis to define the physiological limits in which the body functions efficiently and comfortably. Stress disturbs homeostasis by creating state of imbalance. Stress is also the tension that the body exerts as it seeks to return to steady state.
Our ability to cope with stressors determines the amount of stress we experience.
We need to assist our bodies to cope with stress because our natural biological stress-adjustors are not ideally suited to the demands of modern living. Frankly, we are better suited to coping with the stressors faced by our primitive ancestors. The stressors faced by humans conditioned to nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle are obviously different to those imposed by our high-tech lifestyle of today. Our ancestors relied on chemical responses to stress to trigger physical “flight” or “fight” responses to the perils and pleasures of hunting.
Beating hasty exit from the office or dishing out smack in the eye to the boss when things get on top of you would not enhance your standing in the organisation and dismissal or assault charges would likely generate even more stress.

Accelerating change
Life’s ever increasing rate of change is the most significant background stressor. Instant, mass communication has changed the way we think. It has shrunk the world to global village proportions. Technological change affects our lifestyle in so many ways. And change generates stress by forcing us to make adjustments in our lives, often in climate of uncertainty and unpredictability.

The consequences of stress
One of the pioneers of stress research, Dr Hans Selve wrote: “… stress is essentially reflected by the rate of all the wear and tear caused by life”.
His research convinced him that the body has only finite reserve of adaptation energy to apply to the stressors of life. Selve likened this reserve to bank account upon which we can make periodic withdrawals but into which we cannot deposit. It is non-renewable reserve of energy, drawn on throughout life until it is consumed and we die.
What happens within our bodies when we encounter stressor? Quite lot actually. The stressor initially excites the hypothalamus, the part of the brain under the thalamus controlling body temperature, hunger, thirst and the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary (a cherry-sized gland at the base of the brain) to release hormone chemical ACTH (an abbreviation for adrenocorticotrophic hormone) into the bloodstream. Once released, ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete further chemicals that affect various parts of the body.
The net effect of this process is to charge the body up on full alert for fight or flight response. It’s why we often feel tense and highly-strung when under lot of stress. Although the body has feedback system to settle us down once the crisis passes, we often stay alert because our thinking continues to trigger off the response.
Over time the constant stress response takes its toll on the body. One of the prime targets affected is the thymus gland – mysterious pale grey gland that sits behind the breastbone, above the heart. It plays key role in the body’s immune system. The thymus gland pumps out millions of lymphocytes each day to patrol the body and kill bacterial invaders.
These killer cells, called macrophages, literally eat invading bacteria. They operate in all parts of the body and we depend on them for our survival. Macrophages are weakened by steroid called cortisol, released by the adrenal gland when we experience stress. weakened immune system makes us vulnerable to infection. Consequently, people under stress often suffer regular attacks of colds and flu.
Psychological stress does have physical ramifications. Stressful thinking can do great deal of harm. It can flood the body with stress hormones creating vicious cycle making us more and more stressed.
Brain scientists are gradually forsaking the view that the brain is an electrically driven organ. Some 25 years of research has produced convincing evidence that hormones, and not electricity, are the stuff of thought. Many neurosurgeons believe that thinking is hormonal and that it takes place all over the body. This could explain why scientists have never been able to find the anatomical site of memory.
Hormones affect behaviour and thinking. For example, tests have shown that the brain thinks differently if the gonads are removed. Chemical analysis of the brains of suicide victims reveal hormonal profiles different from those of normal people. Opiate-like hormones such as endorphin and encephalin are produced by the brain and are responsible for the intense pleasure associated with sexual orgasm.
Scientists have now identified 45 different hormones that are

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