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An Overview on Stress

Stress is inevitable. We are hired… and we are fired. We are promoted…and demoted. Marriages begin… and they end. In between there is the day-to-day struggle of living with someone, raising children, and making it all work. There is no way we can be alive and not experience it. When you're in a tense situation and you're experiencing stress, it's almost impossible to see beyond what you're feeling. You think that no one else could possibly be under as much stress as you are. But stress is universal.

A National Health Problem

Forty percent of the U.S. population reportedly uses tranquilizers. One half to three quarters of routine medical practice is devoted to complaints relating to stress. Headaches, high blood pressure, accidents, alcoholism, ulcers, suicides, and heart attacks are just some of the many problems associated with stress.

Stress creates vicious cycles. Stressed people begin to skip lunch. They don't eat, and they don't share their problems with others. Poor diet reduces their ability to fight infections. Social isolation leads to depression. Stress accumulates and explodes in anger, leading to strains at work, and at home with wives, lovers, parents, and children. These emotional strains cause pain, and this pain can lead to alcohol and drug abuse - with disastrous consequences.

  • At any given moment, at least ten percent of the American population has a significant alcohol or drug abuse problem.
  • A staggering fifty percent of people in car accidents test positive for alcohol in their blood.
  • Six out of ten car fatalities involving children under age 20 also involve alcohol use.

Even without alcohol, stress-related emotional upset occurring in the six hours prior to a car accident has been found to be a major factor in as many as twenty percent of traffic fatalities. How many more stressed people preoccupied with problems, walk in front of oncoming cars or suffer falls or other accidents because of impaired concentration due to stress? Unfortunately, not even our children are immune to stress. The majority of accidental injuries of preschool children were found to occur during a time of family stress, such as a move to a new home.

An Industrial Problem

Impaired judgment and concentration caused by substance abuse leads to accidents at work, at home, and on the road. Stress disorders cost industry upwards of $2S billion in absenteeism, reduced performance and health benefit payments. And this figure pales when compared to the costs of stress-related alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace: a whopping $100 billion!

The Myths of Stress

Myth #1: Stress is ALWAYS bad.

This is perhaps the biggest myth that surrounds stress. Frequently stress can help us function. Whether we like it or not, some stress is essential in our lives - without it, we might not feel any motivation at all. Without the stress of having to pay bills, many people would elect to sleep rather than work. And without work, many of our greatest achievements would never be realized. Stress is not negative by definition; rather, it is our control of stress that determines whether or not it is harmful. If we are in control of our stress, then any stressful situation will be seen as a challenge - a challenge that can lead to positive results.

Myth #2: Stress prevents good performance.

It is often thought that stress prevents good performance. But it can enhance performance as well. It has been said that skills to win the wars of Europe were learned on the playing fields of Eton. Sports and the military are said to build men…and women. Jogging builds leg muscles and increases the heart's ability to handle both physical and mental stress. While many seek to reduce stress in order to perform better at work or at home, we also know that a modicum of anxiety is needed to study for an examination or drive a car defensively. Mild to moderate stress enhances functioning, for example, in sports, music, even sex.

Myth #3: Only tragedies cause stress.

Some people believe that stress only comes from major disasters in our lives, such as death, illness, taxes, divorce, or job loss. Conversely, what many would consider to be a positive event can, in reality, be a source of stress.

Marriage, moving, or having a child can produce stress that, to some people, is equal to or greater than many tragic losses they have experienced. The birth of a child is a joyous occasion, but any of us who are parents know that there may be mixed blessings - ranging from loss of sleep during the first few months of parenthood to ever-mounting college tuition bills.

Job promotion, certainly a positive event can also bring some negative results. Along with the increase in status and money can come increased responsibility, deadlines, and loneliness. Job advancement means more accountability, and the chance that more people will be angry at you when things don't go the right way.

Myth #4: Stress is a loser's problem.

Another myth about stress is that the person “at the top” is immune to it. Most of the time, people “at the top” are held more accountable for their failures than their successes. When things go well, everyone shares in the success. But when there s a disaster - a bankruptcy, for example - we look for a culprit. He or she is usually the person “at the top.” In a business, the buck stops with the boss. If a firm is large, the boss may be accountable to a board of directors and countless shareholders. If a company gets sued, the person in charge may be named in the suit. If a corporation begins to fail, the top executive may be fired.

Myth #5: Only winners have stress.

Many people believe the exact opposite of Myth #4; namely, they see stress as a problem only for the person at the top. They picture a top executive working twenty-four hours a day, ulcers eating away at his insides, constantly being bombarded with life-and-death decisions, meeting with twenty shareholders, and yelling into five telephones - all at the same time! However, those in high-pressure jobs are often better at coping with stress than teachers, nurses, policemen, firemen, telephone operators, and factory workers. Some theorize that this is due to the fact that those with the most skill in adapting to stress rise to the top - sort of a corporate survival of the fittest.

Another explanation is that people who are at the top of an organization have more power to control their environment. It's easier to handle pressure if we feel we have the power to make some changes - we accept more readily what we cannot control by controlling what we can. For example, an executive can ask his or her secretary to “hold my calls” and then take a breather from the pressure by meditating or taking a short nap. But the secretary doesn't have the same luxury of being able to control the work environment.

We often think that people at the top have more heart attacks because of stress. While the risk of having a heart attack appears to rise along with occupational status, results of studies have been inconclusive. Some researchers have found that the risk of heart attack declines as salary levels increase - or that there is no relationship at all between what you earn and your chances of having a heart attack.

Society | Self-Help | Health | Mind


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