THE STRESS WAR

I had a long talk with my cousin yesterday; it’s always good to hear from her and we vowed once again to talk more often. We covered a lot of subjects including stress, so it sounded like a good topic to kick around in a post. I have discussed previously my experiences in 2002; depression, job-related stress, stress at home… So it isn’t surprising that I collected resources from that time period and still have them. I have two magazine articles on stress from 2002, and one on “75 Ways to be Happy” from the same year. The articles on stress are “Balancing Stress” by Mardy Fones and “When Stress Hits the Fan” by Sue Cummings.

Fones’ article calls stress the “epidemic of the new millennium” and says the American Stress Institute (I didn’t know we had one) estimates stress costs U.S. industry $300 billion annually in absenteeism, diminished production, turnover, direct medical and legal costs, and industrial accidents. In the workplace “challenge keeps you on your toes, stress knocks you off them.”

When we experience stress our bodies go into fight or flight mode. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in; blood is shunted away from digestion, skin, kidney and spleen making it available for heart, brain, lungs and limbs. Heart rate and blood pressure go up; triglycerides and glucose are released into the blood for fuel. If it continues cortisol is released from the adrenal glands, suppressing the immune system and breaking down protein (muscle) for more fuel. All this is great for meeting an attack, but really bad for long-term health. Stress doesn’t always have to come from some big event; these responses can be triggered by something as insignificant as a traffic jam. Throw in a bad job or boss, soured relationships with our spouse or children, or financial problems and we get a soup made for catastrophe.

Prolonged stress – the kind we experience in our culture- contributes to many health related conditions. Heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression insomnia, chronic indigestion…
Fones’ article lists the following signs that stress may be getting out of hand:
• Headaches
• Difficulty sleeping
• Trouble concentrating
• Angry outbursts
• Upset stomach
• Job dissatisfaction
• Low morale
• Depression
• Inability to laugh at yourself
• Excessive weight gain or loss
• Unexplained body aches and pains

He also lists six categories in which workplace stress falls:
1. Tasks that deny workers control; heavy workloads, infrequent breaks, long hours, hectic and routine tasks with little meaning or that don’t use the workers’ skills
2. Management that leaves employees out of decision-making, communicates poorly and has family- unfriendly policies
3. Lack of support from co-workers and supervisors, including personality or workstyle conflicts.
4. Uncertain job expectations or too many expectations
5. Fear of losing your job, lack of advancement opportunities or rapid change- mergers, acquisitions, layoffs- that leave remaining workers feeling vulnerable or guilty.
6. An environment that is dangerous, crowded, noisy, polluted or causes ergonomic problems.

Finally, both articles list some helpful solutions. Breathe deeply; slow deep breaths can slow the heart rate and change our physiology. Exercise is a solid stress-reduction technique. Keep prayer at the center of your life; foster a sense of humor in yourself and all you do. Do something you enjoy every day. Focus on the positive aspects of your job. Go to your boss with a realistic plan that benefits the company and reduces stress. Express gratitude openly when work goes well. Get involved in your community. Develop a support network. Keep your job skills current and your resume updated.

“Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt 11: 28-30

Tomorrow we’ll look at the article “75 Ways to be Happy”.

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