In his book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler predicted that the rate of change in modern civilization would accelerate to such a degree that enormous numbers of people would experience shattering stress and disorientation. This was over half a century ago but we are feeling the impact of global change where the effects of change reach into every crevice of life putting us more and more under pressure. We now notice that various forms of physiological and psychological stress emerge as a result of a growing deficit between daily demands and our coping resources.
Our current working environment has become so demanding and competitive that it is virtually impossible to avoid stress despite our efforts to avoid it or manage it. To cope with this situation we need to get tough and practice stress toughness or stress hardiness.
I find that stress is different things to different people. It may be the challenge of pushing physical resources to the limit by striving a demanding goal. It could be the hassle of heavy traffic and obnoxious exhaust fumes. It could even be work, exam or life pressure. The greatest problem is that most people respond to the word stress in negative ways because they see it as a destructive and debilitating force.
However, not all stress is negative or distressing. There are some types of positive stress we are likely to experience when we inherit a large amount of money, win a lottery or receive an unexpected promotion or reward. This is the stress of winning and achieving.
Distress on the other hand, can be the stress of losing, failing, overworking and not being able to cope well and this affects us in a negative and often harmful way. I know that we all experience distress from time to time and it is normal, unavoidable part of living or work life. I am not a medical practitioner but having worked in the commercial and industrial world I know that stress results from failure to adequately cope with stressors such as loud noise, uncomfortable air-conditioning, increasing debts, ringing telephones, broken relationships, unrealistic deadlines, discouragement, fear, pain and many others that impact upon us in the normal course of our life.
I feel that it is impossible to avoid stressors because they would always be there in this imperfect and unpredictable world. We experience stress as the body adjusts to the external demands placed upon it. Our body constantly seeks to maintain stability and stress is usually sensed as the body re-adjusts to too much pressure. Therefore, stress is always manageable. The source of stress may be outside the body or it may originate within the body in the form of blood pressure, pain, tumours or disturbing thoughts.
However, we need to assist our body to cope with stress because our natural biological stress-adjustors are not ideally suited to the increasing demands of modern living. If we physically run away from our workplace stresses whenever things got on top of us then this would not enhance our standing in our organization. Conversely when we do something stupid as a result of our stress we can get into greater level of difficulty. Consequently we need to develop special physical, social and other skills to deal with stress.
Rapid mass communication has changed the way we think about the world around us. We are continuously witnessing technological, social, cultural and political changes which have been affecting our lifestyle in many ways in the last few years. These changes will often escalate in the current climate of uncertainty and unpredictability to generate greater stress by forcing us to make finer adjustments in our work and family lives.
Many types of diseases have been linked with stress and psychological stress has greater physical ramifications. Too much stress naturally leads to burnout which is a condition characterised by emotional and physical exhaustion. The main symptoms associated with burnout are outlined below.
- Chronic fatigue
- Anger at those making demands on us
- Self-criticism for putting up with the demands
- Cynicism, negativism and irritability
- A sense of being besieged
- Hair-trigger display of emotions.
A combination of all these symptoms indicates that stress is wearing us down and that a holiday or some kind of relaxation therapy might be long overdue.
One of the best ways to deal with stress might be to confront it head-on and to perceive it as a positive stimulus for personal growth and development rather than as a destructive and debilitating force. This can be termed as stress–hardiness. This might mean we may have to find ways and means to provide us with specific and suitable knowledge and skills to assist us to develop positive approach to personal stress management or stress-hardiness. I have seen that with practice and application we can gradually toughen ourselves to cope with the stressors that invariably come our way.
In my long years of managerial responsibilities my therapies of stress-hardiness included some of these activities:
- Firm commitment to family life- Stress hardy people have high levels of commitment to work, leisure and family so they find interest, stimulation and novelty in the things they do. Commitment for them means interest in living and it means putting a spirit of adventure into life and being willing to try new things. They put in all their effort to be participators rather than spectators of work and life. This adventure is an experience and has a sense of delightful urgency that can generate a positive enthusiasm for learning, discovery, personal development and participation. There is no room for any stress.
- Attitude control – Our response to stressors is essentially individualistic so if someone speaks to us aggressively then we return aggression with aggression or when a motorist abuses us we would like to yell abuse as well but although these are normal responses they are not the only ones available to us because we can either ignore these or feel pity for them. The choice is ours if want to avoid stress. The question for us is simple, “Will I give permission to my stressors to disrupt my peace of mind and spoil my pleasure?” Stress-hardy people have an internal location of control and reflect this attitude in positive assertiveness and a strong sense of inner confidence.
- Rational thinking – It is not uncommon for people to hold irrational views about work, family, education, relationships and about themselves. That our work situation is totally secure and not subject to change. This is an irrational idea because change is inevitable so it is irrational to assume that we are totally secure anywhere, in any situation and in any relationships.
- A reasonable sense of humour – Laughter as we all know is the best medicine for stress so we must view and listen to comedies and tell and hear jokes. In the field of stress management laughter is a very sound form of relaxation therapy.
- An effective exercise program – Simple exercise is believed to play an important role in strengthening the immune system and managing stress. We can develop and sustain a good level of physical fitness with surprisingly little effort therefore let us not equate our kind of aerobic exercise with hard, strenuous and painful activities because simple walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, cross-country events and rowing may be sufficient for stress management.
- Knowledge of problem solving – Problem solving skills are essential and can be developed for the resolution of many stressful experiences. It is irrational to assume that every problem can be easily solved but solutions or compromises can be found for most problems if the time is taken to examine them logically, creatively and thoroughly. To manage stress it is vital that we know the real problem that we want to solve, what is the ideal situation, what options are available to us and what are some of the consequences after the decision is taken.
- Practicing autosuggestion- There is a powerful relationship between our mind and body. We have the conscious and the subconscious mind that influence our daily behaviour. While the conscious mind attends to matters that claim or attract our immediate attention one thing at a time, the subconscious mind is concerned with matters that are critical to our survival all the time. Therefore our subconscious mind is like a fertile field capable of growing healthy good crops, fruits and vegetables but also producing weeds if left unattended. Since it absorbs all the information that flows into our conscious mind, every word we speak, every sentence we read and everything we see is stored away in our subconscious mind and can influence our actions and character. So we can regulate the information that reaches our subconscious mind through our five senses. We can be reprogrammed through the process of auto suggestion and fill our mind with the images of what we would like to be. There are two critical times of the day when our subconscious mind is open to suggestion. First is the half hour immediately before we drop off to sleep and the second is the half hour immediately after our alarm goes off in the morning. If we want to be successful in any field or cope more effectively with stress in the workplace and at home then imagine ourselves dealing with problems in a more calm and confident manner and keep telling the subconscious mind to awaken the conscious mind.
- Stress boomerangs- Our life is a circle and the area inside the circle is our inner world of thoughts, actions and attitudes but our stressors impact upon us from outside world. These can be environmental stressors like the heat, cold and noise or physical stressors like pain, fatigue and headaches or psychological stressors as the deadlines, conflicts and insecurity. Whatever stress you receive from outside try to throw them back. It may be difficult but it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.
- Paradoxical intention concentrates on the thing that a person fears and through the use of humour exaggerates that fear until it loses its potency. If you feel nervous when you have to have a meeting with the boss then deliberately try to increase this feeling of nervousness or your hands shake noticeably whenever you have to speak in public then deliberately try to exaggerate the shakes before you have to speak or you get very tense and anxious whenever you face an examination then deliberately try to exaggerate the feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Paradoxical intention is not a cure for all problems but it can lend itself to many applications.
- Relaxation has been practiced for centuries and in the form of meditation is an essential element of stress management because it raises the pain threshold, reduces unnecessary fatigue, aids recovery from strenuous activities, lowers anxiety and gives a sense of inner control and peace. Relaxation is basically letting go and it involves stopping and passively abandoning oneself to a state of enjoyable tranquillity.
- Creativity and journalism – Writing a few poems, songs and keeping a personal journal can become a source of inspiration and encouragement for us. These can include interesting quotations, positive conversations, new ideas, humorous incidents, successful achievements and your creativity of any theme you find interesting.
- Stress-Event review – Every stressful experience we encounter extracts an emotional and physical price. If the event is extremely stressful then the cost to our health and well-being can be considerable. We can definitely learn a lot from our past experiences if after the event has passed and our emotional levels have subsided we are then in a position to objectively review the situation to define the events factually and review the event positively to determine future strategies.
- Isometric Relaxation is stretching for stress and there are many stretching exercises for hands, legs, fingers, shoulders and feet that we can do while sitting on a chair or standing up in our room.
- Lifestyle redesigns for diet, smoke, alcohol and caffeine- Stress can be generated by improper diet, nicotine intake and alcohol abuse. The modern office runs on coffee and tea but a sensible intake is recommended if we want to manage our stress.
- Information gathering – Ignorance can be a cause of our stress because it is extremely difficult to cope with the unknown. Continuing to study, self- help books and visiting libraries regularly will give us information that we can obtain to substantially reduce our stress.
- Intimacy and companionship – A supportive relationship is no doubt the most valuable resource for coping with stress because fortunate are all those merry souls who have a special person in their lives with whom they can share their burdens.
- Regular medical check-up– Many people push their physical and mental resources to the point of breakdown before seeking medical attention. If you have not had a thorough medical check-up in the past twelve months then you should take a positive step to do so immediately.
- Music therapy- Music is a tonic or the medicine that inspires one to new generative processes. “...when griping grief the heart doth wound, and doleful dumps the mind oppress. Then music with her silver sound...with speedy help doth lend redress...” (Shakespeare 1982)
- Crying, smiling and laughing – Crying like smiling and laughing provides a natural outlet for stress tension. It is not a sign of weakness but it is the utilisation of a special outlet that nature has provided to permit emotional healing.
- Ability to face the worst case scenario- If we can face the worst-case and gather the strength to deal with that then we are in a strong position to deal with all the other in-between outcomes that may arise. If you face job redundancy then the worst case is unemployment, an unbearable position to be in for a while but there are positives even in this situation when you can continue your personal development, or do things that you wanted to do but did not have time or go fishing or visit friends and family members to manage your stress.
- Pet therapy – Studies have shown that owning a pet can reduce the impact of daily hassles for many of us. Pets are ideal companions for people who face unavoidable loneliness. Take a dog for a walk, stroke a cat or feed the goldfish or ride a horse to manage your stress.
- Peace of mind – This state of mind is a quiet happiness that comes from good living and peaceful interpersonal relationships. Life is stressful, unpleasant and almost intolerable without peace of mind. It is worth more than material wealth and much more than all the earthly rewards. So it is a worthwhile beacon to follow if we want to be stress-hardy.