Stress, our common enemy

Stress, our common enemy

March 11, 2014 9:11 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Introduction

If you are reading this newsletter you’re an active citizen, a hard working individual who has put in countless hours, liters of blood sweat and tears, and part of your soul into what you do and who you are and it’s why you are a success in this game of life. However all this hard work comes at a cost and all too often we encounter this terrible thing known as stress.

Now were going to discuss both stress and anxiety but the two terms have slightly different definitions;
Stress is defined as “a person’s response to a stressor such as an environmental condition or stimulus. It is the body’s method of reacting to a challenge that will trigger a fight or flight response.”

Whereas anxiety is defined as “a state of inner turmoil often accompanied by nervous behavior, it is a feeling of fear/anger and uneasiness”

In the medical world acute and chronic stress aren’t diagnosable mental illnesses but anxiety disorders are. However to me the lines are slightly fizzy. Anxiety is more akin to fear and releases much of the same chemicals, when this anxiety reaches such a level that it interferes with daily function it makes the transition into a disorder like OCD or a phobia.

I know this feeling personally all too well as I have a very strange phobia, one which I have to encounter on almost a daily basis. I suffer from “Paedophobia” the chronic fear of infants and babies. I haven’t laid a hand on or held a child under the age of 3 in 7 years, the smell of baby powder and wipes makes me feel physically sick, hearing a baby crying is like nails on a chalk board to me, even baby items like bottles and dummies freak me out to the point I will leave a room and have to breathe and count to ten to feel better.

When a baby is in the room, I can sense it watching me with it’s cloudy bluish-black bug eyes, calculating my every move. I’m simply terrified, my heart beating in my throat. Whenever they come close to me I can almost see the cloud of “baby-germs” around them coming closer to me and I get nauseous. I’m well aware of how crazy I sound and it only makes it worse when everyone around me tells me I’m being silly but I can’t help it! Anyone else with a phobia will tell you the same, and all the symptoms I display are all signs of stress as a result of the “fight or flight” response. Something we all have except in some people the response system is on a slightly higher alert system than most people.

Let’s get Sciency

Now let’s talk science!!! We’ve all had a big test or a scary speech looming over us at some point so everybody knows what anxiety feels like. Your guts feel all twisted up, your jaw clenches and instead of sleeping you just lie awake thinking useless thoughts. It’s annoying and counter-productive and useless so why do we even have that?

Turns out your bodies anxiety response isn’t useless at all it’s actually the result of the all-important sympathetic nervous system which is in charge of the fight or flight response the reason you can respond quickly and spectacularly to sudden threats. In the event that you wake up and your house is on fire you can respond immediately. Your body becomes flooded with adrenaline or epinephrine, a hormone that in a temporary but substantial way, changes how your body does business. It causes your sense of smell to heighten, your muscles and blood vessels to contract, your pupils to dilate, sends more blood to your heart and lungs and less to your digestive system after all if you’re going to get out of a burning house alive you’re not going to have time for a bathroom break. I know it’s not every day that your nervous system has to go to code RED. . . at least I hope not!

Your sympathetic nervous system also kicks in to a lesser degree when you have business to attend to like pay the bills or make a deadline, without it nothing would ever get done. But you don’t want your sympathetic nervous system running the whole show that’s why you also have a parasympathetic nervous system which creates the opposite to the fight or flight response sometimes called the relaxation or “feed and breed” response. Between these two systems a balance or kind of homeostasis is maintained. However some people have a hard time maintaining homeostasis, their fight or flight response is always in gear causing chronic anxiety. This condition is sometimes hereditary or it can develop when stressful experiences pile up.

Not only does chronic anxiety feel crappy it also damages your cells, alters your brain chemistry and can exacerbate pretty much any health problem you can think of. For starters, as expected, chronically stressed people have a greater risk of heart disease and high blood pressure since constant constriction of blood vessels puts pressure on the heart. Stress has also been found to worsen conditions such as asthma, migraines, male infertility, and gastrointestinal problems and even type two diabetes by raising blood glucose levels.

And on a cellular level constant stress has even weirder affects, research shows that chronic anxiety can actually accelerate aging by wearing away at the protective caps on our chromosomes called telomeres, stress can also inhibit your cells ability to protest themselves from oxidation, a process that acts on the body exactly the same way as rust on an old piece of metal. This causes imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine that effect sleep, mood and emotional stability.

So if you’re feeling anxious more often than you suspect is good for you take some steps to protect yourself. A little stress is good but it’s preferable that you stay alive!

 

Stress and the Business World

Workplace stress in particular costs Great Britain in excess of £530 million (according to statistics released by the Health and Safety Commission in 2007), our economy lost 14 million working days due to stress last year alone. This is not good for growth or individual health.

There are 6 key areas of the “Stress and Management Standards” that can result in poor health and well-being should there be a failure along the line to effectively control each section, resulting in decreased productivity and increased sickness absence. These six areas are:

  • Demands: workload, work patterns and work environment.
  • Control: how much of a say the person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support: encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided.
  • Relationships: positive working to avoid conflict and how unacceptable behavior I dealt with.
  • Role: understanding the individuals role within the organization.
  • Change: organizational change and how it is managed and communicated.

So if you’re in the business of managing people you surely want the best from them. So in order to keep workers happy, healthy and motivated it is important at all times to ensure the following;

  • Ensure the demands you place upon people do not outweigh their capabilities. Check their workload is actually do-able! Ensure they have enough time to complete the tasks you have set and that they have received the proper training to be able to even do what you have asked!
  • Give a little flexability! Someone will be more likely to complete tasks competently if they are given a choice in how they proceed. Provide options and give the individuals some form of control over their working lives. Nobody likes the feeling of complete and utter powerless-ness!
  • Everybody wants to feel as though they are valued in their job and that they are supported. Ensuring they have the correct resources at their disposal and reward schemes in place will provide excellent motivation!
  • Whilst maintaining a boundary of professionalism, you still need a good relationship with the people who work for you. They are much more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty to help you out in a tight spot. It is vital that staff witness you taking action on unacceptable behavior and practice peaceful conflict resolution wherever possible.
  • People are much more likely to put in 100% if they know the answers to the “Why?” questions. “Why am I doing this?” “Why am I here?” “Why is that so important?” “Why does this need to be done by then?” It’s important to know your role and the part you play, understanding why your role is important will give a sense of increased satisfaction when carrying out day to day duties.
  • Managing changes effectively is crucial in the running of any business. If everybody is on the same page the transition will be much smoother. Keep everybody in the loop and well in advance so that changes are properly prepared for and expected.

Help can be found in many places

So it’s clear how damaging stress is to our economy and to our health, and it’s reassuring to know there are frameworks out there that set out expectations and standards to prevent work place stress as much as possible (that is if line managers and leaders choose to pay attention to these standards).

But the big question is:

“How do I get rid of stress?”

The short answer is you won’t! Nobody can live a life completely stress free and in all honesty I don’t think eliminating all stress would be good for anybody in the long run, sometimes we need to feel that pinch of anxiety to get moving and motivated to rid ourselves of this feeling. However there are many tried and tested methods of stress reduction and there are industries built around stress management and reduction so if this is a real issue for you personally there are many places you can turn to for help including:

  • The good old GP – Your doctor can help put you in touch with the right people if you are really suffering. There is no shame in asking for help if things get too much, you are not weak but you have simply been strong for too long and enough is enough.
  • Mind – Mind is a mental health charity offering information and support to anybody who is suffering with a mental health problem. You can access their website: www.mind.org.uk for more information and links to support groups.
  • NHS – www.nhs.uk has an extremely helpful section on stress, anxiety and depression. It talks about finding your stress triggers and provides links to “Stress busters” that could help you.
  • The Stress Management Society – This wonderful society’s sole mission is to help combat stress through the latest knowledge, ideas and services. They provide links to workshops, yoga techniques, online stress coaching tools, self-hypnosis and even massage tips (www.stress.org.uk)

My greatest weapons in the fight against stress
*disclaimer: these are my own personal techniques that I find effective in my own battle against stress and they may not work for everybody*

Owing to the wonderful fact that everybody is different, everybody’s method for stress management will also be different. I do not deny there are many common themes and similarities in research into stress reduction techniques but I feel it’s a very personal journey to find what works for you.

Exercise – I confess I’m not a member of a gym and I’m not a fitness buff, but I absolutely believe in this technique and there is plenty of research to back up the undeniable fact that “exercise reduces stress”. After a particularly bad day at work trying to communicate the importance of controls to my assistant (and getting nowhere I might add) I proceeded to retreat home throw on some joggers and trainers, shove my headphones in and walk out into the big wide world determined to run out my frustration. After a 20 minute jog down to the sea front and pausing to watch the sunset, the stresses of the day seemed unimportant and I kicked myself for getting so angry about it. Exercise burns away the chemicals like cortisol and norephinephrine that cause feelings of stress and vigorous exercise will release endorphins into the system (see it’s proven by science). If you’re not a gym person (like me) or a jogger there are loads of options these days from snowboarding to swimming. I personally find swimming incredibly invigorating especially sea swimming (trust me when you jump into freezing cold north atlantic water 3 times a week you’ll forget everything that pissed you off).

Music -Music can have a drastic effect on mood so choose your playlists wisely. I have many different playlists depending on what kind of “ooopf” I need. Having a massively broad musical taste here are a few songs I love to listen too during periods of stress:

  • Cowards – American Head Charge
  • Chop Suey – System of a Down
  • Criticize – Alexander O’Neal
  • Explosions – Ellie Golding
  • Girl All the Bad Guys Want – Bowling for Soup
  • Give me Everything – Pitbull
  • ANYTYHING BY METALLICA
  • Play Hard – David Guetta
  • This is Love – Will.i.am
  • Titanium – David Guetta
  • Wake me up – Avicii

“Me” time – Now this is time I crave. I still don’t think I get enough of it. Being a young woman of an introverted personality I NEED alone time! Some people would prefer to talk to others to relieve stress but personally that makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like re-living the situation every time I see that person. In extreme situations I will isolate myself for a short period of time (I used to make it so I didn’t see another human being for a whole day) ensuring I have some of my favorite treats to hand lock myself away in my bedroom and do whatever the hell I feel like. I feel it’s important to me to have at least 1 evening a week to myself to take stock, think, re-set my mind, and do something for ME. Nothing work or social related. I will usually sit on my laptop watching youtube videos, reading interesting blogs, looking at the latest tattoo artwork or philosophy, anything as long as it interests me. In this time I will not look at emails, answer phone calls or texts (people who know me know I do this and so understand when I don’t reply until the next day). I’m not mad or depressed or antisocial. I just need to not talk to anyone for a while. And that’s okay.

Writing – Writing out your anger, anxiety, stress, fears whatever you what to get off your chest is an incredible way to deal with life. Address it to someone in particular if another person has made you feel this way, by writing instead of talking I feel it gives me time to look at the words and see just how meaningful they are. Reading it back after my linguistic rant gives me a sense of scope about the situation, sometimes I read things I’ve written in anger and almost laughed at how ridiculous the situation was and wonder why on earth I got so mad! Sometimes if I’m going through a really hard time and what I’ve written is very personal and damaging I take that piece of paper outside and set fire to it. Watching it burn and seeing the ashes rise into the atmosphere I feel like I’ve released my anger into the universe, whether someone has heard it or not, it’s almost like it’s out of my hands and off my chest. If, like me, you’re not brave enough to tell certain people how their actions have made you feel then this is the next best thing. I get a release without hurting someone else’s feelings by handing them a letter filled with spite and hate, because what would that accomplish? Will making someone else feel rotten really make you a better person?

In order to properly decipher what will help you deal with stress you need to go on a journey of self-discovery. Keep a journal with you at all times. Note down events/situations that cause you extreme stress and on the opposite end of the spectrum note down any experience you have which relaxes or makes you happy.

Don’t waste your life worrying about things you cannot change and focus on what you can. The only person who will make your life better is you. Think more positive and the universe will seem like a much brighter place, nobody wants to be stuck in the black hole of anxiety for the rest of their lives. Climb out and see the light.

Adventure, Love and Caffeine

Natasha Buivids

JCIPortsmouth 2014 Chamber President

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This post was written by makedo

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