23 November, 2008

A Lesson on Stress Management

By C. Radhakrishnan

In modern times Stress has become a Buzzword and legitimate concern for people of all walks of life. No one is immune from stress. Straight from birth to death an individual is exposed to various forms of stress. Stress has become such an issue, which can never be avoided from research and interaction in the 21st century.

The concept of stress was first introduced in Life sciences by Hans Selye in 1936. Stress acts as a force on body to produce strain. It is an adaptive response to a situation that is challenging to a person, like for some business man it is a frustration or emotional tension. It is a physical or mental pressure that restricts and acts as a hindrance in the performance of an individual. It is pressure, people feel in life due to their reaction to situation. Hans Selye defines stress as “adaptive response to the external situation that results in physical, psychological or behavioural deviation for organizational participants."

Types of Stress
There are two sides for stress – Eustress and Distress. A positive side is called a Eustress. It can be called as a pleasant or curative stress. We can't always avoid stress, in fact, sometimes we don't want to. Often, it is controlled stress that gives us our competitive edge in performance related activities like athletics, giving a speech, or acting. In short Eustress, which refers to healthy, positive, constructive outcome of stressful event. It is an experience that motivates people to achieve goals and attain success in every field of their life.

Distress is an unpleasant or disease-producing stress. Chronic, sustained, uncontrolled stress of a negative type may lead to a compromised immune system, illness, and even death. As a result, we all should become more aware of common or persistent distresses in our lives and initiate methods for managing them.

It is difficult to manage stress unless the individual experiencing stress is aware of the causes or sources of Stress. There are few common causes of stress namely the working environment, monetary satisfaction, Job profile, relationship with seniors and subordinates, family problems, etc.

There are many different ways that stress can be categorized. The three categories discussed below are just suggestions as to how you might view the sources of stress in your life. The important thing is whether your most common stressors would fall into any of the categories discussed below. If so, you will find several coping methods, which will be outlined later, that will be based on these categories of stress.

Situational Stress
Situational stress is caused by situational stressors in your immediate environment. An example would be sitting in an airplane as it is taxiing the runway for takeoff. You may be sitting, clutching the arm rests and hoping that you won't need to use the emergency instructions that the stewardess has just explained to you.

Your work environment, while you are working, is considered a situational stress. You are running back and forth, dealing with customers, counting change, answering phones, etc. When your workplace is real busy, you may experience a high level of situational stress. If your workplace is always busy, you may need some coping methods to help you function at high levels with the lowest possible negative reactions to the continual stress.
Keyword: it's happening NOW.

Body Stress
Body stress is stress that results in overt physical symptoms. Examples include abuse, such as consuming too much alcohol, abusing drugs, or exercising too much. On the other hand, some people neglect their bodies by not getting enough sleep or proper nutrition.

Many people view it as a simple hangover, but drinking too much alcohol is a stress to the body. It reduces the amount of REM or dream sleep that you experience and results in a series of problematic symptoms such as headache, fatigue and inability to concentrate. This is an example of body stress that is caused by abuse of alcohol. What is the solution to this kind of stressor? Not too much can be done about an aggressive hangover except to wait out the symptoms. The more serious problem facing you would be to ensure that this type of abuse does not become a regular feature of your life. Often, body stress is related to other sources of stress. For example, the reason that one abuses alcohol may very well have to do with stresses at work or with relationships. So, the abuse of alcohol and resulting body stress is really tied to a deteriorating relationship. In this case, your body stress is your first clue to look for other stress-related problems.
Keywords: abuse, neglect.

Mind Stress
Mind stress is caused by negatively perceiving life events. Some people have a tendency to exaggerate problems or even invent problems that don't exist. We sometimes say that these people make "mountains out of molehills". Try to catch you being pessimistic, taking things personally or jumping to conclusions.

Mind stress is very common. You could be reading a book, listening to your teacher lecture or watching a movie, and suddenly you are no longer listening but instead you are thinking about something that happened earlier that morning or something that will be happening later that day. To the extent that you are worrying or fretting over these details is an example of mind stress. People who frequently allow themselves to mentally worry or think negative thoughts are the most prone to the negative long-term effects of mind stress.
Keywords: negative thinking.

It is a proven fact that most Indian executives suffer from fatness and 44 percent of middle – level executives report that job stress drives them to high level of alcohol consumption.

Stages of Stress:
The Stress is a response of an individual to the pressure and anxiety. There are both Positive and negative occurrences which give rise to stress. There are generally three stages through which an individual goes namely: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. In Alarm, the stress act upon an individual and the defence mechanism is brought into action. The next is the Resistance here the individual adapts to new stressful situations. If the defence mechanism is not successful then the last stage the Exhaustion comes into operation. Here the individual's resistance collapses and the organism do not perform satisfactorily.

High level of stress also impairs ability to remember information, make effective decisions, and take appropriate action.

Negative Out Comes of Stress:
There are certain outcomes of stress. The stress is a hindrance for individual’s performance, his work profile, his ability to work, migraine, fatigue, heart diseases, miscarriage and also his personal life.

Recent researches show that most executives are in the advanced stages of stress. There are certain results which are shown below:

1. Emotional Instability
2. Digestive Problems
3. High Blood Pressure
4. Inability to Relax
5. Chance of worry
6. Sleeplessness
7. Absent-mindedness
8. Non cooperative Attitude
9. Feeling of Inability to cope
10. Excessive use of Alcohol or Drugs

Relationship between stress and performance:
The research evidence shows that stress is both helpful and harmful to task performance. We can also say stress is both a friend and an enemy. Absence and too low level of stress does not stimulate the employee to work more or and perform better. Recent research evidences show that increase in stress level till its mild level serves as a stimulus to activate employee to respond to the challenges of task and, in turn, facilitates employee's task performance.

At the Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi, India, routine cardiac screening indicates that most executives are in the advanced stages.

Newstrom and Devis "have compared the relationship between stress and performance with that of strings and music on a violin, just as either too little or too much tension on the strings does not produce suitable music and the violin strings need to be readjusted to accommodate the changing conditions, such as increased humidity either too low or too high stress level interferes with employees performance and thus stress needs to be periodically adjusted and moderated.

How organisations Manage Stress?

Most organisations understood the need for coping with stress. Stress is harmful, as it hinders the employee's health and his or her work performance. There are certain tactics to cope with stress, which depends upon demands and constrains in which it is used. There are different techniques used for Stress reduction like Yoga, Counselling Services, Stress Management Programmes, etc.

Yoga: Yoga and Meditation are traditional techniques used in Indian origin; Yoga is a suspension of the functions of mind. There affect the psychological well being of an individual. It is one's willingness to change and self-transformation it is a glorified form of physical exercise and relaxation therapy. Meditation is a psycho spiritual process in meditation both self and external world together.

Employees Counselling: It is proactive approach used by organization, helping them in identifying their strengths and weakness. Counselling helps employees in the matters like career planning, there health planning, vocational guidance questions concerning the company and their job.

Training Program: The purpose of the Stress Control Training Program is, to teach personnel effective coping skills for stress reduction in the work place. This training is available to employees, teachers, counsellors, social workers, administrators, and other staff.

Personal Management of Stress:
Suppose you are not working any where, what can you do personally to manage stress?

As I told previously, we will discuss it category wise here.

Dealing with Situational Stress:
The following techniques can be used to deal with stresses that result from your immediate surroundings, i.e. Situational Stress.

Make changes in your surroundings:
If you have a headache because you've been reading with poor light, move to another room where the lighting is better. Changing your surroundings can mean turning on lights, turning off loud music or raising or lowering your computer chair. Make a careful survey of the places where you spend a good deal of your time, your study place at home or your workplace for example. Check your surroundings carefully for potential situational stressors.

Caringly and Carefully Communicate:
You need to learn to communicate with those with whom you are having problems. Sometimes your situational stress is caused by people. This is a more complicated potential source of stress. Whenever there are problems, you owe it to yourself and to the other person to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. This involves communication in a caring and careful way.

Learn how and when to say "NO":
Sometimes your stress is caused by taking on too many responsibilities. Some people have a habit of always saying "yes" to requests for help by others. Pretty soon they not only have all their own problems and responsibilities to attend to-they have everyone else's too! You need to become more aware of your limits and learn when you have reached them. The next step is to practice saying "no". Remember, your first responsibility is to your own health. You are of little use to others if you are not healthy.

Learn techniques for time management:
Situational stress often results from feeling like we don't have enough time to accomplish all we need to in a given day. In many cases it is not a lack of time that is the problem, but rather it is poor time management skills that lead us to this dilemma. Time management means different things to different people. For some, it will be something as simple as making lists of "things to do". For others, learning to use daily planners and organizers will help them to better manage their time.

Delegate responsibilities:
People with perfectionist tendencies have trouble delegating work. They have the attitude that, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself". They fear that by letting someone else help them with a given task that they are losing control and that something will probably go wrong. We need to learn that there is more than just, "my way" of doing things. Learning to delegate responsibilities when they become overwhelming, will help you build more trusting relationships and will relieve your burden of too many stressors.

Dealing with Body Stress:
The following interventions can be used to deal with stresses that result from abusing or neglecting your body, i.e. Body Stress.

Practice relaxation training:
Relaxation equals energy. Because a relaxed body conserves energy, there remains more stored energy to be used on demand. Do you balance periods of activity with times of relaxation? It isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. Inner relaxation means being comfortable with 'who you are'. By becoming more aware of your patterns of behaviour and learning your reactions to stress, you may be able to learn how to approach pressure situations with a more relaxed attitude. The next time you encounter a stressful situation, be mindful of your reactions. As you relax, more choices open up to you, so you needn't react automatically in negative, habitual ways.

Dealing with body stress often simply means dealing with the evident symptoms that are seen in the body. For example, when you see rapid, shallow chest breathing, you can counter that with the practice of more relaxed breathing technique. Or when you notice tense muscles in various parts of the body, you can practice systematically relaxing the muscles by consciously loosening the muscles that seem to be tense.

Avoid common stress-inducing substances
There are several food items that are a regular part of the average Indian diet that may predispose one to stress and ultimately, a stress related physical disorder.
1. Decrease your intake of sugar especially refined sugar. Read labels.
2. Cut down your sources of salt to no more than 2200 mg/day. Fast, packaged, and canned foods are notoriously high in salt.
3. Drink no more than the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day (250 mg) or less.
4. Seek out and consume good sources of water-soluble vitamins and if you are unsure, take a vitamin supplement with amounts of the water-soluble vitamins equalling no more than 100% of the RDA.
5. Drink no more than the equivalent of two drinks of alcohol per day.
6. Don't smoke and if you do find a program to help you quit.
7. Get regular exercise.

Dealing with Mind Stress:
The following interventions can be used when your stresses result from negative thinking or from a tendency to mentally create problems or unrealistically exaggerate problems.

Develop and take "Star Treks"
A Star Trek is just another name for mental imagery, or visualization. Just as on TV when they "beam" people back and forth, you can mentally transport yourself to the most peaceful, relaxing place that you can think of. Imagine a beautiful beach scene or lying in an outdoor hot tub on a warm summer night. Whatever you imagine, be sure to pay attention to each detail. Take five or ten minutes out of your day for "Trekking".

Find health enhancing phrases and repeat them regularly:
Write little notes to you, which say, "Smile more today" or, "Don't take things too seriously", or whatever else might reinforce a relaxed state of mind. Post these little notes in places where you are likely to see them often (bathroom mirror, near the TV, etc.). Or perhaps, enlist the help of a friend. You can write these little notes to each other and leave them in places where they are sure to be found. This practice can help to remind you that you have a tendency toward mind stressing.

Practice meditation and/or prayer:
Our traditional techniques of meditation are often excellent to provide simple methods for focus and concentration. A by-product of this focus is stress reduction. Meditation techniques have been shown to be effective in reducing heart rate and blood pressure, two common indicators of stress. Prayer can be used by those who are comfortable in a religious context. Prayer also allows focus (on God or on specific words of wisdom) and, as a result, often leads to a reduction in stress levels. Even you can think of listening to Vedic chants or soft instrumentals.

Create Mandalas:
A Mandala is a drawing that is made inside of a circle (usually). It is essentially a vehicle for concentrating the mind. It is actually a Vedic technique, used successfully by many of our sages. You can trace a circle on a piece of paper. Then, just start drawing. You can draw shapes, lines and pictures. The Mandala is an expression of your subconscious thoughts and feelings, and therefore should be constructed with great care and concentration. It often helps to use colour pencils in order to more accurately portray your feelings.

The concept of Stress is from the natural sciences. Stress is a force which acts in a body to produce strain. It is becoming common in organizations because of increasing job complexity and economic pressure. There is a need to manage stress, which is both harmful and useful but ultimately affects the performance of an employee. In competitive and complex world implementation of strategies to manage stress, is a continuous process and a very essential aspect in every day life.

1.Kale Latif Ahmed (June 1998); "Management and Human Resource Development''; Manisha Prakashan, Mumbai.
2.Sharma AM (2005); " Personal and Human Resource Development"; Himalayan Publishing House, New Delhi.
3.Mamoria CB and Gankar (2002) ; "Personal Management"; Himalayan Publishing House.
4.John W. Newstrom and Keith Davis: Organizational Behaviour: Human Behaviour at work, Tata Mc Graw-Hill Publishing company Ltd., New Delhi.