Stress And Job Performance Essay, Research Paper
Stress and Stress Management
Who of you worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? -Luke 12:25-26
Whether you are talking to a college professor, a nuclear physicist, a doctor or the fifteen year-old flipping burgers at your neighborhood McDonald’s, a common factor that ties all of their very different jobs together is job-related stress. Stress comes in many forms and it affects people in many ways. Some people have mastered the art of targeting and reducing it at its root, and at the other extreme, some may die as a result of it. Whatever the case, stress is a force to be reckoned with both at work and elsewhere.
Stress is not a new issue, nor is it always a bad one. As a matter of fact, we need it for survival. According to Richard Stein, author of Personal Strategies for Living With Stress, “In the functioning of our biological systems, normal stress is necessary and vital: Through variations on the themes of fight or flight, stress reactions mobilize us to adapt to changing stimuli. (1983, p. 1)” This type of stress is referred to as “eustress” (Stress Management: Ten Self-Care Techniques 1986). In other words, to be able to adapt and react to change, stress is a vital factor. Another example of the healthy side of stress would be what Stein calls a “controlled exposure to stress.” An example of that would be watching a horror movie. The stress that we experience from that is not only “controlled” as Stein would call it, but also a bit pleasurable (1983, p. 2).
More obviously, stress can be quite harmful. Stress occurs when the pressures upon us exceed our resources to cope with the pressures (Stein, 1983, p. 3). This type of stress is called “distress” (Stress Management: Ten Self-Care Techniques 1986). Too much of it can actually be deadly. One of the main reasons that stress can be labeled as a killer is that its effects can be delayed and it can accrue. More or less, stress is a time bomb. Stein states that:
It is now known that the most malign effects of stress can be deferred and can accumulate until excessive levels are reached. Compounded stress can contribute to sudden death – as it does each year for thousands of victims of heart attack and stroke; or it can contribute slowly and insidiously – as it does for millions – to a vast assortment of other equally devastating physical and mental disorders. (1983, p. 2)
This is not to mention that stress is not cheap for anyone by any means. According to one study, stress costs US industry $19.4 billion dollars every year because of premature employee death due to stress. Another $150 million per year is lost in the US alone because of stress-related absenteeism. Annually, $700 million dollars is being spent to recruit replacements for executives with heart disease, chronic pain, hypertension and headaches, three stress related disorders, that make up fifty-four percent of job absenteeism. Not to mention that workers’ compensation awards for job stress are usually four times the amount of awards for regular claims (Stress Management 2000: High Cost of Stress 2000).
John McEwan, stress, grief and trauma consultant, says that learning how to manage stress is the key to a healthy and more fulfilling life. “Think of surfing a huge powerful wave,” explains McEwan. “Stress used correctly will enable you to go with the flow, riding the right side of the wave. If you fight against stress, battling wave after wave, then it’s only a matter of time before you will be sucked under.”(Seligman, 2000, p. 38)
McEwan’s point is very valid. Stress has a major impact on daily life whether people are painfully aware of it or it is an underlying problem they have yet to face. Due to the overwhelming number of people who are afflicted with stress related illnesses and trauma, especially related to the workplace, there have been countless books and publications published on ways to reduce and cope with stress.
According to Melanie Seligman, author of “Stress Success” one of the most effective ways to help yourself cope with pressured job and family commitments is to boost your immune system. She explains that recurring colds or flu, allergies and feeling tired after a long night’s rest are signs that your immune system is not operating properly. Seligman describes the immune system as a person’s “interface with the environment.” “Your immune system is the first line of defense when infection strikes the body. Like the nervous system, the immune system is capable of learning” (Seligman, 2000, p. 38). Essentially, Seligman is indicating that emotional states like depression and grief can weaken immunity, whereas loving can enhance it and make it stronger. She also suggests that peole should avoid the temptation to use antibiotics too often as that will harm white blood cells and in the end weaken the immune system (Seligman, 2000, p. 38).
Along the same vein of thinking is another study which shows that along with a healthy diet and a strong immune system, you should not neglect the power of exercise. Over 1000 studies have indicated that exercise has been shown to reduce stress. For the optimal effect, the results show that you should try aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate for 20 minutes or more. One of the reasons that exercise helps reduce stress is because it distracts you from whatever it is that is causing stress. It also helps eliminate excess energy, which can stem from and contribute to stress (Sress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Exercise has a calming effect and can lead to decreased emotional distress and better concentration. And it makes you feel more capable of handling chanllenges, such as tackling the cause of your stress. Exercise also helps counter possible diseases that are exacerbated by chronic stress, such as coronary artery disease (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
In addition, you should become what Linda Cruse calls an “office athlete” (Cruse, 1999, p. 65) This entails monitoring your stress level when it starts to produce physical symptoms. She suggests that you should move and stretch as much and as often as you can during the course of the day. This monitoring should be for two particular places: your shoulders and your jaw. “They are often repositories of stress and can lead to pinched nerves and TMJ, a debilitating disorder that causes pain and loss of mobility in the jaw,” Cruse states (1999, p. 65).
Also, the sheer power of yoga and meditation has been a huge hit in recent years. Research has demonstrated consistent, powerful results using these techniques. Stress researcher, Hans Selye, writes, “These practices should not be underestimated merely because science cannot explain them; they have worked for so long and in so many forms that we must respect them” (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
People that have mastered meditation are capable of reducing blood pressure, oxygen consumption and even reduce their heart rate whenever they want (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000). Over time, almost anyone can achieve these desireable results. According to Herbert Benson, a Harvard University physician, everyday you should plan to spend some time at rest (not asleep). Breathing should be your main focus at this point and it should occur in the diaphram, the muscle between your abdomen and your chest (Stress Tips & Strategies 1999). He states that you should make it regular and continuously repeat one word. The word itself should be simple or it could even be a word that does not make you think, like the ever popular “om.” He goes on to emphasize that this form of relaxation “is a skill that requires regular practice. It is not helpful to try it for the first time when under enormous stress” (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Doing visualizations is another tactic used with both mediation and yoga. Imagining a pleasant place is a good way to mentally remove yourself from a stressful situation. In doing this you must allow any thoughts you have to pass through your mind without actually “thinking” about them. In doing all of this, your breathing pattern should be slow and deliberate until you feel completely at ease. It is a good idea to imagine a place that makes you feel good and relaxed. Most often, this is a place in nature or a specific place where you may have spent restful vacations. You should be focusing on all of your senses in order to get the full effect. The visualization should last from five to ten minutes and the return to reality should be slow and progressive (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Another author, on the other hand, suggests that you should “giggle while you work.” “Fun and humor help individuals through crisis and change,” (2000, p. 214) writes Dave Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes, co-authors of 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work. “Because they facilitate the release of tension, fun and humor increase employees’ ability to cope with stress on the job and to remain flexible, creative and innovative under pressure–central features of a strong, resilient corporate culture,” say the authors (2000, p. 214). In other words, although it may have once been seen as big faux pas to joke around at the office, today it is of tremendous value to let your guard down, if only for the sake of your sanity and health, and tell a few jokes.
It seems as though this is a very popular contention. Many authors seem to share Clarke’s views on laughter and fun in the workplace. One such author, John Weinstein, suggests that there are many ways to use “humor to cope” (2000, p. 5). One way is basically to spend more time with your funniest friends and colleagues. By doing this you are surrounding yourself with humor and you are determining the nature of your sense of humor. Make time for pleasure. Schedule fun dates and activities in advance. Give yourself permission to goof off and relax. Find humor in everyday life. You have to learn to laugh at your own mistakes and find humor in the midst of stress (Weinstein, 2000, p. 5).
Weinstein goes on to add that “to successfully incorporate humor into the workplace, managers must give employees permission to have fun” (2000, p. 5). He says that managers have to let them know that laughter in the workplace can be extremely beneficial in boosting morale and productivity for everyone in the organization (2000, p. 5).
As a matter of fact, the companies that have the best customer service and often win awards are just those companies that have shown their employees it is ok to let loose (Armstrong & Kotler, 2000, p 401). One such company is Southwest Airlines. This is a company with a happy-go-lucky CEO that has placed the company in the media on more than one occasion for his shannanigans. This is the compnay that just “refuses to take itself seriously”(Armstrong, 2000, p. 401). Southwest has repeatedly won numerous awards such as the Triple Crown Award for best on-time service, best baggage handling and best customer service. It boasts a number one rating amoung the nations nine major airlines. Customers have returned all of the love by making this low-cost airline the most profitable in the business. All this is from an airline that is only a quarter of the size of the industry leader, American Airlines (Armstrong, 2000, p. 401).
Another study claims that the number one cause of stress at the workplace is a bad boss. The article also offers a number of ways in which a boss can help alleviate their employees’ stress. The main one is to be reasonable in your expections. This means to watch the number of extra duties you give your employees to carry. Loading them up with too much beyond their given assignments will take quality away from all of their work while still making their deadlines more difficult to achieve (How To Help Reduce Stress in Your Employees 2000).
A more obvious solution is to express your feelings. We all know that by expressing feelings, we are releasing pent up emotional tension that is not doing anyone any good by staying inside. “There is evidence that resilience to stress, including disease-related distress, is associated with how people handle their emotions,” (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000) according to David Spiegel, M.D., in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. This is why it is important to express your feelings, expecially your negative feelings, when you are under stress. According to various studies, doing the opposite, suppressing negative feelings and maintaining an upbeat or positive attitude, does far less to reduces stress than letting your feelings out. Being assertive in communicating your feelings, which in turn can lower your stress level, can have a signifciant effect on your medical condition (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Another author believes in “minibreaks.” These are two to three minute breaks in which you stop working and relax.
Sit down and get comfortable, slowly take a deep breath in, hold it, and then exhale very slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile and say something positive like, ‘I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d.” Be sure to get sufficient rest at night (Stress Management: Ten Self-Care Techniques 1986).
Again we have the recurrence of slow and deliberate breathing indicating once again that it is a key factor in the relaxation process.
Still another way that you can better manage stress is by becoming aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions to them. You must determine what events distress you and not ignore them. You must monitor what you tell yourself about the events and realize how your body reacts to them. For example, do you become nervous or is it more of a physical reaction? (Stress Management 1999). Once you recognize the issues at hand, you must then try to determine what can be changed. Can these stressors be avoided or eliminated all together? Can you reduce their intensity? Can you lessen your exposure to them? (Stress Management 1999). Those are all questions that must be considered when determining what your stressors are and your plan of action in order to lessen the blow of these harmful stressors.
One unusual way of coping with stress is to write about it. According to a study conducted by the Jorunal of the American Medical Association, writing about a stressful experience can help reduce the symptoms of common diseases, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000). As part of the study, a group of patients was asked to write for 20 minutes a day over three consecutive days about their most stressful life experience. Another group was asked to spend an equal amount of time writing about their plans for the day (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
The results indicated that forty-seven percent of the patients who wrote about their stressful experiences showed what physicicians determined to be “clinically relevant improvement” in their conditions four months later. A mere twenty-four percent of group number two showed a similar improvement(Stress Reduction Techniques 2000). Also, growing research has revealed that writing about one’s thoughts and feelings can lead to improvements in immune functioning, fewer visits to the doctor and an increased sense of well-being (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Since humans by nature are very social creatures, we need to be around other people, especially when we are feeling stressed. Having a supportive family and network of friends is one of the most significant ways to reduce stress and other medical conditions that are caused or magnified by it. One of the main outlets in this type of stress reduction is to talk about your difficulties with someone you trust. This helps relieve tnsion and may also help you begin to solve your problems. Other people will choose an even larger arena of sociability. These said people will attend a sports event or go to a spiritual group, etc. (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000). Still, others will turn to unfortunate outlets such as drinking to cope with their stressful lives (Stress Reduction Techniques 2000).
Another remedy to the stress bug is to have a positive mental attitude. Each day, as soon as you wake up, you should commit to having a good day. Psychologists say that feeling in control is a major contributor to reducing your stress. This in turn will make you predisposed to dealing with events at work as challenges and opportunies as opposed to problems. And what about something as simple as a smile? People always underestimate the power of a smile. According to Linda Cruse, “smiling, even thining about smiling, releases endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers” (Cruse, 1999, p. 65).
Time management is also key. When you start a task or project, you should try to finish it. It is dicouraging to face a lot of incomplete tasks. Along with this, you should conduct your own time management study. You should look at your whole work week without bias. Try to analyze where the time goes (Cruse, 1999, p. 65).
How many hours do you spend working, driving, having coffee, chatting and so forth? Are you overscheduled? Can you juggle responsiblities? Can you streamline? The better your bird’s-eye view, the more equipped you are to improve your use of time (Cruse, 1999, p. 65).
Moreover, plan in advance. A detailed “to-do” list keeps you organized and in control. Divide your list into two parts–”urgent” and “tomorrow.” It is also wise to always have a back-up plan. Expect the unexpected, so you’ll be prepared if things don’t go as planned (especially for major events)(Cruse, 1999, p.65).
When all is said and done, we can always distract ourselves for instant gratification. One idea is to say your ABC’s. “When middle-of-the-night worries loom, challenge yourself to recite the alphabet in random order, without repeating any of the letters” (Escape from the worry trap). This task is just tricky enough so that there’s no room in your consciousness to think about anything else. Another form of distracion is to use your senses. “For some, an act as simple as snapping a rubber band worn around the wrist or taking a warm, soothing shower can derail the worry train” (Umansky, 2000, p. 148). It’s about using tactile stimuli to tweak yourself to another place. It’s taking action instead of letting the worry and stress act on you (Umansky, 2000, p. 148).
So, aside from you, who stands to benefit from your lack of stress? EVERYONE. As far as work is concerned, there will be less abseenteeism due to stress-related disorders, less worker’s compensation loss due to stress-related illness or accidents, improved job performance, a less stressful, more efficient workplace, improved employee attitude and improved employee overall health (Stress Management 2000: Advantages of Stress Management 2000). As for your own health, there will be decreased stress-related symptoms, improved sleep, decreased anxitety, decreased use of medications, reduced pain, increased ablity to manage pain, increased ablitiy to relax physiologically and increased sense of control and improved self-esteem (Stress Management 2000: Advantages of Stress Management 2000).
In conclusion, no matter who you are, what position you hold or what age you are, you are probably experiencing some degree of stress at the workplace. Stress comes in a positive form and a very damaging form and it is up to us individually to determine one from the other and take action against the latter. Through some research and a little bit of patience, anyone can learn how to conquer stress and their reactions to it. It is like Abraham Lincoln once said, “people are as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
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