Recognize and Deal with Stress Before It Hurts You

My recent work with one of the clients triggered my attention to stress in the workplace again. Although our circumstances were different, the triggers and effects of stress were quite similar. See, I used to be notorious for experiencing episodic acute stress. I was one of those people who are referred to as “Type A Personality”. With someone like me, the only way to change the ways of dealing with stress was to change the habits. Many professionals sacrifice their health because they are told by “corporate” or a "boss" to get some insane tasks done to protect their own reputation and to keep their jobs. Until I learned what stress was doing to me, I believed that I had to get everything done on-time and perfectly, even if I knew that the demanded goals were preposterous.

Our life, whether it is professional or personal, is full of various circumstances that can create stress. Our emotions matter because they affect our behaviors and the way we react to the situations we are put in. Our basic emotions, which are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise, along with the secondary and more complex – intense, mild, unpleasant, or pleasant, create additional responses that could cause stress ("Introduction to Psychology", 2010). We need to understand how to recognize and deal with stress in order to avoid any possible negative impacts. We need to educate our leaders and managers on how stress impacts humans.

Different Types of Stress

Most likely you used the statement in your life, “I am so stressed!”. Stress is a powerful emotion, and it impacts how we act or behave in different situations. Hans Selye, defined stress in 1936 as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Stress refers to how our body and mind respond appropriately to emotional and physical threats. According to American Psychological Association, there are three kinds of stress: acute, episodic acute, and chronic.

Acute stress is the most common and could potentially be beneficial in small doses, and thankfully most people can recognize it and manage to move on. For instance, the ride on the roller coaster or sky diving are thrilling activities, but your body and mind go through short-term stress (reaction). Getting scolded by your boss also can bring emotional distress, but could be managed beyond the initial reaction fairly quickly.

Episodic acute stress is experienced by people whom we refer to as “worry warts”, “Type A personalities”, or people “with lots of nervous energy”. These are the individuals who can feel the short burst of anxiety, anger, or other negative emotions. Their habits need to be changed to manage the stress.

Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds, and lives.

When you work with the team of people with the different skill levels on a big project that is just not moving along fast enough, you can potentially experience the unpleasant emotions, such as tension, frustration, or annoyance. Or, when your boss is consistently giving you the projects at the last minute to complete, you can start feeling miserable or distressed if this continues happening over the extended period of time.

When a person has a dramatic life changing event such as spouse passing or another extremely life-impacting events, similar to a violent crime, they experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a result, they can feel anxiety, sleeplessness, and nightmares.

These complex emotions produce certain behavioral responses to your thinking and your physical feelings. Most companies don’t care to delve into employees’ personal circumstances. They are looking only at the results that have to be achieved. In my opinion, it is a big mistake, because the quality of the results is in direct correlation with who gets the work done. (Common sense, right?)

How Your Body Reacts to Stress

Hans Seyle, the Hungarian endocrinologist, was the first one to come up with an explanation of how stress works and developed the stress model called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). GAS has three stages of how our body responds to the effects of a long-term exposure to stress.

The first stage is called general alarm reaction. During this stage, our body reacts to stress by releasing stress hormones, such as cortisol.

The second stage is resistance, and it is when our body adapts to experiencing chronic stress and tries to return to normal functioning. During this stage, glucose and blood pressure are increasing to help sustain energy.

The third stage is exhaustion, when your body used up all the reserves of energy and immunity. During this stage, the blood sugar decreases, causing our body to be unable to cope with stress, leading to mental and physical exhaustion and sickness. When the person has reached this stage, the organs start to fail leading to serious illnesses and death.


Real-Life Situation #1

Jane gets promoted to a business unit leader. She is excited about the promotion, but quickly realizes that her peer group is not very tolerant to people who are new to the roles. They consistently avoid helping Jane to settle into her role. Jane puts a lot of pressure on herself to get acclimated, but despite the