Strategies for Managing Workplace Stress

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Robert A. Dato, Ph.D., NCPsyA

Q. WHAT EXACTLY IS STRESS?

A. The Law of Stress states that Stress is the difference between Pressure and Adaptability of any kind. Presented as a simple formula, Stress = Pressure - Adaptability or S = P - A. Thus, the higher the pressure you are under, and the lower your adaptability, the higher your stress. The clear implication of this law is that stress is unadaptability. Most people erroneously think in terms of good stress and bad stress, but since stress is unadaptability, no amount of stress is good for you. However, a certain degree of pressure can be good for you. Good pressure is optimal pressure, which fosters development. A challenging goal would be an example of good pressure. Stress manifests itself in many forms, the most common of which are symptoms and signs. A symptom is a subjective manifestation of stress, whereas a sign is an objective manifestation of stress. When symptoms and/or signs occur in particular combinations, these combinations are known as stress syndromes. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an example of a syndrome.

Q. WHAT ARE THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF STRESS?

A. Symptoms can be either physical or psychological in nature. Common physical symptoms of stress are headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, overeating, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, hypertension, and insomnia. Common psychological symptoms of stress are inattentiveness, forgetfulness, poor concentration, irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity, frustration, anger, anxiety, and depression. Each person possesses a unique combination of stress symptoms. The greater the frequency and intensity of the stress symptoms, the greater the symptomatic stress.

Q. WHAT ARE THE COMMON SIGNS OF WORK STRESS?

A. There is a multitude of specific signs of stress that appear at work. Common signs of work stress are turnover, absenteeism, lateness, aggressiveness, harassment, insubordination, breaking the rules, bending the rules, intimidating others, deceiving others, debating with others, undermining others, destroying information, withholding information, misinterpreting information, and misplacing information. The signs of work stress generally occur in distinct combinations, as do the symptoms of stress. The greater the frequency and pervasiveness of these signs, the greater the work stress.

Q. WHAT ARE THE COMMON SIGNS OF PERSONAL STRESS?

A. Common signs of personal stress include believing that life is unfair, believing that you are entitled, feeling sorry for yourself, being too sensitive, always trying to control others, always trying to please others, being jealous, being envious, being socially overactive, socially withdrawing, being unable to maintain long term relationships, engaging in risky behaviors, craving or abusing substances such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, compulsively exercising or shopping, driving extremely fast or recklessly, and expressing road rage. The signs of personal stress occur in unique combinations. The greater the frequency and pervasiveness of the personal stress signs, the greater the personal stress.

Q. HOW CAN I LEARN TO MANAGE MY STRESS BETTER?

A. The Law of Stress implies that there are only two ways that you can manage your stress: by reducing the pressure you are under, or by increasing your adaptability. I have developed a stress management method based on this law called Strategic Stress Management. This method was designed specifically for managing mild stress. The goal is to become completely aware of both your life pressures and your adaptive strategies. If you would like to try this approach, these are the six steps:

  1. Write down and underline your ten highest life pressures on three-by-five cards.
  2. Place these cards in a vertical column, with the highest life pressure at the top and the lowest life pressure at the bottom of the column. Now number each card.
  3. Get together with your spouse or closest friend and jointly develop three adaptive strategies for each of these pressures. Write these strategies below the pressures on the cards, beginning each strategy with the words: “I will…” If available, you may want to use the SSM Worksheet instead of the cards.
  4. Read your SSM Cards or Worksheet twice a day, when you get up in the morning, and before you go to bed.
  5. Do this every day for one month. Then meet with your partner again to discuss your progress. At that time, you may want to revise your life pressures and adaptive strategies.
  6. Continue these monthly meetings and revisions for six months. If you are pleased with your progress, continue to use this method. If your progress is minimal, discontinue this approach. It is not for you.

Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THIS METHOD DOES NOT WORK?

A. The Strategic Stress Management method should work if you have mild stress. If it does not, either you have not practiced the method conscientiously, or your stress level is moderate, severe, or extreme. Moderate stress will require professional consultation. You should engage in your company's Employee Assistance Program, or enter private consultation with a counselor, psychotherapist, or psychoanalyst. Severe and extreme stress will require the additional intervention of a physician, as well as a psychiatrist.

Q. WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT STRESS AND ITS MANAGEMENT?

A. If you want to know more about stress and its management, you might want to visit the web site of the International Stress Management Association-USA Branch at www.isma-usa.org. This site contains articles and other resources that will help you to better understand and manage stress. You can also type the words stress or stress management into several of your favorite search engines on your computer to discover other stress information resources. Your local Yellow Pages provides listings of counselors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, physicians, and psychiatrists should you need to consult one or more of these specialists.

© 2002 Dr. Robert Dato, Dato Leadership Institute
www.dato-leadership-institute.com
All Rights Reserved.

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