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This series or articles explains how you can manage stress. This helps you to:

  • Perform at the peak of your abilities when under immense pressure
  • Produce good quality work even when tasks are dull and repetitive
  • Improve the quality of your life, health and job
  • Avoid the problems of exhaustion, depression, ill health, burn-out and breakdown that are associated with excessive levels of long term stress

We will discuss:

  • What stress is, how it is caused and your responsibility for your stress levels
  • Optimum levels of stress and the effects of long term exposure to it
  • What can happen if stress gets out of control
  • The impact of life crises and how to minimize them
  • How to analyze the causes of stress accurately and plan to control them
  • How to protect subordinates from the bad effects of stress
  • Increasing stress when you are under-motivated
  • How to lower stress levels by:
    • improving your working and living environment
    • adjusting your lifestyle
    • adjusting negative elements of your personality
    • looking after your body and health
    • using physical stress reduction techniques
    • using mental stress reduction techniques

What is stress and what can cause it?

For the purposes of these articles we consider stress to be anything that stimulates you and increases your level of alertness.

Life without stimulus would be incredibly dull and boring. Life with too much stimulus becomes unpleasant and tiring, and may ultimately damage your health or well-being. Too much stress can seriously interfere with your ability to perform effectively.

The art of stress management is to keep yourself at a level of stimulation that is healthy and enjoyable. This series of articles will help you to monitor and control stress so that you can find and operate at a level that is most comfortable for you. It will discuss strategies to reduce or eliminate sources of unpleasant stress. It will also explain what can happen when you do not control stress properly.

Most people realize that aspects of their work and lifestyle can cause stress. While this is true, it is also important to note that it can be caused by your environment and by the food and drink you consume. There are several major sources of stress: 

  • Survival stress: This may occur in cases where your survival or health is threatened, where you are put under pressure or where you experience some unpleasant or challenging event.  Here adrenaline is released in your body and you experience all the symptoms of your body preparing for "fight or flight."
  • Internally generated stressThis can come from anxious worrying about events beyond your control, from a tense, hurried approach to life, or from relationship problems caused by your own behavior.  It can also come from an "addiction" to and enjoyment of stress
  • Environmental and job stress: Here your living or working environment causes the stress. It may come from noise, crowding, pollution, untidiness, dirt or other distractions. Alternatively stress can come from events at work
  • Fatigue and overwork: Here stress builds up over a long period. This can occur where you try to achieve too much in too little time, or where you are not using effective time management strategies.

The strategies that you should adopt to manage stress depend on the source of that stress.

While a certain level of stress is necessary to avoid boredom, high levels of stress over a sustained period can damage your health. 

Naturally if any of the symptoms feel serious, consult a doctor.

Short Term Physical Symptoms

These mainly occur as your body adapts to perceived physical threat and are caused by release of adrenaline. Although you may perceive these as unpleasant and negative, they are signs that your body is ready for the explosive action that assists survival or high performance:

  • Faster heart beat
  • Increase sweating
  • Cool skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Feelings of nausea, or "Butterflies in stomach"
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Tense Muscles
  • Dry Mouth
  • A desire to urinate 

These are the symptoms of survival stress.

Short Term Performance Effects 

While adrenaline helps you survive in a 'fight-or-flight' situation, it does have 
negative effects in situations where this is not the case: 

  • It interferes with clear judgment and makes it difficult to take the time to make good decisions. 
  • It can seriously reduce your enjoyment of your work 
  • Where you need good physical skills it gets in the way of fine motor control
  • It causes difficult situations to be seen as a threat, not a challenge. 
  • It damages the positive frame of mind you need for high quality work by: 
    • promoting negative thinking
    • damaging self-confidence
    • narrowing attention
    • disrupting focus and concentration
    • making it difficult to cope with distractions
  • It consumes mental energy in distraction, anxiety frustration and temper.

This is energy that should be devoted to the work in hand. 

Long Term Physical Symptoms

These occur where your body has been exposed to adrenaline over a long period. One of the ways adrenaline prepares you for action is by diverting resources to the muscles from the areas of the body which carry out body maintenance. This means that if you are exposed to adrenaline for a sustained period, then your health may start to deteriorate. This may show up in the following ways:

  • Change in appetite
  • Frequent colds
  • Illnesses such as:
    • Asthma
    • Back pain
    • Digestive problems
    • Headaches
    • Skin eruptions
  • Sexual disorders
  • Aches and pains
  • Feelings of intense and long-term tiredness

Internal Symptoms of Long Term Stress

When you are under stress or have been tired for a long period of time you may find that you are less able to think clearly and rationally about problems. This can lead to the following internal emotional upsets:

  • Worry or anxiety
  • Confusion and an inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Feeling ill
  • Feeling out of control or overwhelmed by events
  • Mood changes:
    • Depression
    • Frustration
    • Hostility
    • Helplessness
    • Impatience and irritability
    • Restlessness
  • Being more lethargic
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Drinking more alcohol and smoking more
  • Changing eating habits
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Relying more on medication

Behavioral Symptoms of Long Term Stress

When you or other people are under pressure, this can show as:

  • Talking too fast or too loud
  • Yawning
  • Fiddling and twitching, nail biting, grinding teeth, drumming fingers, pacing, etc.
  • Bad moods:
    • Being irritable 
    • Defensiveness
    • Being critical
    • Aggression
    • Irrationality
    • Overreaction and reacting emotionally
  • Reduced personal effectiveness:
    • Being unreasonably negative
    • Making less realistic judgments
    • Being unable to concentrate and having difficulty making decisions
    • Being more forgetful
    • Making more mistakes
    • Being more accident prone
  • Changing work habits
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Neglect of personal appearance

These symptoms of stress should not be taken in isolation - other factors could cause them. However, if you find yourself exhibiting or recognizing a number of them, then it would be worth investigating stress management techniques.