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Stress: what is it good for?

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How often do you hear people say they are "stressed out?" How often do you hear the word "stress" being associated with what you do, either in the military environment, or the aviation industry, or both?

The prevalence of the word stress, its connotations and the negative context in which it is usually applied often results in a degradation of the common understanding of stress. The resulting perception of stress consequently differs for most people, as does the response itself.

Perceptions fall on a continuum. At one end is a belief that stress is everywhere and, therefore, we should just get over it. At the other extreme is the idea that being affected by stress means you have some form of mental illness. The intention of this article is to dispel a few myths surrounding stress and to improve your individual response to stress in your life and the lives of those around you.

Why do you need to manage your stress levels? Think about the last time you goofed up at work or home because you were under a lot of stress.

MYTH NO. 1: "I'M HAVING DIFFICULTY COPING WITH WORK AND HOME PRESSURES; THERE MUST BE SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME."

FALSE. Stress is a protective and adaptive response for our body and mind to cope with continual changes and demand in our lives. You may have heard of it referred to as the fight or flight response.

We are constantly experiencing different levels of stress and need a certain level of stress to be able to perform sufficiently. It provides us with physical and psychological motivation to pursue our wants and needs, in conjunction to reacting to environmental changes. It also provides us with the ability to react to threats in our surroundings. Most of the time this response is beneficial to our performance, aiding us in our daily survival. However, at times the magnitude of demands can result in a prolonged or intensive period of stress response in our bodies. Although the response is adaptive when experienced in short bursts, in large quantities it can become detrimental. It is important to recognize change as a source of stress. We need to keep a monitor on how much stress we are experiencing at one time across different parts of our life, and how much stress we are experiencing over a period of time.

We are usually good at coping with our common stressors. We become accustomed to it, and we often do not notice our stress levels until our coping mechanisms are overloaded. In that case, the stress response becomes hazardous. We become tired and irritable. We make poor decisions. Our short term memories go out the window. We can't concentrate. We can only focus on one thing. We feel achy and become susceptible to bugs and flus. Basically, we feel stressed out.

It is important to remember that everyone differs in what they react to and how they react. What is consistent, however, is that everyone has an individual limit to the amount of stress they can cope with at one time. When the stressors outweigh the coping system, things can feel like they are getting out of control. You must learn to recognize your personal levels of okay stress and realize when your stress level is going to curb your performance, as opposed to enhancing it.

Think of aircraft limitations and the need to stay within these in order to operate it successfully. Your mind and body also need to be operated within its limitations. If your usual stress-management strategies are not working, it is important to seek advice from a friend or a professional.

MYTH 2 "STRESS IS BAD."

FALSE. Stress is always present in our lives in many shapes and forms. What is critical is how much stress you are experiencing at one time, and how much stress is accumulating. Most of the time stress has a good effect on what we do (for example, sports performance, flying ability, fast thinking under pressure, exams, and your motivation to pursue personal goals). By keeping your stress levels within your personal limits, you can use stress to your advantage, just as professional athletes do. We actually need a certain level of stress to be able to perform at all. If your work or home situation has remained constant for a long period of time, you may need to pursue some additional stress, to ensure you do not become complacent in what you do.

MYTH 3 "MOTIVATION WILL GET RID OF MY STRESS."

FALSE. Motivation is tied in closely with stress, but no matter how keen you are to push on through stress, you need to manage it. You need to do something about all the demands and changes going on in your environment to ensure you remain within your limits.

Your motivation to get through the stressful period needs to be directed toward some form of stress releases. Just wanting to get through a tough time will not get rid of stress. By the time people have reached their adult years, most people know what works for them to release stress, such as physical activity, relaxation techniques or talking to someone about your stressors.

MYTH 4 "THE CAUSE OF MY STRESS IS OUT OF MY CONTROL."

FALSE. Although lifestyle routines (such as a balanced diet, exercise, relaxation techniques and communication) are all good methods of stress prevention and release, it can be just as important to remove or alter the source of stress itself. This is particularly important if the stress is detrimental or adding to other current stressors. Even when the source of stress appears to be out of your control, there is usually something that can be done. For example, in the work place it is important to make your supervisor aware if things are becoming too much. In your personal life, let others know how you are feeling. Stress in the work place is not just an individual responsibility. The organization has a responsibility to look after one of their biggest assets, so let your boss know if your work environment, workload or personal circumstances are resulting in high or low levels of stress.

MYTH 5 "I DO NOT EXPERIENCE SYMPTOMS OF STRESS."

FALSE. Life contains stress. If you have not experienced stress symptoms, it may be because you have always stayed within your comfort zone. However, you should have noticed your body and mind's reaction to situation and your environment even within your comfort zone. Think of the last time you watched and unpredictable sports game. The easiest stress sigs for you to pick up are the physical ones, such as increased heart rate and change in breathing patterns, whereas people around you will probably notice the change in mood and thinking patterns.

MYTH 6 "MY PERSONAL LIFE DOESN'T AFFECT MY WORK PERFORMANCE."

FALSE. As much as we consciously try to separate different areas of our life, we are limited by the fact that we only have one brain. Although we can put things aside when stress levels are manageable, stressors can accumulate to the point where it becomes too hard for your brain to cope. Just as importantly, stress is not confined to your work and home environments. Stress can come from anywhere. So even if the stressors in your life are small ones, if you have a lot of changes going on in several areas of your life, these will compound to produce an aggregate stress response.

Take the example of a young man with several things happening in his life at once. He is about to get married; he has reached national level in his squash tournament; he has just been promoted at work, and his father has been diagnosed with cancer. Although his father's diagnosis appears to be the "negative" stressor, the other aspects in his live all involve situations that will place new demands on the individual, in addition to several adjustments to his daily life. Change is a stressor in itself. Positive stress can accumulate with the negatives, to produce an overwhelming amount of stress that becomes difficult to manage.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

* Stress is a normal part of everyday life, at work, home and play.

* Stress can have both positive and negative effects on our performance in these settings.

* It has an effect on our physical health, our moods, and our thinking ability.

* It is important to use preventive stress management, especially maintaining established routines if you are going through other adjustments.

* You do have the ability to control the demands causing your stress.

* Ensure you balance your stressors with your ability to manage the stress.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Insight Magazine.
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Author:Winters, Shelly
Publication:Approach
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:1458
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