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Stress management: self first.

[check] This checklist is designed to help individuals recognise symptoms of stress, sources of pressure and to identify coping strategies.

Successive waves of downsizing, closures and reorganisations put pressure on managers and employees alike. Additionally, technological changes to improve the speed of communications in the form of fax machines, mobile telephones and e-mail have created twenty-four hour accessibility. This is a potential recipe for disaster. The detrimental effects of poorly managed pressures can be measured in terms of the cost to organisations and society as a whole. It has been estimated that 40 million working days or 7 billion [pounds sterling] are lost annually due to stress. The cost to individuals is less easy to measure but it affects the quality of life and relationships and can be enormous.


Stress has been defined as "an excess of perceived demands over an individual's perceived ability to meet them" (JM Atkinson, Coping with stress at work, Wellingborough: Thorsons, 1988).

Studies have shown that stress is closely related to the degree of control an individual has over their work--self-controlled pressure can be tolerated at a very high level, while the threshold for imposed pressure is low. The experience of stress, therefore, is very personal. Pressures come from many different directions, affecting us in different ways at different times. In some situations when we are under an enormous amount of pressure, we cope, are stimulated and on occasion positively thrive. In other situations we may suffer in some way, show signs of not coping and feel unable to meet either the deadlines or the expectations--this is the experience of stress. Most people need a certain level of pressure to motivate them--it is when it gets beyond this level that problems arise.

Action checklist

1. Recognise your symptoms

Symptoms can alert you to the fact that you may be under stress. Commonly experienced symptoms include:


* headaches, upset stomach, sleep problems, change in appetite, tense muscles, indigestion, exhaustion, stomach, intestinal and skin problems, and heart attacks.


* feeling worried, irritated, demotivated, unable to cope and make decisions, being less creative, nail biting, excessive smoking and/or use of alcohol.


* lower job satisfaction, communication breakdown and a focus on unproductive tasks.

All these symptoms may be experienced in normal life; they only become symptoms of stress when several occur together, when they do not have an obvious cause, or when you experience them more often than you would expect. Also, whilst the symptoms are often exhibited in your workplace behaviour, they are not necessarily a reflection of workplace pressures.

2. Identify the sources

We live in an ever-changing world and must constantly adapt and adjust to technological and social changes. In addition, there are recurring pressures that form a predictable pattern of events in our lives, and can be a source of stress and satisfaction. In everyday life these may include:

* death of someone close

* divorce

* injury

* moving house

* a large mortgage

* holidays

* birth of a child (especially the first).

In work they may include:

* time pressures

* demanding deadlines

* relationships with others

* too much or too little work

* business or work changes

* threat of redundancy

* pressure from above

* insensitive management.

3. Know your response

Individuals respond to these external pressures by adapting and adjusting in a variety of ways, depending on their lifestyle. Two broad categories have been identified according to personality type. Type "A" people could be described as competitive, aggressive or hasty, whilst Type "B" people are just the reverse. Type "A" people tend to take stress out on others, Type "B" to internalise it. Other characteristics such as age, gender, health, financial situation and access to support can influence how we respond to change, regardless of our personality traits.

4. Identify the strategies that help you cope

As individuals react differently to stress, so each one has different coping strategies. Identify for yourself those that have been successful in the past; they may have involved:

* removing or reducing the outside pressure

* accepting the things that can't be changed

* breaking up 'big' problems into smaller, achievable goals.

5. Begin to make the necessary changes

Change yourself--we can be our own worst enemies:

* be realistic

* recognise your own weaknesses

* talk to others, at home and at work: do not bottle up stress

* remember you are not the only one who is stressed: you are not alone.

Change relationships--relationships can be both supportive and damaging:

* invest in developmental and supportive relationships

* withdraw from damaging relationships.

Change activities--activities create balance and an opportunity for release:

* relax, if necessary by using well established techniques

* develop interests that nourish you

* take sensible exercise--a great way to relieve tension

* eat well; eat a sensibly balanced diet

* get enough sleep to ensure you are refreshed.

Your happiness and well-being depend on making changes. When change comes, it will bring with it an easing of pressures, profound changes in personality and mood and an approach to life which benefits you and those with whom you live and work.

Dos and don'ts for managing stress

Do</p> <pre> Recognise your symptoms and warning signs. Identify the sources of pressure. Accept yourself as you are. Pace yourself; complete tasks rather than juggling "all the balls in the air".

Forget the near misses. Communicate effectively; this can save time and energy. Remove or reduce outside pressures. Take a break: don't be afraid to relax--it is essential to regain your energy.

Treat yourself occasionally. Look after your health and learn relaxation techniques. Talk to others. </pre> <p>Don't</p> <pre>

Think that stress equates with weakness. Keep it to yourself.

Ignore it, thinking it will heal itself. Blame others or the environment. Stop activity completely--doing something else which you enjoy is more therapeutic than doing nothing, which gives time to worry. </pre> <p>Useful reading

Surviving stress: a guide for managers and employees, Samuel A Malone Cork, Ireland, Oak Tree Press, 2004

Managing the risk of workplace stress, Sharon Clarke and Cary L Cooper London, Routledge, 2004

Health and wellbeing in the workplace: managing health safety and wellbeing at work to boost business performance Institute of Directors and others London, 2002

59 minutes to a calmer life, Paul McGee Leicester, Go Mad Books, 2001

Occupational health psychology: the challenge of workplace stress, Marc Schabracq and others Leicester, BPS Books, 2001

Instant stress management, Brian Clegg London: Kogan Page, 2000

Useful addresses

British Association of Counselling

1 Regent Place, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21 2PJ

Tel: 0870 443 5252

Thought starters

How would you advise a subordinate who was under stress?

Where do you invest most of your time and attention--do tasks or people matter most?

Often our greatest enemy in looking after ourselves is ourselves--do you place unrealistic expectations on yourself? How could you prevent this?

How much pressure do you exert on those that work for you?
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Title Annotation:Checklist 034
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Personal Effectiveness and Development
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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