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When your job really makes you sick: why you need to develop a high Adversity Quotient.

It was as if the very life was being sucked out of me. The expectation was for me to give, give, give, produce, produce, produce, and I had nothing left to give. It was just entirely too much;" says Erica Benson, 33, who today works from home as the sole proprietor of A-Solution. Located in Bear, Delaware, it offers job coaching among many other professional and business services. Before that she was a compliance manager for First USA, from 2000 to 2001, a position, according to Benson, that actually required three employees. Aside from pressures at work, Benson had obligations at home to her husband and two daughters. Balancing the two had become mentally and physically burdensome.

"I was always too fatigued or busy with work when I was at home to really enjoy my family in the evening. I would rush my kids through their bath, or to bed, so that I could finish a project. I would make promises to do things with my kids, but then ended up being too tired to hold true to my promise," acknowledges Benson. "I also noticed that I was short-tempered with my family over little things."

According to research conducted by Peak Learning Inc., a corporate consulting firm based in California, a person faces 27 occurrences of adversity in a typical daywhich is almost a 300% increase from 13 years ago. This means that on any given day, we could have to deal with a combination of many minor annoyances and/or major setbacks in the place where we spend a great deal of our time--at work. "The workplace is not as nurturing a place as it used to be:" stresses Boris Thomas, M.S.W.,J.D., a psychotherapist based in Chicago with a background in labor and employment law, "It's not secure. People are exhausted. They're not sleeping. They're working hard, There's been downsizing, so they're doing their job plus the job of another person or two people. And they're not necessarily being financially rewarded." he says.

In these present conditions in which many of us are now working, how dues one handle the stress? Survival and success in our careers depends on how we deal with the many daily strains that threaten our physical and/or mental well-being. "It's a rare person [who] can thrive, and flourish, and prosper in the same difficult circumstances that tend to beat most people up" says Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., CEO of Peak Learning and author of Adversity Quotient @ Work (William Morrow; $26). These exceptional people, who have high Adversity Quotients (AQs)--estimated to be about 5% to 25% of the people in any given organization are able to harness adversity and allow it to make them something better as a result of their struggle. "That's not happy think. We're not talking about, painting a happy smile on your face and looking at everything as opportunity. That doesn't change a thing. What we're talking about is fundamentally rewiring how we respond to life's adversities automatically," says Stoltz.

That is where Benson struggled, She thought, the facade of a happy face would pull her through, Although her husband suggested she seek help, Benson was hesitant to ask for professional assistance. "Of course, I was in denial. There was no way that a strong black woman such as me could be in depression. And even if there was a remote chance that this was true, I kept telling myself that I could handle it on my own. I thought I could do everything," she says. Trying to manage everything, however, was beginning to take its toll. Benson felt angry about being overworked and undercompensated. She also felt guilty about neglecting her daughters. She became extremely irritable and tired, crying frequently for no apparent reason, and the stress of it all had caused chest pains that were growing more intense.

"My body was throwing out all kinds of signs [both physical and mental] that it was about to break down," Benson says. "I even had an episode one morning where the whole left side of my body froze, and I couldn't move any part of it for about three minutes," she says. "I was healing myself up mentally because I had the twisted perception that because I had not yet made V.P., I was a failure," says Benson. In August 2001. after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, she chose to leave her demanding job.

According to Stolz, there are four principles (Control, Ownership, Reach, and Endurance--CORE) that relate to how workers handle adversity, two of which speak specifically to Benson:

* Ownership: Step up and do something to make it better. When adversity strikes, how likely and to what degree do you step up to do anything to make it better? Those with a higher AQ have a natural reflex to step up when adversity strikes. Low AQ people tend to deflect responsibility because they may already feel over-whelmed. "For anybody striving to overcome adversity, obviously, focusing on what you can control or influence and taking ownership by stepping up are already resilience-building practices," says Stoltz.

* Reach: Contain the adversity. What can you do to minimize the fallout or maximize the upside of a problem? Embedded in most adversities is some kind of opportunity. High AQ people contain adversity betters. They keep it in a box--a bad meeting is a bad meeting, an upset customer is an upset customer Low AQ people tend to suffer emotional oil spills. They blow it out of proportion, so if something bad happens, 'there goes my whole day,' or I'm going to lose my job,' or 'my kids will never love me.' This affects one's energy. The better you're able to contain it, the better you are able to deal with it.

"Once I knew that I had made the decision [to leave], I started feeling better," Benson says. "There was a wonderful peace with my decision. Every day that I have been away from that company, I feel myself getting stronger, healthier, and happier," she says. Benson used her expertise to start a home-based business, which has also allowed her to spend more time with her family.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by obligations to work and home, there are other ways to better manage your situation:

* Find creative outlets. "The individual who defines him or herself only by their career will have a much harder time than the person who has diverse interests and sees him or herself more connected with a number of different activities," Thomas suggests. "The person who has a creative outlet aside from the job or the career is going to feel a little differently--there's a place to go."

* Ease up the load. Delegate--at home as well as in the office. Hire someone if necessary to do your laundry or clean your home. "That sounds perhaps simplistic, but if you're working around the clock, you shouldn't be ironing your shirts. That's just a logistical thing says Thomas.

* Nurture and make time fur yourself. When you neglect yourself, you're headed for trouble. "You have to try and respect your own capacity," suggests Thomas. "If you're getting absolutely exhausted, you need to plan a vacation, even if just a three-day weekend;'

* Get help. "We think that people are going to think that there's something wrong with us," says Dr Grace Cornish, psychologist, author, and motivational speaker. "There's nothing wrong with you. Realize that you're a modern-day person in this contemporary Lime and it's okay to get help."

Think You're Having a Nervous Breakdown?'

"The term 'nervous breakdown' for many conjures up the images of straight jackets and bed restraints," offers psychotherapist Boris Thomas, M.S.W., J.D. ( "The result of a stress-related breakdown, however, can be a broad spectrum of symptoms, lasting for a relatively brief period of time." Symptoms may include feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and a sense of hopelessness. "It is significant to note that breakdowns associated with work-related stress are also fed by non-work-related stressors (i.e. financial worries or family and relationship difficulties) and can exacerbate other physical and mental health issues already a part of the individual's life," he explains.

According to Thomas, states have different standards far regulating mental health clinical practice. "Take some time to learn about your particular state's relevant licenses and certifications for practice." He notes there are three general categories of licensed mental health practitioners; clinical social worker (also called licensed clinical social worker, LCSW, in many states); clinical psychologist (includes those with Ph.D. or Psy.D. designations); and licensed clinical professional counselor (LOPC). The following are several resources Thomas recommends:

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Access to these free-standing organizations, which are resources for mental health care, is provided at the company's expense.

Online Help: provides an easy-to-use state directory of mental health organizations For African American clinicians of differing licensures, visit

A Call Away: 1-80O-THERAPIST offers an opportunity to speak with a live, trained counselor who can refer the individual to an appropriate licensed clinician in the preferred geographic location For uncontrollable thoughts of injuring yourself or others, call 911 or immediately go to the nearest emergency room.

Your Family Doctor: Most general practitioners can provide a referral to a skilled, licensed clinician.
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Title Annotation:Making Connections
Author:Jackson, Lee Anna
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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