Do you know your early warning stress signals?
Stress is any circumstance that requires behavioural adjustment. It is part of living life to the full. Any change is, therefore, stressful. A situation that causes pressure or strain is called a stressor. Stress gets expressed through different emotions, like anxiety, anger, frustration, depression or even excitement, and it affects us physically.
Despite the unavoidability of stress, there are ways that we can tune into our body and pick up its stress signals. Once we can recognise how our own body responds to the stressors, we can work on catching ourselves in the beginning of the "stress cycle".
In order to cope with stress, it is important to understand how stress affects the body and to familiarise ourselves with the various types of stress. When we are under stress, our bodies respond with an adrenaline rush leading to the “fight or flight” response. The human brain responds to stress (real or imagined) by sending signals to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus in turn activates the stress response by stimulating the nervous system and produces adrenaline rush. In fact, this reaction is a recognised ancient response that has allowed humans to survive as a species since prehistoric times.*
*The current debate about Industrial Relations Reform and the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements is causing understandable anxiety and stress to many. Readers will no doubt express their individual concerns through the appropriate mechanisms of communication established in their institutions. Nevertheless, we recognise that this changing world requires a transformation of our higher education system to redress past inequalities, to serve a “new work order”, to meet current national needs and to respond to new realities and opportunities. For example, institutional structures must be revisited and fine-tuned to release the creative and intellectual energies of all stakeholders. Structures should be planned, governed and funded as a single coordinated system to overcome fragmentation and inequality—legacies of the past— and to create a learning society relevant to the goals of our Mission.
Good communication, ethics and trust are the key to enterprise bargaining.
Some illnesses such as cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes are particularly affected by stress . However, not everyone who experiences high levels of chronic stress becomes physically ill, but stress can be a contributing factor in exacerbating physical ailments.
Research now confirms that stress induces the onset of every one of these conditions: obesity, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes. But the problem with chronic stress is that its damage is insidious. You can cover up the symptoms, but the stress just keeps eating away at you. Chronic stress eventually dampens our ability to keep track of information resulting in mistakes and lost productivity. The body immune system is compromised, making us even more susceptible to infections as simple as the common cold, and even more serious auto-immune diseases. Many hard-working and trusted employees who push themselves to the edge for their work suffer the consequences of chronic stress.
While reducing workplace stress is not the "magic bullet" for health care cost containment, all employers need to remember that chronic disease is expensive to treat and enduring workplace stress is now linked to chronic conditions. One recent study by Ira S. Wolfe reports that “… workplace stress is not only a major obstacle to continuous improvements in productivity, but the root cause of much of the increase in workplace health care costs. Employers who tolerate and even overlook workplace stress are beginning to pay the price with their wallets ”. ( The truth about employee stress: bleeding at the bottom line, in: Business2Business, October 2004), http://www.super-solutions.com/Thetruthaboutworkplacestress.asp
Further, according to a research conducted by Timothy Judge “…The boundaries between work and family are pretty permeable, there is clear evidence that people tend to take their work home … If employers care about the work-family balance -- they can contribute to positive moods in both work and family life. For employees, this "spill over" effect provides further evidence of the importance of being in a satisfying job. As far as we know, no one has ever looked at the "spill over" of job attitudes to mood at home that same day, and then followed it the next day (at work) as well. These findings can give insight to employers trying to develop workplace environments that lead to enjoyment and satisfaction on the job, which in turn boosts employee performance." ( A good night’s sleep sorts out a bad day’s work), http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=17255, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major life changes can coincide with positive or negative life experiences: for example, marriage, birth of a child, purchasing a house, geographical relocation, divorce, death of a spouse, personal injury. Research shows that people are more likely to develop illness or clinical symptoms after they have been exposed to major life changes. Given that following such life changes some stress is unavoidable, let us consider some aspects of adjusting to stress.
Future posting in this series may delve into discussions of some common aspects of stressors in the workplace with respect to health and wellbeing.
The resilience factor
Dr. Suzanne Kobasa discusses “hardiness” in her research, showing that if we can adapt to a stressful event in a “hardy” manner, we are less likely to become ill. People who are hardy view change as a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth, rather than simply as a threat or catastrophe. Hardy people work at feeling in control of life circumstances and perceive that they have the resources and abilities to make the right choices. Hardy people have a commitment to home, family and an outside interest such as community. They can often find a greater sense of balance to avoid becoming totally preoccupied with the stressor. Internal strength and external resources are the key to building one’s resilience factor. The internal involves “hardiness or strength from within” and external includes the network of social support—family, friends and institutional resources of society.
Changing emotional and behavioural responses is a process that takes time and effort. While such change may not lead to immediate improvement, a lack of progress after a given period can prompt to re-evaluating our own level of commitment to the process for change or the appropriateness of the external resource.
Mind/body researchers say that we can prevent the worsening of stress symptoms—and sometimes prevent them from occurring—by using relaxation techniques, prayer, meditation or physical activity. The goal of relaxation techniques is to elicit a relaxation response from the body that counteracts the consequences of stress by slowing the heart rate, breathing rate and lowering the blood pressure.
This article discusses one form of stress management (doing nothing > sleep).
Doing nothing involves switching off and doing nothing (possibly with a long sleep). Sleep is the first line of defence against stress. Sleep is one of the body’s most mysterious processes. It creates a periodic state of rest during which consciousness of the world is suspended. Sleep allows information to be consolidated to memory as if the brain is defragging itself like a computer.
The most significant characteristic of sleep which differentiates it from the waking state is the interruption of perception. A person in deep sleep does not see or hear, and there is
decreased movement of the skeletal muscles,
slowed-down metabolism, and
complex and active brain wave patterns.
Sleep helps the body restore and rejuvenate in many different ways including those decribe below:
(i) Memory, Learning and Social Processes - Sleep enables the brain to encode new information and store it properly. REM sleep activates the parts of the brain that control learning. The parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making and social interactions slow down dramatically during sleep, allowing optimal performance when awake.
(ii) Nervous System - Some sleep experts suggest that neurons used during the day repair themselves during sleep. When we experience sleep deprivation, neurons become unable to perform effectively and the nervous system is impaired.
(iii) Immune System - Sleep enables the immune system to function effectively. During deep sleep, the body cells increase production while proteins break down at a slower rate. Without proper sleep, the immune system becomes weak and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease.
(iv) Growth and Development - Growth hormones are released during sleep, so sleep is vital to proper physical and mental development. The effects (positive and negative) of sleep for babies and children are magnified and, such as, children need more sleep than adults. It is often easier for adults to interpret and remedy the effects of tiredness in children than for them to listen to their own body signals for more rest.
There is no right or wrong answer to determine the amount of sleep for everyone. Some people function fine with 6 hours of sleep while others really are unable to function optimally with less than nine. On average people need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. To find out how much sleep is right for you, try the following 5-step experiment:
- Determine a period of time when you do not need to awaken for anything specific in the early morning hours.
- Go to sleep at about the same time each night.
- Do this for about 3 or four days in a row. Don’t do anything unusual or excessive during these four days including too much exercise, drinking alcohol or taking sleeping medication.
- Turn off your alarm during this time, but have a clock nearby. When you awaken each morning, immediately check the time and calculate the precise amount of time that you have been sleeping. Do this each morning.
- Calculate the average amount of sleep that you get per night by adding the sleeping time of each night and then divide by the number of nights.
The figure should give you a good indication of the appropriate amount of sleep that your mind and body seem to prefer. If you are under heavy stress, if you are exercising more than usual, or training for a marathon, or if you are ill, you may need to increase the amount of sleep that you are getting to allow your body more time to recuperate.
How can people distinguish between stress signals and medical problems?
Different people have different organs that are targeted by stress. Some people become anxious, other people have headaches. A person should ask themselves if the symptom or feeling they are experiencing is caused, or made worse by stress. If so, then it is stress related. If you are concerned about a particular symptom, however, you should always go to a doctor first.
And finally, people should view health and wellbeing as akin to a three-legged stool. One leg is medication; the second leg is surgery and procedure; and the third leg is self-care. The first two are absolutely of essence in modern medicine. But they don't effectively treat stress and its harmful effects. It is for this reason that we need a third leg and that is self-care. In that self-care leg, we have the relaxation response, nutrition and exercise, and the commitment to strengthening one’s resilience factor.
- Christine Haran, staff medical writer/editor at Healthology, http://healthology.healthology.com/faculty_bio.asp?f=mentalhealth&d=haran_christine
- Christine Haran, health journalist, Woman's Day, MAMM Magazine: Women, Cancer and Community, Bride's Magazine, Publishers Weekly, http://www.womenshealthresearch.org/press/awards_2003.htm
- Christine Haran, Your Health Matters Today, http://www.yourhealthmatterstoday.com/kdbc/386352.html
- David Stang, PsyD, Calming Down: An introduction to stress and some stress-solutions, V.A. Hudson Valley Health Care System, Westchester County, New York, email email@example.com.
- Herbert Benson, M.D Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, The Mind/Body Medical Institute, www.mbmi.org.
- Robert Wagenaar 2003. Tuning educational structures in Europe: The Tuning Project, Phase 2, 2003-04, Athens, http://odur.let.rug.nl/TuningProject/
- Sara Hebel July 2005. A Look at the New Generation of Higher-Education Thinkers, The Higher Education Chronicle, Vol 51, 45: A13, http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i45/45a01301.htm
- Dr. Suzanne Kobasa June 2005. Stress Hardiness. http://www.consciousone.com/authorarticles.cfm?aid=53&PARTID=138
- Timothy Judge 2004. A good night's sleep sorts out bad day at work, University of Florida http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=17255
- Ira S. Wolf 2004. The truth about employee stress: bleeding at the bottom line in: Business2Business, October 2004, http://www.super-solutions.com/Thetruthaboutworkplacestress.asp
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Dear Chris, herewith is a reference to related articles why fibre is good for health. /Ed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Display&dopt=pubmed_pubmed&from_uid=7905548&tool=ExternalSearch
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