Saturday, April 12, 2008

Individual Behaviour Handout #10

Managing Stress and Agressive Behaviour

What is stress?
Stress is a psychological and physiological response to events that upset our personal balance in some way. When faced with a threat, whether to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. We all know what this stress response feels like: heart pounding in the chest, muscles tensing up, breath coming faster, every sense on red alert.
The biological stress response is meant to protect and support us. It’s what helped our stone age ancestors survive the life-or-death situations they commonly faced. But in the modern world, most of the stress we feel is in response to psychological rather than physical threats. Caring for a chronically-ill child or getting audited by the IRS qualify as stressful situations, but neither calls for either fight or flight. Unfortunately, our bodies don't make this distinction. Whether we’re stressed over a looming deadline, an argument with a friend, or a mountain of bills, the warning bells ring. And just like a caveman confronting a sabertooth tiger, we go into automatic overdrive.If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, you may be running on stress a good portion of the time—launching into emergency mode with every traffic jam, phone call from the in-laws, or segment of the evening news. But the problem with the stress response is that the more it’s activated, the harder it is to shut off. Instead of leveling off once the crisis has passed, your stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure remain elevated.Furthermore, extended or repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body. Prolonged exposure to stress increases your risk of everything from heart disease, obesity, and infection to anxiety, depression, and memory problems. Because of the widespread damage it can cause, it’s essential to learn how to deal with stress in a more positive way and reduce its impact on your daily life.

Signs and symptoms of stress
Cognitive symptoms:
Memory problems
Inability to concentrate
Trouble thinking clearly
Poor judgment
Seeing only the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Loss of objectivity
Fearful anticipation
Physical Symptoms:
Headaches or backaches
Muscle tension and stiffness
Diarrhea or constipation
Nausea, dizziness
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Weight gain or loss
Skin breakouts (eczema)
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds
Emotional symptoms:
Short temper
Irritability, impatience
Inability to relax
Feeling tense and “on edge”
Feeling overwhelmed
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Behavioural symptoms:
Eating more or less
Sleeping too much or too little
Isolating yourself from others
Procrastination, neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
Overdoing activities (e.g. exercising, shopping)
Causes of stress:
Environmental stressors – Your physical surroundings can set off the stress response. Examples of environmental stressors include an unsafe neighborhood, pollution, noise (sirens keeping you up at night, a barking dog next door), and uncomfortable living conditions. For people living in crime-ridden areas or war-torn regions, the stress may be unrelenting.
Family and relationship stressors – Problems with friends, romantic partners, and family members are common daily stressors. Marital disagreements, dysfunctional relationships, rebellious teens, or caring for a chronically-ill family member or a child with special needs can all send stress levels skyrocketing.
Work stressors – In our career-driven society, work can be an ever-present source of stress. Work stress is caused by things such as job dissatisfaction, an exhausting workload, insufficient pay, office politics, and conflicts with your boss or co-workers.Social stressors – Your social situation can cause stress. For example, poverty, financial pressures, racial and sexual discrimination or harassment, unemployment, isolation, and a lack of social support all take a toll on daily quality of life.

Managing stress at the workplace
To combat stress, unhealthy ‘quick fixes’ like alcohol, or cigarettes, or sweet, fatty foods must be avoided. We feel we don’t have the time to relax with friends, take a walk or step back and see the problems from another point of view. Some try to lead a healthy lifestyle, however, with stress this can be hard to keep up. For example if you have had a hard and long day at work it can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise or to cook a healthy meal. A cycle starts with less exercise and ready-prepared meals because of lethargy, or feeling pressed for time. It is important to break this cycle and find ways of managing stress levels. Identify the sources of stress, then if possible have a break away from the source, for example if you are having trouble managing your workload, arrange to go on a time management course. The situation causing our stress may not be in an individual’s control to change but steps to try and manage it effectively really helps. Simply acknowledging to yourself and someone else you aren’t coping is half the battle. Positive steps to manage your working day will feel like a breath of fresh air. If an employee or partner comes to you asking for help be sure to take them seriously and take immediate steps to take action. Source support through information channels – for example, talking to a colleague or friend about workplace stress, and make stress alleviation readily available for staff.

Coping with Stress
The best way to cope with stress is to make changes to lifestyle:
Take more exercise
Eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables
Drink plenty of water
Cut down on alcohol intake, eliminate smoking and drugs
Take time out to relax completely: listen to music, read, watch tv, have a night-out with friends or even something very simple like taking a warm bath.
Laugh more. Do things that make you laugh, it’s proven to release feel good hormones.
Take More Exercise
Being active will reduce the ill effects of stress.
Change your lifestyle routine to be more active so exercise fits easily into your routine.
If pressured by time or deadlines, short, frequent breaks of activity throughout the day will work best.
Ways to bring natural activity into everyday routines:
Take stairs not lift or escalator.
Walk to work, shops, park, wherever possible, instead of driving.
Light gardening on weekendsMake family time more active, e.g. swimming instead of a movie, mini golf instead of games arcade.
Take up a low impact, fun sport. Bowling, croquet, gem fossicking.
Other ideas include:
10-minute walk before or after work allows you to establish priorities for the day or week ahead
Short breaks of activity throughout the day: move away from the work area and stand tall, stretch or walk
Walk at lunch every day for a productive afternoon. The mind works well when the body is moving and solutions can seem clearer
Make time to move and stretch when sitting, standing, driving or working
Try a new skill, hobby or activity

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