Get a Handle on Stress to Better Manage Workplaces, Expert Advises

29 Apr, 2022 Nancy Grover

                               

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – There are estimates that up to 80 percent of chronic illnesses may be caused by stress. While some stress is fine, even good, too many stressors stacked on top of one another can lead to all sorts of problems, for individuals and workplaces. But the last two years have created an overwhelming abundance of stress. 

“We’ve become almost accustomed to stress, as if it’s become our default position,” said Jeff Gorter, VP of Clinical Crisis Response for R3 Continuum. “The more that we know about the kind of stress, more about where it comes from and what happens and what we can do about it, that empowers us to make difference choices to manage that in ways that are more effective.”

Changing the way we manage stress can help leaders better manage their workplaces, Gorter explained during a recent webinar.

About Stress

All stress it not created equally. Not only are there degrees of stress, but there are different types.

Eustress, for example, is a situation viewed as a challenge, where the person rises to the occasion. Olympic athletes, for example, find a way to challenge and direct that stress to increase their focus and energy and enable them to perform nearly impossible feats.

Distress is what many are familiar with, especially during the pandemic. It is a situation viewed as a threat and triggers survival instincts; fight, flight or freeze. The body reacts with a release of chemicals.

“While it’s good from a survival standpoint, it tends to impede your performance – particularly in a workplace setting,” Gorter said.

Then there are two subvariants of stress:

Cumulative stress, results from multiple stressors piled on one another over a long period of time. “It begins to wear the system down,” Gorger said. “It begins to slowly drain us of energy.”

Because it is a series of stressors stacked together, many people don’t even realize they are suffering from cumulative stress. “It’s easy to miss, or dismiss in ourselves,” Gorter said. “They think, ‘it’s not too bad, I think I can manage this.’ But when we are rushing with those chemicals over a long period of time it begins to break us down physically.”

Secondary traumatic stress is more prevalent among workers in certain professions, such as fire service, law enforcement and healthcare. Being exposed to other people’s trauma can create compassion fatigue, where the employee becomes weary in the face of other people’s trauma.

“They become more withdrawn,” Gorter said. “People are drawn to those fields because they like to help people. A key warning sign is they pull back, become more isolated.”

Reacting to Stress – Locus of Control

Regardless of the type of stress being experienced, the body reacts in generally the same way. “There’s an adrenaline flush, increased heart rate, increased blood flow to large muscle groups,” Gorter explained. “It’s all the same whether it’s good stress or bad stress. The body is doing what the body does to face this challenge.”

But the mind does differentiate. Evidence shows there are physiological cognitive changes that occur in the brain. The extent of these changes depends on the locus of control.

“That is, how much agency do I perceive myself to have in this situation? How much ability to influence it, to make choices to take steps to affect this situation,” Gorter said. “If I have a high level of locus of control, if i believe that I can do something, that leads to literal physiological changes in your body and in your mind.”

While the incident itself does not change, the interpretation a person brings to it makes all the difference. Effectively managing stress is directly associated with the actions the person makes.

“If I say to myself, ‘this was a difficult situation, but where it goes from here is up to me; this is something that is worth the fight and I can make a difference in this,’” Gorter said. “Or do I say, ‘this was a difficult situation, here it is, yet another horrible thing … I throw up my hands, I’m just a soccer ball on the field of life and I get kicked around and it doesn’t really matter what I do or don’t do.’ The meaning is what makes the difference. The event is the event.”

The specific coping skills used to manage the stress are not important; it is what the person believes he can do. There are no specific, government approved ways to manage stress, Gorter explained. “Each of us has our own unique set of life experiences, resources, talents and ways that we can respond to stress – if we believe we can.”

Strategies

There are several simple things that can help people manage stress:

  • Pay attention, to what the body and mind are saying. “Am I tightening up, am I walking around with my fists unconsciously clenched because I’m ready for that fight response, or feeling I could run out of the room? What is my body telling me,” Gorter said. “I need to pay attention to that in order to regain control.” Also, he said listening to the mind’s internal dialogue is important. “Am I saying, ‘OK, we can do it’ or ‘this is overwhelming and I can’t make a difference,’” he said. “Pay attention to what my body is saying, pay attention to what my mind is saying, and pay attention to what is going on around me.”
  • Back to basics, Getting proper nutrition, staying hydrated and having adequate sleep are vital, as stress is physically exhausting. “If you don’t take care of the basics – and that includes exercise – I’m going to become exhausted,” Gorter said. “That just hampers my ability to handle it.”
  • Rule of 7. Meditation, exercise, making crafts are among the many ways people can manage stress. But often people try something just once and move on to something else because it hasn’t worked.

“Researchers have found if I want to make something effective, if I want to have it be a true part of my stress management system, the Rule of 7 said ‘if I do something 7 times, I’ve gained familiarity,’” Gorter said. Someone who commits to going for walks needs to do it 7 times in order for it to become familiar. Doing it another 7 times creates what Gorter called mastery, where there is a better understanding of how to incorporate it into the person’s life. Finally, another 7 times helps it become part of the routine. “If you commit 21 times it becomes part of my repertoire.”

Minimize disruptions. “We’ve all become accustomed to having a knowing nod or grin when a dog barks in the background or a cute toddler wanders through,” Gorter said. “But I don’t think we realize those are also things that add to our stress. So being able to control what you can control and minimize disruptions because that just adds do that cumulative stress.”


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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