Since it’s inception the Advisory Threat System has been at yellow and above, and our lives and organizations have been in lock step with the system.
We cannot solve the issues of Homeland Security, although it might be healthy for our country to be continuously at yellow or above, it is not sustainable to live our lives’ at an elevated level of stress. If we consciously and or unconsciously continue to live at yellow or above we have become our worst fears – we are the terrorists.
We cannot rid our lives and organizations of stress; in fact, we need certain levels of stress to be productive. We need to educate ourselves about the different types of stress, acute and chronic, and learn ways of managing both types to prevent our lives and organizations from becoming drained of vitality, creativity, and the resiliency required to be effective and successful in these stressful times.
Stress is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual disease that is a major contributing factor to increased healthcare utilization and costs, illness and disease and lost productivity: personally, professionally, organizationally and nationally.
The following points highlight the enormity of the problem and its costs:
* Princeton Survey Research study, three-quarters of employees believe that there is more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.
* A Northwestern National Life study found that one in four employees viewed their jobs as the No. 1 source of stress in their lives.
* Gallup reports 80 percent of employees suffer from job stress with nearly 40 percent reporting that they need help in managing their stress.
* Job stress costs American businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year in employee burnout, turnover, higher absenteeism, lower production and increased health care costs.
* The American Psychological Association estimates that 60 percent of all absences are due to stress-related issues, costing U.S. companies more than $57 billion a year.
* Heart disease is the second largest killer next to cancer. It is estimated that some 80 million Americans exhibit some of the symptoms that will lead to heart disease. The six contributing factors to heart disease are Diet, Exercise, Stress/Sleep, Lifestyle and The Environment. A recent study found that women with stressful jobs have a 40% higher risk of major coronary problems than women with less job strain.
Our current worrisome and stressful social and economic climate is compounding the risks to our health and performance; just worrying about losing a job can increase your coronary risks. These findings should be a call to raise the national Stress Threat Level to RED; alerting leaders to the dangers stress poses to their ability to reduce costs, increase productivity, and remain competitive. A stressful organizational climate is a petri dish for breeding illness, accidents, disengaged employees, inferior customer service, and unproductive team and organizational behavior. And like many infectious diseases it is pervasive and has no boundaries. It is a factor in poor school performance, abusive and violent behavior, and relationship discord.
Stress and the Brain: The Amydala is our 911 Call Center
Stress is personal. How one interprets a situation, will determine how they feel and how they react; yet, our brains stress response mechanism is basically identical. The paradox of stress is that the parts of our brain responsible for igniting the stress response, by releasing the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, and driving emotions such as fear, the amydalae, think they are doing us a service! And when we need to take immediate action to avoid a threat it does; however, there is a down side.
Our brain’s stress response mechanism is designed to handle acute stress. These stressors are usually perceived as immediate threats to our physical, psychological, and emotional well-being, and they are time limited. An example of an acute stressor is what you might experience when an 18-wheeler wants your lane, and doesn’t ask for permission to take it – Stress Level RED! If you’ve been in this situation or can imagine it, you may have noticed an increase in your heart rate, and a few other physical and emotional changes; the critical factor is that it provides you with the focus, energy, and ability to immediately blow your horn, and move into the breakdown lane. This almost instantaneous response, sometimes referred to as Hijacking, allowed you to survive this threat! Within a few minutes your body begins to return to “normal”, but your eyes and ears stay finely attuned to all the other 18-wheeler threats still on the road. When you encounter the next 18-wheeler you may notice a bit of tension until you are safely back into your lane. Your amydalae will remain hyper-vigilant (Level Yellow) scanning for all additional potential threats, as well as retain this stressful incident for future reference. And this is the problem – we remain on hyper-vigilant mode. We are constantly at threat levels yellow, orange, or red, which cause us to exaggerate every other stressor we encounter.
In stressful work climates, employees are on constant alert, which reduces their creativity, increases tension, frustration and fatigue - adding a negative overlay to all situations, which increases the chances of numerous Amygdala Hijackings.
In today’s uncertain and turbulent times we are experiencing numerous acute stressors, “My computer won’t boot as fast as I want it to.” compounded and complicated with chronic stress. The difference is that chronic stress is stress we experience over a prolonged period, and our perception is that we have minimal or no control over it, e.g. an unsatisfactory job or a stressful work climate. Chronic Stress creates a constant level of strain, which has an eroding and corroding effect on our well-being and performance. This is double trouble; the combination of chronic and acute stress reduces and constricts our personal, professional and organizational health and effectiveness.
Stop Acute Stressors from becoming Chronic:
In most cases an acute stressor will come to an end. Remaining optimistic and keeping things in perspective helps acute stressors dissipate and end in a timely manner. Be cautious not to convert an acute stressor into a chronic stressor. Here’s an example. During a meeting you perceive a colleague’s comments about a proposal you have made to be inappropriately sarcastic. You react rudely, you’re short and dismissive – maybe you even yell at the person. This exchange sets off the stress response in both of you. Hopefully, sooner than later, you recognize that you were Hijacked and your behavior was not productive for the relationship and the team. By offering an authentic apology for your reaction, you can begin to lower the threat level from yellow to blue or green, and bring the stressful situation to a conclusion. If you keep the threat level at yellow or above, you and your colleague may carry this stressful baggage into every other situation increasing the chances that another reaction will occur. What should have been an acute stressor can linger and turn into a chronic negative relationship, which doesn’t serve either of you well.This is not unusual, most people have stories similar to this situation, and it frequently happens when people carry stress home with them and respond to a loved one with their pent up stress from the workday.
Commit to Address your Chronic Stress:
Chronic stressors require more thought and effort to deal with. If you’re in a job or relationship that is not meeting your expectations, it’s very hard to just quit and move on. You may need the job for income and health insurance. And although the relationship has features that are not meeting your needs, there may be many aspects that are. In both cases take time to reflect on want you want and then take action that provides you with a sense of moving towards a resolution. Take small steps and focus on aspects that you have control over. By taking small steps towards a resolution you will reduce your stress, feel more hopeful and will benefit from an increase in energy to address the problem more fully.
In the job scenario you can start looking for another job or explore how you may move within your organization to another position that better meets your interests and strengths. In both situations outside assistance or counseling from a friend, mentor or professional can help you find perspective and suggest a process that will help to move the job and the relationship situations in a positive direction.
Three Steps that are helpful in Addressing Chronic Stress:
* Take time to reflect on the situation. What is it that you want? Be as clear as possible.
* Ask yourself, “What am I contributing to the situation?” and commit to changing your behavior first.
* Most Chronic stressors require a process of taking small steps. Identify pro-active, positive steps that you can take. Be patient, but be active in the process of moving in the direction of a resolution.
If you chose not to address your personal and organizational chronic and acute stress you are risking your health, performance and satisfaction with work and life. Most of all, you are eroding your resiliency at a time when everyone needs his or her resiliency to be at its peak. However, the dangers of untreated stress are far more significant than one might realize.
Stress s a symptom and a transmission factor to a communicable disease that is preventing individuals and organizations from achieving their highest potential; we call it Chronic Human Wasting Disease™. CHMW is an infectious disease that strikes at the heart of individual, team and organizational performance. It subverts and steals the essence of human and organizational effectiveness and success – intrinsic motivation and potential. If CHWD is not treated, it will eventually destroy what you need and value most, your human resources and their potential.
The Renewal Group is your source for preventing and treating the causes and consequences of stress, which is one important step in preventing Chronic Human Wasting Disease™. If you believe that people are your most important asset, and if you are committed to achieving a healthy and effective organization where people thrive and their potential and performance flourishes contact us for a consultation.