Tuesday, July 18, 2006

stress management : Stress and the way we think

Particularly in normal working life, much of our stress is subtle and occurs without obvious threat to survival. Most comes from things like work overload, conflicting priorities, inconsistent values, over-challenging deadlines, conflict with co-workers, unpleasant environments and so on. Not only do these reduce our performance as we divert mental effort into handling them, they can also cause a great deal of unhappiness.

We have already mentioned that the most common currently accepted definition of stress is something that is experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

Stress, a matter of judgment
In becoming stressed, people must therefore make two main judgments: firstly they must feel threatened by the situation, and secondly they must doubt that their capabilities and resources are sufficient to meet the threat.

How stressed someone feels depends on how much damage they think the situation can do them, and how closely their resources meet the demands of the situation. This sense of threat is rarely physical. It may, for example, involve perceived threats to our social standing, to other people’s opinions of us, to our career prospects or to our own deeply held values.

Just as with real threats to our survival, these perceived threats trigger the hormonal fight-or-flight response, with all of its negative consequences.

Building on this, this site offers a variety of approaches to managing stress. The navigation bar in the left hand column offers a range of practical methods for managing these stresses by tackling them at source. It also offers some powerful tools for changing your interpretation of stressful situations, thereby reducing the perception of threat.

Pulling these mechanisms together – the integrated stress response…
So far, we have presented the Fight-or-Flight response, the General Adaptation Syndrome, and our mental responses to stress as separate mechanisms. In fact, they can fit together into one response.

The key to this is that Hans Selye’s ‘Alarm Phase’ is the same thing as Walter Cannon’s Fight-or-Flight response.

We can therefore see that mental stress triggers the fight-or-flight response, and that if this stress is sustained for a long time, the end result might be exhaustion and burnout.

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