What is Work Stress?

The interactive lecture section of the OrgSET mainly deals with providing psycho-education to the executives with regards to: (i) what is stress and stress responses?; (ii) what are the consequences of stress?; (iii) importance of and need for, a Stress Management Intervention. During the session itself the subjects’ doubts were cleared and clarified. This session carried the following slide presentation and discussion.


Knowing Stress – Stress is an inherent part of daily living. It has been a part of human life since man walked on earth. During prehistoric times, normally stressful days entailed securing food, maintaining family needs, and avoiding dangerous outcomes with dinosaurs. In many ways, we operate in a similar capacity with the challenge of modern day life. The need to keep current with e-mail messages and faster-paced computers, complete To Do lists, and do “more” with “less” renders a sense of being always on the go. In essence, the primitive need to always be on guard and ready to perform has not changed much over the years.

The good news is that there are two forms of stress. Distress, the more familiar, is the chronic feeling of being overwhelmed, oppressed, and behind in your tasks. It is the pervasive sense of being taxed by life with little opening for relief. Eustress is the alternate form of stress that is actually beneficial. Eustress allows us to engage with the challenges in life that are meaningful and offset boredom. It can entail utilizing that adrenalin surge to lend the necessary energy for maximum productivity. Have you ever been “charged” as you prepared a long term paper a day in advance of the due date? If you enjoy waiting to the last minute to prepare projects and find that they have a higher quality, the sensation you experience may be ‘eustress’. Keep in mind that perception is the key to determining which category a situation falls under. What is perceived as negatively stressful for one person may be perceived as positively stressful for another. The rest of this article will focus on coping with the adverse impact of stress.

Why do We Feel Stressed? – We feel stressed when demands on our system are not met with equally effective coping strategies. We may have excellent coping skills for several areas and limited resources in a few. It is important to determine which areas are more challenging to make appropriate accommodations. Essentially, we ‘stress out’ for three reasons: (i) Change in life has an unsettling effect; (ii) We are feeling challenged or threatened by an outside force; (iii) We experience a loss of personal control. When experiencing any of these factors, a person can resist it, avoid it, or adapt to it. Examine your pattern in the past when dealing with stressful situations. Are you pleased with your current coping strategy? If not, read on to learn of alternative methods to effectively handling your stress!

Due to individual differences, pinpointing specific workplace activities that are likely to cause stress does not go beyond the obvious. What may be seen as a challenge by one individual may be an impossible task or boring and repetitious to another. Our background, motivation, experience, skills and knowledge on the one hand and the support and encouragement from managers, supervisors and colleagues on the other, all play an important role.

While it may be beyond the employer’s responsibility, it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that not everyone comes to work with a cheerful disposition to start with. A death or sickness in the family, a temporary setback or other personal problems will influence the way in which we cope with the pressures of work. Good employers are aware of this and encourage their employees to address the problems that persist and work through them.

Levels of stress that become harmful are likely to occur when there is:
  • Prolonged or increasing pressures occurring without relief;
  • A sense of powerlessness over the demands being made;
  • A series of conflicting demands without easy resolution;
  • A continuous threat of violent or aggressive behavior with little or no defense;
  • Organizational change that impacts on individuals.
Those not in supervisory or management positions may have a heightened sense of these situations.

They can be started or made worse by:
  • The presence of bullying, conflict, harassment or indifference and contempt to staff needs;
  • The organization lacking leadership and a clear direction;
  • Work arrangements, deadlines and demands set without consultation and seen to be inflexible;
  • Staff experiencing a high degree of uncertainty about their direction, purpose, objectives and job.
Some occupations are, by nature, stressful. They include those dealing with violent and aggressive behavior or the threat of it occurring, or dealing with injury, disease and death, and having continuous contact with people and human suffering. Physical conditions in workplace can themselves create stress. Excessive noise with no control over sound levels can cause severe physical and behavioral problems. Severe vibration can have similar effects. Hot, humid conditions and the constant presence of hazardous substances, or other hazards, will also create stress.

How does you know that you are Over-Stressed? – There are several signs of stress overload. Symptoms can be divided into physical and behavioral indicators. Review the following checklist to determine if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Should you find that many of these symptoms describe your current state, you are indeed stressed!