Vol. 48, No. 7
Right Reaction, Wrong Time
Before you can really take charge of your stress, you need to understand it. Stress is not inherently bad. In fact, it’s your body’s natural, protective response to any threat—real or imagined, physical or psychological. The threat sets off an alarm in your brain, which reacts by preparing your body for defensive action. Your pulse quickens, your breathing deepens, your senses become sharper and your muscles tense as you prepare to fight or flee.
This would come in very handy if you were faced with a charging beast in the wild. In the workplace, though, it’s rarely appropriate to respond to a difficult situation by running or wrestling, as tempting as those options might seem at times. In addition, unlike a wild animal that can be avoided or killed, a stress-provoking work situation may dog you for months or even years.
This constant state of high alert takes its toll on your body. Eventually, it can lead to mental fatigue and physical wear and tear. The early warning signs of job stress include low morale, job dissatisfaction, a short temper, difficulty concentrating, an upset stomach, headaches and trouble sleeping.
As things get worse, your work performance may start to suffer to the point where colleagues comment on it. You may find yourself eating and sleeping erratically or engaging in escapist behaviors, such as partying too much or going on shopping binges. As the downward slide continues, you may become increasingly angry, cynical, detached or critical of everyone around you.
You ignore these signs at your own peril: The longer-term effects of stress can include an increased risk of full-scale job burnout, clinical depression, various aches and pains, cardiovascular disease and perhaps even cancer.