Stressed out? Managing it critical to physical, mental health

by Becky Gillette

Published: October 6,2008

Stress in the workplace doesn’t have to be all bad. But too much of it can cause both mental and physical problems that can impact not just your work productivity, but your personal life.

Michael Hall, L.M.S.W., outreach coordinator for Memorial Behavioral Health, Gulfport, provides presentations about reducing workplace stress as part of employee assistance programs provided by some businesses in the state. Hall defines stress as the responses our bodies and minds have to the demands placed on them. Workplace stress is the result of high demands placed on an individual on the job, be it real or perceived.

“There are two types of stress,” Hall said. “Positive stress can help you concentrate, and can often help you to reach peak efficiency. Positive stress is beneficial in performing your job or other responsibilities. Negative stress is any situation in the workplace that leaves a feeling of depression, anxiety or pressure.”

Stress triggers on the job can include being over worked, working long hours for low pay, conflict in the workplace, increased responsibility and unrealistic demands of supervisors. Conflict with other employees or even with customers can also add to workplace stress.

Hall said the physical reaction to stress is always the same, but with negative stress your body stays “geared up” and doesn’t relax. When stress becomes chronic and ongoing, your physical and emotional health can suffer.

“Negative stress has been linked to headaches, sleep disturbance, upset stomach, poor concentration, low moral, poor family relations, hypertension, heart disease and psychological disorders,” Hall said. “Chronic stress hinders our body’s ability to fight off disease and reduces job productivity. There are many factors contributing to stress in general that spill over into the workplace. These include financial, marital, single-family parenting and substance abuse.”

Employers can help limit on-the job stress, Hall said, by improving communication sharing pertinent information related to employee’s jobs and the future of the organization.

“Set realistic goals and priorities encouraging employees to be part of the process,” he said. “This will encourage ownership, which encourages taking responsibility. Support a healthy lifestyle in and outside of the workplace. This investment pays for itself by preventing lost productivity and worker’s compensation claims. Wellness programs can decrease stress in the workplace and also cut down on missing work due to illnesses.”

He also recommends businesses encourage employees to use vacation days to get away from the day-to-day routine of work and stressful environments.

Tips for employees to manage stress include the following:

• Proper diet and exercise.

• Cognitive techniques such as positive thinking.

• Become more assertive and take control of your lifestyle.

• Improve time management skills.

• Develop a supportive network.

• Do not use alcohol or other drugs.

• Maintain a good sense of humor.

Dr. Harry Mills, who has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and did his clinical residency at the University of Mississippi Medical School, said stress can add excitement to your life or it can become the bane of your existence.

“Whether it is the one or the other depends on the source of stress and on you,” said Mills, who now practices in Orlando, Fla., and has 30 years’ experience as a stress psychologist. “Any event that makes a demand for a response that may exceed your capacity may be experienced as a source of stress.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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