We tend to talk about stress in negative terms or as a bad thing. But in reality, stress is a mechanism that has allowed us, for centuries, to stay alive. In general, stress is a response of our organism that enables us to respond to an external stimulus, either positive or negative. Faced with a certain stimulus, our brain emits a response that causes the stress hormone (cortisol, adrenaline) to go into motion, producing a state of tension and alertness to the stimulus.
For example, if we have to present a project in public, it is possible that we perceive it as threatening and consequently we start producing cortisol and adrenaline which in turn will cause palpitations, sweating or breathing problems. All these symptoms are very characteristic of anxiety. We all endure different levels of stress in our daily lives and the sources that generate it can be very different: family, economic problems, partner, children, health problems, traffic or work.
An adequate level of stress is good, but when we have the perception of loss of control or not having a correct solution to respond to the stimulus, stress becomes very negative for our health (distress). Certainly, a certain level of stress is good but if it is prolonged it can affect our health since stress attacks different mechanisms such as the immune system, the nervous system or the endocrine system.
As for work-related stress, the pressure can be so great that it can lead to increased absenteeism, lack of motivation, decreased performance, work climate problems, increased occupational hazards, sleep disorders or concentration and attention problems.
How can we identify stress in the workplace?
There are many risk factors that predispose people to suffer from stress at work. For example, work schedules, shifts, pressure from clients and managers, the work environment (light, temperature, noise), inadequate use of ICTs, personal relationships, the content of the task or the pace of work, job insecurity (physical or economic), poor collaboration between colleagues, absence or lack of definition of the tasks to be performed, among others. It is important to detect which factors cause us stress and seek solutions to remedy it.
How does stress affect us?
Each person deals with stress in different ways:
- Positive reaction: copes with the problem.
- Passive reaction: I can’t do anything, it’s impossible.
- Escape: Avoidance of the situation, flight.
- Problem-focused: Resolute, active.
- Emotion-focused: Passive, avoidant.
On the one hand, if we consider it a challenge, we will mobilize all our resources, knowledge and skills to face it, generating feelings of achievement and overcoming. But if we consider the event as a threat, we will consider that we do not have the tools to face it and we will generate typical responses of anxiety.
Faced with a stressful event, we should ask ourselves: Is it a threat or is it really an opportunity? What should I do rationally to face this problem? What resources should I mobilize?
It is interesting that we learn to identify our symptoms in the face of stress and at the same time recognize our own limits. Face problems immediately and do not postpone them. It will only make them become chronic. Tackle tasks one at a time. Multitasking does not work. Working longer hours will not make you more efficient. One thing at a time. One time for work, one time for leisure and one time for family. Manage the time you spend on each task. Too much perfectionism can be your enemy. Organize your agenda and your work station. Learn to say no without feeling guilty. Replace worry with occupation.
The problem is not the snake, but the assessment we make about the risk posed by the snake and therefore, the behavior or attitude we carry out to face it. Some authors postulate that the interpretation of the stressful situation is more important than experiencing such situations. It is not the situation or the response that is critical, but rather our interpretation or perception of the threat. On this depends our assessment of whether or not we can cope with the threat with the available resources. In reality, it is not really the resources available that are important, but rather our confidence in using them.
What can companies do to make these stressful situations less stressful for the employee?
Companies can do many things to reduce stress levels if they understand that stress is detrimental not only to the workforce but also to the company’s own interests. For example, encourage individual participation, flexible working hours, promote family reconciliation, improve work environments, promote continuous training in occupational health, stress and time management, etc. It is also interesting that companies can periodically evaluate internal stress levels through specialized audits that allow them to identify which factors influence stress generation and propose strategies to reduce them. Some indicators can be the level of absenteeism, turnover, departures, complaints.