WEB PAGE FOR DR JOHN C MCEWAN - DR STRESS
UNDER PRESSURE - ELIMINATING THE STRESS HAZARD
The so called "Stress Response" of the body occurs whenever we perceive some form of threat, demand or pressure upon us. These pressures
may be work related, stem from troubles at home, or from tensions within the team. The Stress Reaction is a normal hormonal reaction,
centered in the Adrenal glands, that leads to the release of coping hormones to, in effect, "tone up" the whole system for either "fight",
"flight", or "float". One of the names for the Stress Response is therefore the "Flight-Fight Reaction". This particular hormonal response
is designed to get us ready to deal with perceived threat, challenge, change or situation of pressure; to cope with it, or run away from it.
So it is a very good thing in itself, but if we find ourselves under sustained pressure for a long time period, the powerful chemicals our
body pumps out to help us cope, can start to wear us down from within. Stress becomes a hazard at this overload point.
Remember, to hold us at a state of readiness the body has to concentrate energy and in effect close down or limit other body systems. Over
time we can literally "burn out" and "lose the plot", in situations or with people, or worse, on the job front our concentration on the
safety, and efficiency of the job slips at a critical time, and we are in danger accidents or errors.
In these short notes I have tried to explain what happens to the body when the stress reaction goes on for any length of time.
Note the following things:
1. The two key causes of stress are firstly the acute pressures of daily life with all the demands of change, challenge in work,
study, family, and living arrangements. The second area is often more powerful and insidious in its effect upon us. This is the "chronic" area where
grief’s and anxieties take their toll, often unconsciously, within. This "chronic" area also refers to conflict at work or home, or lack of
personal recharge of our batteries.
2. All of us have our own ways of coping that we use to deal with pressure and all of us have different tolerances for pressure,
which vary according to early training, experiences, genetic inheritances, and our learned coping strategies.
3. Whatever the individual variances, if pressure is ongoing, the stress response will turn itself on and build pressure within.
This will have three immediate results.
A. The first result will be Mood Swings (bite, snap and snarl, or going flat) as the Mood Centre of the brain picks up the fact that
the Adrenal system has come under pressure.
B. The second result flows from the fluctuation within the hormonal system. As messages to the various organs are "confused" by the
stress response any system weaknesses or old injuries will "play up" with organ symptoms or malfunctions.
C. The third result occurs when the system begins to rebalance itself, and concentrates energy within the glands to produce more
stress hormones. At this point there is suppression of all systems the body can cut back on and this means further symptoms can be felt by the
person affected. These can range from exhaustion through to aches and pains, and if the Immune system itself is suppressed, to
troublesome viral infections which flare up and won’t go away.
To deal with the effect of stress QUICKLY is VERY IMPORTANT, as most accidents occur when the person loses concentration due to distraction which
may have a stress basis to it. Being aware of the impact any unresolved stress may have can save your life on the job, or stop Job Burnout sneaking
up on you. The two key words are, IMMEDIACY, and SUSTAINABILITY. When we become aware we are even mildly "losing the plot", that is the time for
action, and whatever we do, must be personally sustainable; it must work for us, and be able to be followed through long term. The ten principles
below form the important items to be addressed in any stress lowering, accident or burnout avoidance plan. Stress Busting is about SURVIVAL and
SUCCESS on the home and work fronts!
AVOIDING STRESS OVERLOAD - ACTION PLAN ELEMENTS
1. Deal with any unresolved griefs. Remember “Great Griefs” can take a long time to recover from. Viktor Frankl observes of great griefs,
that “there are some things that if they do not cause us to lose our minds it is because we didn’t have one to lose!”
2. Crossing decade barriers can lead to existential crises, where we question our meaning, purpose and direction in life. Face these!
3. Environment may be toxic; either physically, or socially. If it is there are no tricks that can keep you safe – run for your life!
4. Take Breaks. No stress management “tricks” can support an exhausted person who has not rested and recovered as we are meant to. One day in
seven rest, and after twelve weeks hard work take a long weekend at least for rest and recharge.
5. Recharge your natural chemistry. Serotonin levels may be boosted by activities. Studies indicate that thirty minutes of at least nine
activities will boost natural Serotonin; these are Sun Exposure, Exercise, Love shown, Laughter, Tears, Creative activity, Yell/sing or cheer,
Worship, Visit Awesome places. These activities rebuild batteries and build resilience. Make them happen daily and weekly!
6. Pull tension out of the tight muscles of the body on an hourly basis through busy days. Every hour do three shoulder rolls forward and
backward, then have a big stretch. Learn a relaxation exercise routine. Use the yoga exercise the “Lion”, and utilize abdominal breathing.
7. Dump Frustrations daily. Do not go to bed with a problem on your mind, or you will be woken at 3am with it! Dump onto paper before bed!
8. Dinner goes into your fat cells; but you work on breakfast and lunch. So boost the first two meals with protein, mineral and vitamin rich
foods. Plenty of fluids between meals. If medication will assist utilize it on your GP’s advice.
9. Put time aside for positive relationships. They only work if you are there! Practice good transition rituals on the way home, so you look
forward to arriving, and those there look forward to seeing you. Use relaxation exercises on commutes, clothes changes, and wash the day away down
the plug hole. Plan an unwind routine at night that works!
10. Develop a strategic plan for your life that will get you where you need to be, but do so sustainably. Plan to reach the above points!
As soon as you are aware that you are under a really heavy stress load, go to your GP and/or see an experienced counselor, as an individualized
form of the above action plan can then be worked out for you. A good counselor will also work with your GP to ensure you get the most appropriate
Medication may play a part in recovery, as the right anti-depressants used in the right dose will speed recovery and take the pressure off the
Immune System when stress has been there for too long. Work as close to natural rhythms as possible. If possible let the sun rise and set on
your face; sun exposure at these times sends the right messages to the brain to get either Serotonin or Melatonin working. If there is a medical
problem in addition to the stress take good advice here, and if you don't believe you have had the best advice seek a second and third opinion; do
not rest until you are as well as you can be!
Remember, if the causes of stress over-load are identified and action taken quickly the symptoms can be sorted out, but if you delay you store up
unnecessary problems for yourself. If the work place is "toxic", due to dangerous management practices, then all the stress management in the world
will not help you survive. The lists below are used to audit combat situations in the Armed Forces to identify management issues that will affect
the survivability of the unit. Test your own management and ask yourself of each pressure environment you find yourself in; do I (or my team)
feel that we are:
1. Winning or advancing in the task before us,
2. Have good communications with those above and know what is going on, and believe the task is achievable.
3. Personally physically fit.
4. Eating well and have plenty of good water to drink.
5. Comfortable in our situation, content with our conditions.
6. In good health generally.
7. Sleeping well each night and feeling rested, refreshed.
8. Confident of those around us, and enjoy working/living with them.
9. In control of all details/training that enable us to do the job.
10. Well supported, so that we feel we can get on with, and do
Anything that we can do in our work area to create, encourage, foster these things will build morale, enthusiasm and therefore productivity in the
job area. These actions will take pressure off us also. The next list involves the things that in combat situations have been found to lower
morale and performance. They are the morale eroders and productivity destroyers: they are the indicators of a "toxic" environment that you may
have to escape from.
1. Defending themselves, not advancing in the task, because distracted by "politics".
2. Feeling isolated, not knowing what's going on, overwhelmed by work load.
3. Being unfit and fatigued.
4. Poor diet, water.
6. On the receiving end of things they cannot, understand, control.
8. Lack of quality sleep.
9. Sporadic, unpredictable stressors, lack of strategic planning.
10. No support staff, so they "have to do everything", and get distracted from task.
The more of these factors that our work place (or home) contains the worse off the people in the environment will be and the lower their
performance and satisfaction.
Revised © Dr John C McEwan 25 August 2004