What is Stress?

Stress has a number of meanings, and as defined, it could be any of the following depending on usage:

  • (physics) force that produces strain on a physical body; “the intensity of stress is expressed in units of force divided by units of area”
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis that may be given to certain syllables in a word. The term is also used for similar patterns of phonetic prominence inside syllables. The word accent is sometimes also used with this sense.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(linguistics)
  • Stress is a term in psychology and biology, first coined in the 1930s, which has in more recent decades become a commonplace of popular parlance. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(biology)
  • In continuum mechanics, stress is a measure of the average force per unit area of a surface within a deformable body on which internal forces act. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(mechanics)
  • Stress was a very short-lived Neo-Psychedelic rock band that released only one album in 1988 on Reprise/Warner Bros. Records. They are not to be confused with the San Diego rock/metal band Stress from the early 1980s and are sometimes credited as Stress UK in America. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(Neo-Psychedelic_band)
  • Stress was a melodic rock band formed in San Diego in 1983.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(band)
  • Stress, or Hong Kong is a card game that uses a standard 52-card deck. Because of the rules of the game, it can only be played with a number of people that divides twelve (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 12 people). The objective of the game is to get all of your piles to have four-of-a-kinds. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(card_game)
  • “Stress” was the Norwegian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 1968, performed in Norwegian by Odd Børre.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(song)

In workplace definition, stress is about pressure and how much we can take. Stress is different for each individual as the amount of pressure a person can take vary from one person to another.

Palmer and Strickland in 1996 has defined the relation between pressure and one’s ability to perform at the maximum level. In their model, the right amount of pressure allows an individual to perform with his maximum potential. An excess amount of pressure more than a person can take leads to burnout while little pressure can lead to rustout.

Below is the model of Palmer and Strickland:

The image was found here — Pressure & Optimum Performance.

Stress is an often taken for granted condition for working people especially for those who are trying to get up the corporate ladder. A person suffering on prolonged stress is medically said to lower the immune system which increases blood pressure, eventually leading to hypertension, headaches, fever, colds, cough and a number of common sickness. Later on, this could develop into more serious illness. Studies have found that stress leads to the following health sickness:

1. High blood pressure and Hypertension

2. Diabetes

3. Ulcers

4. Cancer

5. Heart attacks

I suffered from the same problem when my work sucked it up so much that they lost all respect for human and worked us like slaves under the disguise of client satisfaction. I started to eat more to cope with 20 hour workdays, 72 straight hours of work, long weekends, etc. I tried to become a professional delivering and in your face performance but in turn, I gained weight, leading to hypertension and a number of health problems.

People who are targeting to go up the ladder are the first people to deny they are stressed. Being stressed can sometimes be deemed as personal mismanagement. A person who cannot manage himself cannot manage the people around them and as such cannot move up the ladder. These pretenders try to put up a face and deny all they can about being stressed.

If words cannot confirm a person’s stress, their biological response can tell the story of their stress state. A person’s biological response as defined by Palmer and Dryden in 1995 are as follows:

  • When a person perceives he or she is in a threatening situation which he or she is unable to cope with, messages are carried along neurones from the cerebral cortex (where the thought processes occur in the brain) and the limbic system to the hypothalamus (located in the brain). The hypothalamus has a number of discrete parts.
  • The anterior hypothalamus produces sympathetic arousal of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is an automatic system that controls the heart, lungs, blood vessels, stomach and glands. Because of its action we do not need to make any conscious effort to regulate our breathing or heartbeat. It just happens without our thinking about it.
  • The ANS consists of two different systems, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
  • The PNS conserves energy levels and aids relaxation. Assuming you are relaxed as you read this book, your PNS is functioning at this precise moment.
  • The PNS increases bodily secretions such as saliva, tears, mucus and gastric acids, which help to defend the body and aid digestion. Therefore when you are feeling relaxed your immune system is working.
  • The PNS sends its messages by a chemical known as a neurotransmitter, called acetylcholine. This chemical is stored at nerve endings.
  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) prepares the body for action. This forms part of the ‘fight or flight’ response.
  • In a stressful situation, it quickly does the following:
    • Increases the strength of skeletal muscles.
    • Increases the heart rate.
    • Increases mental activity and concentration.
    • Increases sugar and fat levels.
    • Reduces intestinal movement.
    • Inhibits tears and digestive secretions.
    • Relaxes the bladder.
    • Dilates pupils.
    • Increases perspiration.
    • Inhibits erections or vaginal lubrication.
    • Decreases blood-clotting time.
    • Constricts most blood vessels but dilates those in the heart/arm/leg muscles.
  • The main sympathetic neurotransmitter is called noradrenaline, which is released at the nerve endings.
  • The stress response also includes the activity of the adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands.
  • The two adrenal glands are located one on top of each kidney. The middle part of the adrenal gland is called the adrenal medulla, and is connected to the SNS by nerves. Once the latter system is in action it instructs the adrenal medulla to produce adrenaline and noradrenaline (catecholamines), which are released into the blood supply.
  • The adrenaline prepares the body for flight and the noradrenaline prepares the body for fight. They increase both the heart rate and the pressure at which the blood leaves the heart; they dilate bronchial passages and dilate coronary arteries; skin blood vessels constrict and there is an increase in metabolic rate. Also gastrointestinal system activity reduces, which leads to a sensation of ‘butterflies in the stomach’.
  • Lying close to the hypothalamus in the brain is an endocrine gland called the pituitary. In a stressful situation, the anterior hypothalamus activates the pituitary.
  • The pituitary releases adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) into the blood, which then activates the outer part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex.
  • The adrenal cortex then synthesises cortisol, which increases arterial blood pressure, mobilises glucose and fats from the adipose (fat) tissues, reduces allergic reactions, reduces inflammation and can decrease lymphocytes (white blood cells) that are involved in dealing with invading particles or bacteria.
  • Consequently, increased cortisol levels over a prolonged period of time lower the efficiency of the immune system. That’s when we start to suffer from more colds and coughs than usual.
  • The adrenal cortex releases aldosterone, which increases blood volume and subsequently blood pressure. Unfortunately, prolonged stress arousal over a period of time because of stress can lead to high blood pressure and a medical condition called essential hypertension.
  • The pituitary also releases oxytocin and vasopressin, which contract smooth muscles such as the blood vessels.
  • Oxytocin causes contraction of the uterus.
  • Vasopressin increases the permeability of the vessels to water, therefore increasing blood pressure. It is important to maintain high blood pressure in a real fight or flight situation. It can lead to contraction of the intestinal musculature.
  • The pituitary also releases a thyroid-stimulating hormone which stimulates the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, to secrete thyroxin.
  • Thyroxin increases the metabolic rate, raises blood sugar levels, increases the respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and intestinal motility. Increased intestinal motility can lead to diarrhoea. (Do note that an overactive thyroid gland under normal circumstances can be a major contributory factor in panic attacks. Too much thyroxin would normally require medication.)
  • If the person perceives that the threatening situation has passed, then the PNS helps to restore the person to a state of equilibrium.

Source of above is here — How to deal with stress

Stress is something we need to assess, accept and confront. Self denial on stress doesn’t make us better people, it doesn’t make us better leaders, better managers; accepting stress, dealing with it makes us better people, better leaders, better managers who deserve to go up in our career.

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