Just about a week ago, I was at the florist. Normally, I like to take my time with my flowers, but I should have warned the manager though, who was visibly present due to her loudness. I placed my order and continued to walk around the shop admiring the flowers. It was difficult to ignore the irate voice piercing the ‘flower power’ as the assistant approached me and said, ‘madam, could you please take a seat at the entrance?’
‘I am just looking around,” I replied slightly confused, as I knew that the customer is always right as per all the sales training they would have received. ‘We are a bit busy. And my manager asked me to tell you to sit down.’ I smiled widely, completely amused by his apologetic request. I replied in a hushed voice, ‘but I am the only customer here…and it’s too early to be angry.’ It was 10.45 am.
Fortunately, I made a decision to be calm, as I took my place at the entrance where I could also have a great view of what was happening backstage. The manager was unstoppable, as she continued her yelling at the poor workers. Why did she not realize that I was there, observing it all? Stress impairs one’s vision. When it was time to pay for my flowers, the same assistant added, ‘I am sorry madam, she can be like that.’ I winked and replied smilingly ‘stress can be like that.’
Stress includes three main components: an environmental force affecting the individual -stressor, an individual’s psychological or physiological response to the stressor and in some cases, an interaction between the stressor and the person’s response to it. It is a condition experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources he or she is able to mobilize. With the increasing demands of the current organizational world, occupational stress has become a recurrent challenge that has to be identified as a heath and safety issue.
Stress is a common aspect of work-life. It is expressed most frequently as job-dissatisfaction but it also finds expression in more intense states such as anger, frustration, hostility and irritation. More passive, but probably no less negative, are responses such as boredom, tedium, fatigue, helplessness, depressive mood and burnout. Consistent with these feelings is the relationship between job stress and self-confidence or self-esteem. Stress can furthermore affect a person’s physiology leading to bodily symptoms and complaints of weak or even ill health.
Stress has an effect on our health, either with direct physiological damage to our body, or it leads to destructive behavioral effects such as the excessive usage of nicotine, alcohol or drugs. When it comes to work performance, it is well known that some amount of stress, triggering a healthy proportion of adrenalin, leads to positive and optimal performance. However, in the face of prolonged stress with little support, one’s stress responses cause performance to suffer.
By and large, how we deal with stress is due to our personalities, yet regardless of personality, we all possess many inner resources to employ in the face of stress. Stress prone personalities may demonstrate characteristics such as constant multi tasking, time urgency, competitiveness and manipulative control. They can also be ardent attention seekers, perfectionists, over-achievers, devoted loyalists, self-sacrificing martyrs, ‘victims’ and reactionaries. Some will experience feelings of inadequacy, emotional dysfunction, poor self-motivation, perceptions of failure repeatedly obscuring prospects of success.
On the other hand, stress-resistant personalities cope well with stress. A ‘hardy personality’ is committed to finding a solution, thereby taking control of the situation and seeing crisis as opportunity. The ‘survivor personalities’ are optimistic and good at creative problem solving. They have both left and right brain qualities such as proud but humble, selfish but altruistic, rebellious but cooperative, spiritual but irreverent. The ‘sensation seekers’ who are dominated by an adventurous spirit, are also known to handle stress well.
We do not have to be passive victims to stress. New behaviours can be learned and adopted to aid in this coping process. Self-confidence is the bottom-line of defence. The practice of self-confidence includes focus on action, conscious living, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, assertiveness and purposeful living. These practices can be fostered through empowerment, concentration on one’s uniqueness and strengths, organizational initiatives such as role models/coaches/mentors and calculated risk taking that is not motivated by fear. Furthermore, research repeatedly shows how physical exercise, hobbies, relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, recognizing stressors and reducing/managing the resulting thought processes and emotions can be vital in personal stress management.
We are not ‘stress’. Stress is our reaction to a particular situation. So, we have to confront the problem causing the stress, and work on changing the environment or the situation (organizational interventions). If we don’t have the power to change the situation, we can change our interpretation of the situation and the way we feel about it. Finally, if it is based on something that has already happened, over which we have no command and no emotional control, then we can try and accept it.
Stress can be a state of ignorance, as it believes that everything is crisis. Quoting Maureen Kiloran ‘stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.’