ITB 2024 Special Reporting
What is stress?
By Bruce Hoverd and Graham Yemm
Monday, 12th March 2007
"Stress" originates from the Latin word "stringere" which means to compress or to draw tight - This would be a good description of how some people experience stress - tight and compressed or pressured.

Stress is something which: 
  • costs national economies a great deal of money
  • causes organisations problems with productivity and effectiveness
  • makes individuals, and their friends and families, suffer in a variety of ways.
The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) consider stress to be where: people have an adverse reaction to excessive pressures or other types of demand, where these exceed the person's ability to cope. Prolonged exposure to this may result in unhealthy physical, emotional, mental and behavioural symptoms.

For many years stress has been an emotive word when used to describe what is happening to someone or how they are feeling. It was almost in the same league as admitting to being mentally ill. Now, there appears to be less of a stigma attached and it is increasingly being recognised that stress is a significant issue in many societies and has a serious effect on business and individuals.

We are not here to debate whether this is because life is now so pressurised that more people are becoming stressed, people have lost their support networks in our more mobile world, or that it is that it is more acceptable to admit to the symptoms and problems, or it is just a "modern" excuse for a number of things. The reality is that the effects of stress are potentially serious for organisations and individuals.

Stress is a response to pressure. We have to remember one person's idea of a pressure might be another person's driver! Also, most of us need some pressure in order to maximise our performance or effectiveness, as shown below:

What is often overlooked is that a lack of pressure can also lead to problems - where people become bored, disinterested and feel a lack of challenge or worth. (Have you noticed the service response when you go to a shop or restaurant which is very quiet? How often is it poor?) Any requirement to shift from this can lead to a stress response because people feel as though they cannot cope or something similar. What usually leads to people beginning to suffer from real stress is when they are operating in the "burn out" area for too long or the pressures keep mounting while they are there. Reactions and responses:

Stress is a physiological reaction, where the brain triggers a variety of over 1,000 responses to help protect us. An initial surge of various chemicals, including adrenaline, are released to heighten our senses and to move us into "fight of flight" mode. (Called the Selye Syndrome.)

Our heart rate increases, eyes dilate, muscles tense - ready to run from the stress or to confront it. Although most of us are not at risk from woolly mammoths any longer, we do have stresses from a variety of sources and our basic response is still the same. We might stay in this state until the source of the stress has gone away, whatever direction we took!

This is the first stage of what the medical world call the General Adaptation Syndrome, or GAS. The second stage, resistance or adaptation occurs if the cause is not removed. The body aims to provide long-term protection and more hormones are produced, increasing blood sugar levels to sustain energy, and raising blood pressure. If this phase continues the symptoms of "burnout" start to show - and take over. Fatigue, concentration lapses, irritability, loss of appetite might start to show, amongst other things.

The third stage of GAS is exhaustion. In this stage, the body has run out of its reserve of body energy and immunity. Mental, physical and emotional resources suffer heavily. The body experiences "adrenal exhaustion". The blood sugar levels decrease as the adrenals become depleted, leading to decreased stress tolerance, progressive mental and physical exhaustion, illness and collapse. The consequences of this can lead to more serious illness because of the lowered immune system.

"Managing Pressure" was started by Bruce Hoverd and Graham Yemm, who have over 40 years of experience of working and training in the corporate world. Both of us have had a long-term interest in helping individuals and organisations. Over the last 6 - 8 years we have been involved in working in what most refer to as "Stress Management" alongside our work in business and people areas.

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