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Stress / Basic overview
Stress is a reaction opposed to an internal or external stimulation that brings a person out of balance on a short or prolonged period. The sources of stress are called stressors and can be perceived by a person as positive (eustress) or negative (distress).
To understand the process initiated by a stressor, we can recourse to two models among the many that exists today: Selye is a classical reference, Lazarus is a more recent one and proposes a perspective closer to the stress reduction work that the mindfulness movement is promoting.
The model of Selye is often quoted in business management books.
- a STRESSOR is present;
- PHASE 1 it leads to activate an ALARM at body level;
- PHASE 2 it activates as a consequence some RESISTANCE mechanisms where attemps are made to cope with the situation; and
- PHASE 3 if the body cannot resist any more, PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION comes into play and the PSYCHOLOGICAL BREAK DOWN can begin.
The model of Lazarus is more directly relevant when it comes to reduce stress using mindfulness practice:
- a STRESSOR is present;
- this leads to a PRIMARY APPRAISAL to assess if the stressor is beneficial, harmeful, threatening or challenging;
- as a follow up, a SECOND ASSESSMENT takes place to define if it is possible to cope (if yes, little stress experienced, if not, a lot of stress is present).
Stress at work
In the course of the last years and synthesising the discussions we have had with the participants in our classes, we could make a list of stress factors that repeat themselves in the workplace. We have no scientific assessment of their relative importance but could use them to help people sort out their situations by identifying the zones where the stress factors are stemming from. The below list is a personal recollection of our observations. We will continue to check its reliability over time.
To cluster the stress factors, we have chosen four perspectives:
- Stress factors coming from within the individual
- Stress factors external to the individual and to which the individual is exposed
- Stress factors felt within the social group to which an individual belong
- Stress factors coming from the impact the social group(s) aim at having beyond itself
Stress factors coming from within the individual
- Being confined to the remit of our limiting beliefs and mental models to explain the world we live in
- Feeding demanding self-expectations and striving for goal-getting
- Unmet expectations
- Inability to set limits
- Self-blaming games indulging more suffering than actual pain
- A collection of needs left unfilled: recognition, impact, meaning, belonging
- Personal life crisis, i.e. divorce, serious disease, mid-life crisis
- Addictions of all sorts
- Ongoing and uncontrolled mental chatter
- Me centeredness
- Golden cage syndrome: having lost the freedom to move on in life
- Loss of employability and relation of dependence with current employer
Stress factors external to the individual
- Time pressure
- Unreachable or unclear quantitative and qualitative objectives
- Straining work environment
- Lack of knowledge, experience or skills to perform a job
- Reorganisation or redeployment to new functions
Stress factors felt within the social group to which an individual belong
- Conflict between personal and team/corporate values
- Lack of understanding of the big picture of the company
- Absence of dialogue with co-workers
- Interpersonal dysfunctions
- Competitive corporate culture
- Unclear roles and responsibilities
Stress factors coming from the impact the social group(s) aim at having beyond itself
- Cross departmental fights
- Fear to be reorganised or outsourced
- Lack of influence, impact or meaning beyond day-to-day job at company level and beyond
- Absence of recognition of the profession/expert group one belongs to