Get to the Roots of Stress

In today’s fast-paced world, up to 100% of CEOs (Vistage), 80% of workers (Harris) and 45 % of youngsters (MTV) are suffering from stress. It is not a surprise if you’re one of them. The good news is that stress is not as hard to manage as you think. Let’s get to know stress a little better.

Scientist Hans Selye accidentally discovered the stress response. Selye was absentminded, and his rats were always escaping from their cages. When he examined these rats later, Selye found their adrenal glands (for stress) were enlarged and their thymus glands (for immunity) had shrunk–the stress of escape and capture had changed the rats’ internal chemistry.

While it can be a motivator, stress can damage decision-making ability, emotions and health if individuals are overstretched, and subsequently affect productivity, leadership, and success.  Per the American Institute of Stress, stress costs U.S. corporations $300 billion annually in medical costs, absenteeism, and turnover.  The following are common symptoms of stress related illnesses proven by years of studies at Harvard:

Cognitive SymptomsPsychological Symptoms Physical Symptoms
Poor concentration, poor memory, inability to think clearly or make the right decisions, decreased creativity, leaving things undone.Anger, bossiness, loneliness/isolation, boredom, crying, readiness to explode, lack of feeling pleasure over past interests, upsetting easily, excessively critical, excessive worries, excessive resentment, feeling powerless, feeling hopeless, feeling emptiness, cynicism, increased gum chewing, increased smoking, alcohol or drug use, binge eating, and needing to prove oneself.Stomach-ache, indigestion, poor sleep, headache, back pain, tightness in neck and shoulders, restlessness, feeling tired easily, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, low sexual desire, and grinding teeth at night.

As indicated in the table above, stress is the root cause of many health issues, such as heart attack, stroke, insomnia, burnout, headache, and ulcer.  Heart Disease is the # 1 cause of death for men and women.  Stress can worsen many other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia.  In addition, stress can age people fast, which is why someone’s hair can turn white and skin can wrinkle overnight.

Can relaxation techniques like deep breathing, exercise, taking breaks and meditation solve all the problems?  The answer is “NO” as they are mainly symptom relief.  Can painkillers, heart stents, happy pills, hair restoration, facials, cosmetic surgery and laser skin care address the root problem?  No, these mainly relieve symptoms as well.  As long as the challenge remains, these symptoms will continue to return and will likely worsen since the individuals have to face the same challenges over and over without the proper problem-solving tools.

Where does stress come from? It can come from any issues that challenge us, internal and external.

Does this mean that individuals are vulnerable?  No. Studies at the University of California at Long Beach have found that the more we are in control, the less stress we have to face.  Individuals are usually stressed out if they cannot meet challenges, either because they do not have the right tools or because they cannot use the tools in the right way.  Great leaders usually can see facts no matter how unpalatable they may be, and take action accordingly; therefore, they often are among the last individuals in their institutions to suffer from the same type of stress.  However, their stress levels can soar if they insist on doing things their way alone.

To some experts, you are coping well if you have less than five of the above symptoms.  However, negative feedback loops can kick in once your judgment, productivity or appearance are affected. For example, anger and an explosive temper can expose an individual to social or even legal problems in extreme cases.  Insomnia can severely affect your performance and appearance. However, the symptoms of stress can be ATYPICAL in young people or children. These groups can suffer from serious stress without exhibiting any clinical symptoms.  On one occasion, a UCLA school administrator told our CEO, “We are paid to stress our students.” It is true on one hand. On the other hand, they need to be very careful with people of this age group.

How to Deal With Stress Efficiently?

In general, be on the right track and meet challenges with the right tools.  Read more.