Recognize your stress signals by Leah Gliniewicz, Staff Reporter
WHZ-101: Working 9 to 5, and then some?
Are you all work and no play? Finding that you have no down time? It could be because you don't know when to quit. Take a breather and find out which signals are telling you to take it easy.
If you're stressed, you are not alone.
The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) reports that 75 to 90 percent of visits to physicians are stress related. Job stress is a major health factor costing businesses an estimated $150 billion annually.
It's no surprise that work and stress can go hand in hand. What may surprise you is that prolonged stress can affect your long-term physical and mental health.
How can you keep stress from becoming a health problem? First, recognize the symptoms.
Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS) in Yonkers, N.Y., says the sense or feeling of having little control is what stress is all about. According to the AIS, some common signs and symptoms of stress include:
.Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain .Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms .Lightheadedness, faintness, dizziness .Unexplained or frequent "allergy" attacks .Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness .Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion .Little interest in appearance, punctuality
However, be aware that the AIS advises you not to assume these symptoms are necessarily due to stress. You should consult a physician to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Feel the burnout
Continuous stress-related activities with little relief can lead to burnout which is a collection of several stress symptoms and signs -- including changes in behavior.
According to "Stress Doc" Mark Gorkin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker based in Washington, burnout is the gradual process by which a person detaches from work and other meaningful relationships as a result of prolonged stress and physical, mental and emotional strain.
The pathway to burnout is filled with "superhuman" perfection-seekers who have difficulty saying "no," who set unrealistic goals and constantly take on too much for too long. Persons most susceptible to burnout are Type-A personalities, and people who set goals to reaffirm a sense of self worth that are hard to achieve. On the flipside, Gorkin says, burnout can also occur when you feel under utilized or not sufficiently challenged.
According to Gorkin, the four stages of burnout include:
.Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. .Shame and doubt -- Vulnerability and changes perceived as uncontrollable. For example, someone at work asks you to take on a new project and you say yes, but in your mind you question whether you can do it. Gorkin said this is a psychological response and not a logical one; a person starts discounting things in the past because burnout is drawing on a unconscious feeling of self-doubt. .Cynicism and callousness -- As a response to prolonged feeling of insecurity or vulnerability, stress turns to suspicion and mistrust. Gorkin said a person who is tired of feeling vulnerable turns to this as a survival strategy because they want to avoid the self-doubt feeling. .Failure, helplessness and crisis -- Easily irritable, an overly sensitive and personal reaction to a slight or emotional bump.
Tips for reducing stress and tension
Stress affects everyone differently; likewise, stress relievers vary from person to person. Find the method that works best for you.
AIS points out that the most important thing you can learn about stress is that external events are not necessarily stressful. Rather it's your perception of the event that causes stress. They also point out that managing your time, establishing some appropriate goals and learning to say "no" when confronted by a request you suspect will be stressful or time consuming are helpful strategies for managing stress.
Here are some stress-relieving suggestions from the NMHA.
.Be realistic -- If you feel overwhelmed by some activities (yours and/or your family's) learn to say NO! Eliminate an activity that is not absolutely necessary or ask someone else to help. You may be taking on more responsibility than you can or should handle. .Shed the superman/superwoman image -- No one is perfect, so don't expect perfection from yourself or others. Ask yourself: What really needs to be done? How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? .Take one thing at a time -- For people under tension or stress, an ordinary work load can sometimes seem unbearable. The best way to cope with this feeling of being overwhelmed is to take one task at a time. Pick one urgent task and work on it. .Go easy with criticism -- You may expect too much of yourself and others. Try not to feel frustrated, let down, disappointed, even trapped when another person does not measure up.
Say "Yes" to negotiation
Gorkin speaks from his own burnout experiences. On his road to recovery, Gorkin practiced what he calls the 4 R's: running (regular physical exercise), reading, retreating and writing (this entails writing about the burnout experience). The most important step, which Gorkin calls retreating, is a form of taking inventory and looking at where things are in your life.
"Learn to listen to your body," Gorkin says. "I think two things we all know are R and R [rest and relaxation]. N and N [saying no and negotiation] is just as important," Gorkin adds. For example if asked to do a project, discuss deadlines and a timeline.
"If we're afraid to say no, afraid of conflict, all of those can get us in trouble," Gorkin says, "because we don't know when to set boundaries and limits or to negotiate what is a reasonable workload."
Dr. Allan Magaziner, author of the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Living Longer and Healthier" and founder of the Magaziner Center for Wellness and Anti-aging Medicine in Cherry Hill, N.J., emphasizes natural healing techniques.
In addition to getting enough sleep, having a positive outlook on life can be just as important. "Being negative all the time drains energy and all nutrients," Dr. Magaziner says. He adds that taking vitamins like B complex, calcium and magnesium can have relaxing effect of the nervous system.
Exercise can also help release stored stress, Dr. Magaziner adds. "A lot of people have stored up stress and the body will eventually respond to that."
Kelly Howell, founder and president of Brain Sync Corporation, based in Sante Fe, N.M., agrees with Magaziner's diagnosis. "Stress over time can be like trauma," she says.
Howell is the author and creator of audio programs that use Brain Wave Audio Technology to enable people to meditate and reach a deep relaxed state called Theta (the stage right before the sleep stage called Delta). Theta is a gateway to long-term memory, a time of deep relaxation, and an unwinding of the inner self, Howell says.
"I think our time is so valuable these days and we're hit with a lot more information than we were years ago, and we're bombarded with choices," Howell notes. She adds: it's "important for people to get an inner balance."