Florin Glinta –
Over time, when I was a young master student and a specialist in the field of organizational psychology, stress, especially in the workplace, was often a good topic to deal with in written work, or an object of study in the field surveys we did. As a trainer, stress management was the first topic I delivered in an extended program, and now, in the Sfera Business team, it remains as one of our consistent offers. However, in the meantime, my message has been nuanced, because… science neves stops.
Every time, as most of the researchers in the field, supported by a lot of statistical data, I have argued that stress is bad thing, both because of the toxic effects it has on individual health and because of the consequences generated at the organizational level.
Very recent research on the mechanism of stress production, at the individual level, seems to formulate an apparently counterintuitive and disturbing conclusion: the very belief that stress is bad in itself, through the psycho-physiological reaction that it determines, represents, in turn, a leverage through which the unwanted effect is magnified, and the damage to the body becomes even greater, diminishing our overall efficiency with which we fight against this unwanted negative emotion.
Let’s take this slowly.
It has long been thought that the stress felt by a person is simply the harmful effect of happenings or events in the life of that person, which, by themselves, carry a significant negative burden. These events were even ordered in a ranking of the stressors in our life, and so appeared the “Holmes – Rhaes scale of stressful events”, in which the first places are held by the death of the life partner or divorce, and the least harmful (but still “qualified” in the ranking) are the misdemeanors or minor violations of the law (traffic fines, etc.).
The strongest research in the field, starting from the studies of Lazarus and Folkman, has shown that we are largely “responsible” for the stress we are feeling. In order to become stressful, a crossed situation, which exerts a certain pressure on us, must meet two major conditions: to perceive it as having a special stake for us – and this is the first evaluation we make, and then to perceive that we don’t have the resources to cope – and this is the second assessment.
Behavioral science, solidly aided by technology that made possible a detailed monitoring of the human body, have shown together that if a source of pressure receives the two negative evaluations, it triggers the stress reaction in the human body; a true physiological storm sustained hormonally: accelerated pulse, adrenaline rushes, then cortisol, preparing the body for a real fight, are all only part of a picture that has, it is said, the most destructive consequences, in time, on the body.
For a long time, the science of stress has spread around this area, systematically teaching people that the body’s reactions to stress are harmful and harm them. Recent research, which began to publish its conclusions in 2012, seems to show that there is still a level of assessment by which we can influence how bad our stress will really be. Thus, once the stress reaction is triggered, people tend to evaluate themselves on how they respond to the situation, (and) with a question like: “Do I think this stress reaction of my organism is harmful?”
You will say: Who would respond that stress response is NOT harmful to himself? This is the only way we have been taught for years by the common popular belief and research in the field: “fight or run” is an automatically activated response that poisons our body with all sorts of harmful discharges.
Well, consciously or on the edge of the subconscious, we have the ability to change our answer to this question, not through a cheap “positive thinking” trick, but through the arguments of the same science. It is worth making an effort to document this…
Psychology and physiology studies show that, under stress, people who see their body’s reaction as harmful and self-evaluate as not being very efficient in dealing with a pressing situation, lead themselves to “disaster”. The physiological changes accompanying stress are normal, follow an old pattern since the beginning of the world, and prepare our body to face the challenges. This is the “healthy” belief, which not only provides us with more resources in coping with stress but also maintains our anxiety and physiological changes in normal parameters, which does not adversely affect the body.
Like any change in a well-rooted “belief”, to consider that stress produces a normal reaction, and to believe it with your entire body, is not an easy thing, and it doesn’t start from tomorrow. The first step is to get in touch with serious and correct information. The Sfera Business’ seminars on stress do just that: they bringing the latest scientific information to the stage in an easy, credible, and “fun” way. Yes, to learn about something that is not necessarily bad for us, it needs a pleasant, playful experience to become memorable and produce its long-term effects.
Furthermore, a systematic approach may be useful, through specialized procedures, which borrow methods from cognitive behavioral therapy and development groups.
One thing is certain: although we often get into situations that generate pressure and negative emotions that require us to limit resources, it is more constructive and healthier for us to consider our own reactions to stress as something “normal” and useful. This simple thought will give us greater efficiency in coping with stress. How do we find the extra resources we need so much in the confrontation we have? This is a topic for a future article, and in this case, science brings us surprising information!