The Birth of Stress

In this day and age, it is rather difficult to go through the day without hearing or reading about “stress,” let alone dealing with it. Much of our preoccupation with stress stems from more and more research confirming its contribution to sudden death, heart attacks, hypertension, and many other illnesses such as cancer, emotional disorders, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc.

It is difficult to believe that our current use of the term originated only a little more than 70 years ago, when it was essentially coined by Hans Selye. After much research and thousands of experiments, Selye chose the word “stress,” defining it as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand for change.” His concept of stress and its relationship to illness quickly spread from the research lab to all branches of medicine, and stress ultimately became a buzz word in vernacular speech.

For some people, stress was the bad boss, while others used stress to describe either their “agita” or their ulcer. Because it was clear that most people viewed stress as some unpleasant threat, Selye had to create a new word, “stressor,” in order to distinguish between stimulus and response. One of his critics concluded that “stress,” in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself and the result of itself.

Stress that is brought on by downsizing, restructuring, massive layoffs, mergers and acquisitions wreaks havoc on an individual or an organization. Those individuals who survive often have two or three times the amount of work without a corresponding increase in pay. Productivity soon drops. Customer service and quality falter. Morale disappears and the bottom line is savaged.

Dr. Bliuma Zeigarnik, a behavioral psychologist in the 1920s, found a direct correlation between increased stress and incomplete tasks in the workplace. She also reported a tie between increased stress and decreased ability to attain certain goals, and that people are twice as likely to remember unfinished tasks as completed ones. It’s critical that management understand the link between unmanaged stress and goal achievement. Understanding this link will enable management to prevent the Zeigarnik effect from taking root.

People want to master their tasks and realize their goals. Teaching individuals how to see themselves objectively, how to formulate clear and realistic goals, and how to design action plans to reach those goals helps people deal with work related stress.

What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.

 

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