WHAT IS STRESS ANYWAY?
Stress occurs when people work a lot – at least, that is the widely-held view. However, it is not necessarily true. Pressure at work is a possible cause of stress – but not the only one. Each person experiences stress in a very different way, depending on his or her experiences, subjective views and behavioral patterns. So what is it exactly that can trigger stress? There are both external and internal factors.
Everyone faces demands in their professional and private lives. And everyone has their own way of dealing with them. If we, as individuals, feel that our own personal coping strategies help us to successfully meet the demands placed on us, then we are able to strike a balance. When the demands outweigh the means of coping, then we perceive the situation as stressful.
Two different people who are essentially faced with the same situation will not necessarily have the same perception of stress. We experience and interpret situations in a completely subjective manner. In the words of Hans Seyle, the founder of stress research: “Stress is not what happens to you, but how you react to it.” In terms of the level of perceived stress, it does not matter if our assessment corresponds to reality or whether we overestimate the demands or underestimate our own capabilities due, for example, to false expectations, the excessive expectations we place on ourselves or previous negative experiences.
This means that we ourselves cause a lot of the stress we feel. However, there are also external factors that can trigger stress. The most important external stressors are:
- Time pressure
- An excessive workload
- Constant interruptions
- Having to be permanently available
- Reorganizations and frequent management changes
- Job insecurity
- Inadequate planning of work
- Lack of decision-making power
- Unclear objectives, a lack of information and unclear feedback
- A lack of recognition by superiors
- Family problems or illness
Internal factors amplify stress
Let’s return to the topic of workload: Studies have shown that if we regularly work 11 hours a day, this has a negative impact on our health. In other words, our bodies impose certain limits on us. Moreover, our productivity declines if we work more than 55 hours per week. So what happens if we work 10 hours each day, for example? That is a problem for some people but not for others – depending on questions such as whether they are satisfied with their work, are appreciated by their boss or have the feeling that they can make a difference.
There are, however, also internal stress factors that we ourselves cause and that amplify external stress factors. In particular, they are:
- A tendency toward perfectionism and expecting too much of ourselves
- Self-imposed time and performance pressures
- A very strong sense of responsibility
- A strong need to be in control
- An inability to set limits, not being able to say no
- A fear of mistakes, failure or rejection
- Low self-esteem
- Negative thought patterns
I would almost say that the majority of us have to contend with some of these internal stressors – but it doesn’t have to be that way! My coaching experience has clearly shown that if we start to change our patterns of behavior, this can have a big impact on our own level of stress resistance – and consequently also on our quality of life. Why not give it a try?
My next blog will look at the consequences of chronic stress – both from a health and a financial perspective.
© Claudia Kraaz