Distress signals Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002

Stress goes hand-in-hand with being in a position of authority in a business, whether it be as owner, president, manager or for some, a combination of all three. Sources of stress are as varied as the types of business in the market, but it's important to understand the psychology.

"Not all stress is bad," says James Campbell Quick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Texas at Arlington. "It's really the energy base for our peak achievements, and our ability to deal with real emergencies. People in charge are often expected to be beyond stress, because it is seen as something that is negative and should be avoided. It's unrealistic to think that way. What you really want to do is avoid the negative components of stress."

Stress-management skill is available in several forms:

  • Primary prevention skills. These focus on the source of the stress, and can be as simple as getting the person causing your stress out of your space.

    "There are skills around time and personal work environment management," says Quick. "Secretaries can be wonderful stress-relievers because they can screen your calls and limit your interaction with people. You need to manage the stresses coming at you by watching your workload, using time management skills and goal-setting."

    How you perceive situations can affect your stress levels. In contrast to optimists, pessimists tend to think catastrophically, which can add unnecessary stress to a difficult situation.

    "Dispute the way you are thinking about it," says Quick, who is the co-editor of The New Organizational Reality: Downsizing, Restructuring and Revitalization. "Argue about it. Look for the evidence that would support a difficult situation. Dispute the logic you are engaged in. Another way to handle pessimism is walk away from the situation and let it go for a while. Distance yourself from it."

  • Secondary prevention skills. These skills focus not on the cause of the stress, but on your response. There are two subcategories:

    1) The ability to relax. "Relaxation is as much a characteristic of the human condition as stress," notes Quick. "It's the flip side. It's the ability to calm down, but not to turn it completely off. It takes the edge off the energy."

    Relaxation skills can include deep breathing, meditation, peaceful prayer or just lying down and relaxing for 10 to 15 minutes.

    "You shouldn't do this more than twice a day," says Quick. "If you do it for too long, you may start hallucinating or enter altered psychological states. Doing too much can take all the energy out of yourself. You won't be stressed, but you won't be productive either. The idea is to be productive without distress."

    2) Physical or exercise skills. Increasing the body's stress for short periods of time by exercising can improve the functioning of the body over the long term. A person can walk a mile or two a day and feel a significant improvement. Weight training and flexibility can also help the body deal with stressful situations.

  • Healing skills. The third set of stress-management skills deals with prevention. They focus on therapy treatment, healing and recovery.

    "Occasionally, there will be an extraordinarily stressful event, such as an accidental death at work, in which prevention skills would be appropriate," says Quick. "People may need reassurance or attention from professional care-givers, whether it's from ministers, rabbis, priests or psychologists. Most people never get beyond really bad events; they just learn to live with them without letting it intrude on their ability to think and feel."