The first time I saw what stress looked like, I was a fresh graduate, barely 23, working in a multinational organisation. I was walking down a corridor with Annie, a colleague of mine, when out of the blue, the department head appeared.
“Annie!” He bellowed in a voice that I was certain could be heard by the entire department. “When are you going to finish that project of yours?”
Annie – slim, diminutive – instantly froze and so did I. I wished I wasn’t there to witness her embarrassment.
We all work for different reasons. Some of us work to prove ourselves, to feed the family and to pay the bills. And for many of us, we work hoping that it will bring meaning to our lives. We want to contribute towards humanity. Yet, work might bring with it some unexpected consequences such as prolonged high stress, a source of misery.
Why talk about stress?
We are talking specifically about prolonged, chronic stress. Raise your hand if, despite hours of sleep, you still feel exhausted and not looking forward to go to work. You feel trapped, lethargic and wish you could do anything else but work.
Not acknowledging that you’re highly stressed, not knowing how to deal with it can cause you to vent your frustrations and anxieties on your loved ones – children, spouse, family. They do not deserve to be abused just because you’re stressed at work.
More and more people are experiencing prolonged, chronic stress related to work, especially in the present work arrangements. We are expected to be available 24/7 – if you can prove that you’re fast and quick all the time, you can meet all the deadlines, you’re the company’s hero.
MYTH1: It’s normal and natural to be highly stressed at work.
Movies show heroes under extreme stress for long periods of time, only to come up victorious at the end. To some people, it’s heroic to be stressed; the more important the job, the more stressful you are, the better you’ll perform at work. If you’re not busy enough, not stressed enough, you’re not working hard enough.
Prolonged chronic stress level has nothing to do with productivity. In fact, the more stressed you are, the less productive you become; you’re bound to make poor decisions. And in case you haven’t heard, the stress hormone cortisol which your body produces when you’re highly stressed can disrupt how your body works. Highly persistent levels of cortisol makes you vulnerable to depression, anxiety, migraines and, in the long run, high blood pressure and stroke.
MYTH2: No symptoms, no stress.
There are two kinds of symptoms of prolonged chronic stress : internal and external. Internal – palpitations, sweaty palms. It’s what you feel, but not seen by others. But a person might NOT be showing any external symptoms although internally, he or she is reaching breaking point. To illustrate: Some months ago, my husband and I were requested to present a seminar on Parental Burnout. What prompted the event was the death of an employee; she had taken her own life. The thing is, nobody knew she was depressed and stressed. She was a bubbly personality and did not show any signs of burnout.
MYTH3: Alcohol helps to relieve stress.
If you think you could be a drunkard night after night, yet perform the next day, you’re mistaken because research tells us otherwise. All that alcohol does is to numb you from the present situation; you’re not able to self-regulate to respond in a more effective way. When you become sober, you still must confront the situation. Back to square one. In fact, it is no secret in the research world that this is one of the reasons people end up being alcoholic: turning to the bottle in times of stress. One glass is followed by another. And another.
As you can see, myths are dangerous untruths that may push us to make the wrong decisions. Which myth(s) above have you been clinging to that have led you to unwise, ineffective choices in life?
Featured image courtesy of Pete Linforth on Pixabay