Everyone suffers from stress: we can’t avoid it and we can’t live without it. A popular misconception is that we ought to eliminate stress and all stressful conditions. Not only is this impossible, but it is also erroneous because we must have some stress in our lives to provide stimulation. On the other hand, too much stress can literally kill us. The problem is to learn how to live with and manage stress.
There is a proven relationship between stress and heart disease, ulcers, hypertension, and several other ailments. It has been estimated that:
Premature employee deaths cost North American industry more than $25 billion a year – more than the total profits of the best five of the Fortune 500 companies.
More than $20 billion is lost each year because of executive absence, hospitalization, and premature death.
Approximately 35 million workdays and more than $9 billion in wages are lost each year because of heart-related diseases.
Coronary disease has increased more than 500 per cent in the last 50 years.
One out of every five men will have a heart attack before the age of 60. (Women are quickly catching up with men in this regard and are suffering from all the same symptoms.)
Executives in particular are highly susceptible to stress and must learn how to cope with this 20th-century phenomenon. Even if they aren’t interested in prolonging their own lives, their companies are. The American Heart Association reports that the cost of recruiting replacements for executives who have suffered heart attacks is now more than $700 million a year. More and more, individuals and corporations are realizing that stress management is not just another interesting topic; it is essential for personal and corporate well-being.
In order to cope satisfactorily with stress, we must first understand what it is, what it does to us, and how to recognize our stress symptoms. Then we must learn and practice stress-management techniques appropriate to our lifestyles and cause of stress.
Stress is the result of the body’s reaction to some kind of environmental disturbance. In essence, our bodies react to stimuli just as those of our ancestors must have done when they were living in caves. Back then if you came face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, you either fought it, or ran in the opposite direction as fast as you could. Our bodies still react this way.
When something unsettling happens, our bodies get ready either to fight or to flee. It’s almost as if the mind shouts “Battle Stations!” The brain tells the pituitary gland to secrete a hormone, which causes an increase in the flow of adrenalin. This speeds up the heartbeat and rate of respiration, increases blood pressure, tenses the muscles, slows digestion, and causes the production of more saliva and perspiration. In other words, we are now ready to attack or run. Unfortunately, in our civilized world, we often cannot do either of these things. However, unless we do something to help our bodies adjust to these internal reactions, we will suffer from a wide variety of what we may call “stress symptoms.”
Stress symptoms may appear in many forms. If you suffer from any of the following, your body may be signaling its reaction to a high stress load.
too little or too much appetite
decrease in sexual appetite
There are other ways to determine whether you are under stress. One of the best is to take the Holmes-Rahe Stress Test. This is a scale that measures the number of changes you have had in a one-year period and matches those changes with the amount of stress they have caused. Holmes and Rahe found that all change is stressful to some degree; the more changes you experience, the m