Coping with external pressures

The icy winds are blowing and the government and the governed are feeling the chill. Most have overspent and we are all used to a level of affluence only dreamed of 50 years ago in Britain. The speed of change in our society over the same period is dramatic – socially, experientially, technically, psychologically, and globally. 50 years ago no one talked of stress, PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) or depression. Instead the words were, so very tired, exhausted, shell shocked and ‘bad with nerves.’ Every one coped but many died much younger than we die today.

What is stress?
Stress has always been with us. It is a human reaction to excessive amounts of pressure that we try to manage in some way or another.  Stress is ill health – both body and mind.     

In the chronic stage it is: heart disease, respiratory problems, skin conditions, some cancers, irritable bowel, ulcers, diabetes, migraine, musculo skeletal conditions, anxiety, depression, suicidal feelings, ‘burn out’/breakdown.     

All of these conditions can be an outcome of constant or chronic amounts of perceived pressures or these can be exacerbated if they are already part of an individual’s life.    

In the acute stage it is: feelings of panic, body tenseness, coughs, colds, flu, shortness of breath, memory loss, irritability, angry outbursts, over/under eating, and withdrawn behaviour. This is all caused by the body being in a constant state of arousal creating imbalanced body chemicals, reducing the effectiveness of the immune, endocrine and nervous systems.

Where do the pressures come from?
The pressure which creates changes in our mind and body is both external and internal.
Internal pressures come from individual perceptions of life and expectations of outcomes. Henry Ford said: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right!”.  This clearly highlights the power and energy of self belief. Negative thinking patterns reduce mood and wellness creating inactivity. Positive thinking patterns create energy, enthusiasm and activity (Seligman 2002).   

The great news is that thinking patterns can be changed if there is a will to do so. A negative approach can be retrained into a more positive attitude resulting in a realistic and more optimistic outlook. This energises an individual to take control of the pressures they are experiencing and create a plan to minimise the risk to their health and achieve a satisfactory outcome for all concerned – the ideal win/win scenario.   

External pressure is usually perceived as a situation an individual has no control over, for example, the death of a partner, close friend or relative, an accident, divorce, or moving home        

But, aren’t all these experiences dependant on how we as individuals perceive them? I believe that we also have quite a lot of input into many of these external pressures. Given that death is the one happening we can all expect, and accepting that the loss of a loved one is an intensely personal experience, there is still a choice as to how we deal with the outcome. Queen Victoria chose to go into mourning for forty years with attendant effects on the UK, whereas others have celebrated the life of their spouse by changing or creating empowering laws, raising money for Charity etc. We definitely have some input into most of the other situations listed above and therefore can choose how we respond and manage the situation in a negative or positive manner.

The current climate
This approach could also relate to the current socio-economic climate we are all experiencing in the second decade of the 21st Century. News papers (in the shops and on line), Television (terrestrial and satellite), radio (analogue and digital), magazines (business and pleasure) all tell the population various tales of woe about the fact that as a nation and as individuals we have overspent. The articles use letters to describe the amounts of money we are paying in interest to service the UK debt – apparently around £70bn. That’s £70,000,00,00,00,000, so we seem to have a serious problem.     

The new Coalition Government has therefore set some good economic brains to come up with answers, and we now need to get a consensus and get to work to pull in our national belt. People are becoming anxious as there are bound to be with changes afoot which will touch all of us.    

We are already seeing the result of national anxiety in riots,and strikes. Individual anxiety is showing itself in both public and private sector employees, many of whom fear for their jobs resulting in the behaviour known as ‘presenteeism’ where people go to work, even though they are infectious, de-energised or physically/mentally ill. Such people are unable to work effectively and can even become a hazard.    

In Personnel Today (2010), the Work Foundation indicated that the cost of presenteeism could match or account for one-and-a-half times more working time lost than the estimated £13bn annual cost of sickness absence.

A positive approach
To summarise – we have problems and potentially more are looming. How can we take a positive attitude in this situation?  
As a nation and as individuals we are going to have to learn to do things differently.

In the workplace if an employee indicates they are not coping with the job, they can assess themselves or be assessed against the six work related risk factors: ontrol; Support; Demands; Relationships; Role; Change. Of these, at the moment, control is probably the factor employees feel they are lacking most – the further down the pecking order you are, usually, the less control you have over the way you do your job. We do, however, have control of the way we think and the way we choose to react to situations. You could say: What’s the use of doing my best, I bet I’ll be the one to be made redundant” or “I’ll carry on doing my best, discuss with someone what my transferrable skills are as well as seeing if they are going to outsource my work and then I can approach the company that gets the contract.”   

Which one of these individuals is going to feel able to move forward, be more employable and less likely to become stressed/ill?

Be prepared for change
I believe that we are about to experience significant social and economic change. Research has shown that people who are materialistic, selfish, celebrity obsessed and envious do not have a happy, fulfilled life (Frey 2008). Lord Leyard, the government’s ‘Happiness Tsar’, talks of finding values of integrity, trust, respect, humility, courage and tolerance which help people to achieve a healthy, energised, balanced life where work and life are not excessive but enjoyable, productive and satisfying.        

This may have the effect of making individuals and organisations review their priorities and look within for qualities which have been buried for a long time.

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