Stress and your cope-ability: A key to handling the year ahead

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By: J. N. Halm

Apparently, working with idiots is a danger to one’s health. This is according to an article a good friend of mine posted on a Whatsapp group platform recently. It might have well been one of the funniest articles I have ever read. The article stated that working with folks who were not too clever added a lot of stress to one’s life and, as we all know, stress is a major cause of heart attacks.  In other words, the chances of having a stress-related heart attack are increased as one works with people who add more stress to one’s life.

J.N. HALM
J. N. HALM

The study was said to have been done by one Dr. Dagmar Andersson of the Swedish Lindberg University Medical Centre. According to the article, the study was done on 500 heart attack patients. The researchers found, to their amazement, that 62 percent of those they studied had very few of the physical risk factors known to cause heart attacks. It was after those individuals were interviewed that the researchers realised that the interviewees were not very bright.

I personally have my doubts about the veracity of that article. For one thing, there is very little information available on the lead researcher behind this interesting study – Dr. Andersson. For a seminal work such as his, one would have expected to find a lot of information on the man. Anyway, those are just my personal thoughts about the piece. However, if there is one thing that the findings of the article has going for it, it is the deathliness of the stress.

Known as the silent killer, stress produces so many negative effects on the body—many of which we are not even aware of. It is common knowledge that stress is deadlier than diabetes, for example. It kills more people than Alzheimer’s and it has become far more deadly than influenza. That was the verdict disclosed in a 2015 paper on work-related stress released from the Harvard and Stanford Business Schools.

I am sure there are some readers who might be wondering what an article on stress would be doing on this page. The fact is that as far as I am concerned, “work-related” is another term for customer service. At work, we are either dealing with internal customers or external customers. Even if all we do is to sit behind a machine that is causing any form of stress, the fact remains that the human beings we come across cause us more pain than any other thing in the office.

Whether the Andersson study is true or not, internal customers can have a great effect on the stress levels of co-workers. Apart from the general frustration of working with people who do not get things done right, another way in which internal customers add to the stress levels of their colleagues is that they tend to increase the workloads of others. When these people mess things up, someone must re-do the work. In short, customer service, be it internal or external, causes a lot of stress.

Whether dealing with external or internal customers, the statistics surrounding work-related stress are quite scary. More than 75 percent of adults have reported experiencing some physical symptoms resulting from work-related stress. Another 70 percent of adults have also reported some psychological problems as a result of work-related stress. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom (UK), stress is said to be the number one cause of workplace absenteeism. 25 percent of employees in the UK are said to suffer from stress. In the United States, 33 percent of employees claim that they are living with extreme stress.

A 2014 Bloomberg Business report claimed that China Radio International in April of that year reported that as many as 1,600 die every day from work-related stress. The same report stated that in Japan, more than 2,000 work-related suicides occurred in 2013. This, the report claimed, is according to Japan’s police agency.

To crown it all, a study by the multinational corporation, The Regus Group headquartered in Luxemburg, indicates that the stress levels across the world have risen over the last couple of years and still rising. The Regus Group study found that 60 percent of workers in globally significant economies around the world were experiencing work-related stress.

Although there is not much statistics about Ghana, the situation in this country cannot be any better, if you ask me. I often argue that the reason why most of us do not feel our situation in this country is that bad is akin to the feeling of a fish in water. Does a fish really know it is wet? I am convinced that, as a people, we are so soaked in stress that we have now become used to it.

Stress and your cope-ability, J. N. Halm

Have you seen the way Ghanaians who live abroad or foreigners behave when they come into this country?  They are so easily stressed out.  The traffic on our roads, the state of public transport, our open drains, lack of proper places of convenience and so many other things stress them up. But for those of us living in this country, we just laugh at them. It is proof that we are swimming in an ocean of stress. We are just not aware of it. A recent Bloomberg study on the most stressed out countries around the world indicated that sister countries, Nigeria and South Africa were the top-two most stressed out. I wonder if the researchers came through this town. We might have made the Top 10.

You will agree with me that the stress levels of the past year were very high for the average Ghanaian. The “dumsor” (electricity power cuts) situation had a lot to do with that. As businesses suffered and some even had to collapse under the weight of the crisis, people’s stress levels rose. I really have my doubts if things would be any better this year.

The ability to handle stressful situations is what is referred to as COPE-ABILITY. The main reasons given by the Andersson study for idiots causing increased stress for their colleagues at work is because people “have very poor coping skills when it comes to stupidity.” Knowing one’s cope-ability is important, in that, it helps prepare one for every stressful situation. How does one gauge one’s ability to cope with stress?

Thankfully, due to the important role it plays in our lives, stress is one of the subjects that have been widely studied. There are several stress level tests all around. Just Google “stress level tests” and you would find several tests that you can take to gauge your COPE-ABILITY level. Some of the tests are simple to take and your results can be tabulated as soon as you are done; whereas there are some others that might make you more stressed out with their long list of long winding questions.

In preparing to write this piece, I took one of the simple tests from the UK-based Stress Management Society (stress.org.uk). My results indicated that by and large I had things under control! I scored an “average level of stress.” The explanation given was: “This means that your lifestyle allows you to deal with stress in a controlled, non-aggressive way. Even so, you may still get overwhelmed at times.”

I guess things are not as bad for me as I thought.  I confirmed their results by taking the Stress Index test from the Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca) and I got a similar result. I urge all readers to take any one of these tests. It might open your eyes to something you might have not considered. Even if you do not get anything valuable from it, just take a few minutes to do it. You never know, it might even help reduce your stress.

Experts advise that there are a few things people can do to increase their cope-ability to work-related stress. One of the first things is to first find out the things that act as stressors. We all have different things that trigger stress in us. Find out what yours is and then be on the lookout when they occur. Many times, these things take us unawares. The idea behind this step and many others is to put the control back into your hands. Stress mainly occurs when people feel a situation is beyond their control. This is why psychologists advise that one acts to situations rather than react to them. Being proactive is a great way to combat stress.

One way to have control over one’s activities during the day is to have good plan or time schedule. Learn to do one thing at a time as laid out in your work schedule. Working without a clearly laid-out plan makes one chase the day rather than having control over activities during the day.

It is also advised that people practice deep breathing exercises occasionally, especially when they sense that there is a stressor about to occur. Poor eating habits have also been known to cause undue stress in people. Eating high-sugar and low-protein foods have a way of messing up one’s system leading to undue stress.

A lack of exercise is also another major cause of stress to the body and that is why it is advisable to exercise regularly.  Closely related to exercising regularly is to have enough rest, especially at night. A good night’s sleep is a good remedy for stress. Additionally, it is advised that you learn to disconnect during the weekend. It is not in your interest to take work home during the weekend. There are many other things one can do to eliminate or reduce the stress.

The facts and figures surrounding work-related stress should be of concern to all. The fact is that businesses and countries are losing millions as a result of work-related stress. Employees are staying away from work, putting in poor work or just dying on the job. These are not matters one should joke with and as such as we begin this New Year, it is important that business leaders, owners, supervisors and managers all try as much as possible to do something about the stress levels in their various organisations. At the micro-level, every one of us must have an idea of our cope-ability with stress since it is directly tied to our capability to perform on the job.

GB&F

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