Recognizing and Managing Stress

By Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW ACSW

The work environment can be very stressful and without proper management of stress the negative impacts on an employee can be surprisingly harmful. Stress, also called anxiety, creates symptoms that are physical, psychological and emotional. Left unmanaged, anxiety can leaving the employee with mild behavioral symptoms to chronic anxiety requiring medical leave and long-term follow-up treatment.

Symptoms and Types of Anxiety

The most common form of anxiety is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it has a number of symptoms. First there are physical symptoms of headaches, muscle tension, tightness in the chest, stomach pain, difficulty swallowing, restlessness, being easily tired and tingling in the hands or feet. There are psychological symptoms of excessive worry, feeling on edge, poor concentration and then behavioral symptoms of irritation, having a hard time getting to sleep and pacing. People who are stressed often appear angry, keyed up, directionless, over paced, argumentative, flushed and unhappy.

There are several types of anxiety in addition to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For example, there are Phobias, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Panic Attacks. These have more specific behavioral patterns and are much less common than Generalized Anxiety.

Managing Stress

The most important thing to do is to recognize stress symptoms early and treat them quickly. Anxiety, especially if it has continued for a long time, can be unpredictable with symptoms emerging in a way that seems to be ”for no good reason”.  Unmanaged Generalized Anxiety can lead to Panic Attacks and Major Depression. At this level the person generally requires inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. Early treatment of anxiety ranges from homecare to medication and psychotherapy. Most intensive treatment can be avoided by following the suggestions below. Remember also that managing stress is both a conscious process and a life style.

  1. Recognize the Symptoms – Read and memorize the symptoms listed above. If you have more than a few of these symptoms you should make changes.
  2. Critical Problem Solving – Unsettled problems create stress and completed projects decrease stress. Clearly define unfinished projects, create a list of brainstormed options and come up with the best solution quickly.
  3. Assertiveness – Recognizing and saying or writing one’s feelings will dramatically decrease stress. When self expression is used with people it leads to problem solving and increased quality in the workplace environment.
  4. Time Management – Develop time management skills. Be organized by mapping out tasks and allow a proper amount of time for each task. Stay away from perfectionism while also spending enough time to do a good job. Also, keep clear boundaries between work and home.
  5. Self Care – Maintain a balanced and healthy diet. Avoid excessive caffeine, get proper sleep and keep from substance abuse. Exercise is critical because it has an effect on the body that decreases stress. Also, body relaxation is important and can be done by stretching, breathing exercises, reading, laughing and having fun.
  6. Social Support – A fulfilling family and social life is enjoyable and allows a healthy distraction from routine stress. Social fulfillment helps to keep values in perspective and gives a sense of purpose and belonging. Distraction, perspective and purpose are central to a calm attitude.

Take some time to evaluate if stress is a problem for you. Addressing and decreasing stress will lead to a happy, healthy and more productive life. 

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