EHS Today editor Laura Walter

The Break Room: Stressing Out

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for stress management.

I deal with stress – which never seems to be in short supply in my life – in a variety of ways. I take long walks. I practice yoga. I read and spend quiet time alone. When things are really bad, I even mist the air with some calming lavender spray.

Perhaps I should clarify and say those are my healthy ways of dealing with stress. I’m not too proud to admit that sometimes I turn to less productive coping strategies, like stress-eating sugar while watching TV for far too long. These are not my finest moments, but I also know I’m not alone.

EHS Today editor Laura WalterStress is a major problem for many Americans, and it can have serious implications. According to Paul J. Rosch, M.D., FACP, the president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS), research indicates that stress plays a “significant role” in cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes. It also can play an aggravating role in almost any disorder. Rosch says stress costs industry more than $300 billion annually in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, stress-related illness and more. Workplace stress also can have safety implications: Statistics suggest that up to 60-70 percent of workplace accidents may be caused or influenced by stress, Rosch says.

Whether stress impacts you physically, emotionally, financially or all of the above, it probably comes as no surprise that the workplace often is the biggest source of stress. Current economic conditions aren’t helping matters, either. Lack of job security, layoffs and high unemployment lead to additional stress in the work arena.

"All the information we have on various surveys tells us that job stress is far and away the leading source of stress for American adults, and that it has increased progressively over the past 3 decades," Rosch explains.

If not handled appropriately, stress can lead to some disastrous outcomes ranging from drug or alcohol abuse to emotional disturbances that impact someone’s home life. In the workplace, mismanaged stress can impact an employee's ability to do his or her job properly. So what’s a stressed-out worker to do?

According to Rosch, employees should first try to identify their sources of stress at work and then determine how to either avoid those sources or minimize their effects. Of course, those solutions will vary for every person or job position.

"There are a lot of techniques out there to reduce stress, but just as stress is different for each of us, there's no stress-release strategy that's a panacea," Rosch says. "Jogging, meditation, yoga and listening to music are great for some, but can be boring and stressful when arbitrarily imposed on others. You have to pick something that is effective for you."

Here are some additional stress tips from AIS:

➤ Stress is part of life. Some sources of stress are inescapable, but you can act on others. The key is to distinguish between the two.

➤ Stress is different for each of us, and stress affects us in different ways.

➤ It often is not events themselves that cause stress, but rather how we perceive them.

➤ Learn to be assertive and responsible to help reduce stress.

➤ Manage your time so you can allow for relaxation, recreation and sleep.

➤ Establish appropriate goals instead of reaching for something unrealistic.

➤ Develop a strong social support system that includes family, friends, hobbies and/or volunteer work.

To learn more about stress reduction and management, visit the AIS Web site at http://www.stress.org. As for me, I’ll be unrolling my yoga mat and getting out the lavender spray – and I hope you find your ideal stress solution, too.

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