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Stress on the Job-

Stress is everywhere. It can come from sources we perceive as positive and sources that we perceive as negative. Stress that comes from "positive" sources is referred to as eustress. An example of a eustress event might be getting married. An example of distress is getting mugged. When we experience stressors, our body, mind and spirit all generate responses. It is when we are under distress that the body's "Stress Response glands", the Adrenal glands, are most negatively affected.

The body generates a primitive biochemical reaction to the stressor enabling fight or flight. This is typically a high cortisol response that may be in our best interest, or not.

If we consider the primitive origins of this biochemical response, it makes great sense: if you are hunting whooly mammoth, and one suddenly turns on you, you definitely want your body to generate chemicals to help you get the heck out of there, FAST!

However, as much as the biochemical reaction was imperative in that situation, most of us are not physically putting ourselves in life or death situations on a day-to-day basis (excluding first responders like fire fighters). And normally, it would be OK to have a few unnecessary chemicals, but excess cortisol in the absence of an emergent situation can wreak havoc on the body, causing us to feel jittery and uncomfortable, and negatively impacting other life functions.

Sighting Stress

Learning to better identify stress in our lives takes work. Most of us approach our lives and work with great intensity and don't perceive stress when it is relatively low or even moderate. Our "stress alarm" goes off when stress is extreme and we feel completely overwhelmed- often when it is too late. "Body mapping" allows you to attend to the messages from the body that help you realize when you are experiencing stress. Learning to listen to your body can help you better realize when stress is on the rise, and to take measures to reduce or avoid the stressors creeping into your life. Some common physical signs of stress include:
  • Furrowed eyebrows
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tightness in the throat; frequent sore throat
  • Tightness in the shoulders (shoulders that seem to "stand up" on their own)
  • Tense and aching neck
  • Constricted arteries
  • Fast pulse
  • Shallow breathing
  • Distended stomach (bloating)
  • Possible incontinence
  • Possible diarrhea
  • Cold fingers and feet
  • Clammy palms
  • Rigid pelvis
  • Numb genitals
  • Large muscles contracted and difficult to stretch (including gluts and lower back)
Stress-Inducing Thoughts

In addition to the information we get from our bodies, we also must attend to the part that our minds play in the stress game.

Self-talk, or the tapes that we often play in our minds (our internal narration), can have both positive and negative effects. Some of the specific kinds of negative self-talk that induce or maintain stress include:
  • Making mistakes is terrible.
  • It is essential to be loved by everyone.
  • I must always be competent.
  • Every problem has a perfect solution.
  • If others criticize me, I must have done something wrong.
  • I can't change the way I think.
  • I cannot show weakness or cry.
  • Strong people do not ask for help.
  • Everything is within my control.
  • Other people should always see things the same way I do.
  • People should do what I want because they love me.
  • The world ought to be fair.
Stress Reduction

In order to experience life optimally and to perform at your best, it is imperative that you identify and combat all sources of stress in your life. By removing or minimizing stressors, you are likely to reduce your corticosteroid (ie. Cortisol) load and improve your immune and physical function, as well as heighten your sense of peace and well-being.

The following are a few tips for stress reduction:
  • Increase your awareness about what causes your stress.
  • Anticipate stressors and rehearse healthy coping responses.
  • Simplify your life.
  • Experience life as a participant when you can or as an observer when stress is high.
  • Reward yourself when you manage or avoid stress successfully.
  • Maintain good nutrition.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs and other toxins (though they provide immediate relief, they require a significant amount of energy from the body to eliminate them later).
  • Exercise regularly, using movement that is associated with increased fertility (research suggests that 30 minutes of exercise daily can enable the body to remain healthy!)
  • Sleep well.
  • Use time management skills.
  • Prepare for the coming day before you go to sleep.
  • Communicate to others assertively. Say "no" when it's in your best interest to do so.
  • Exercise your leisure skills: HAVE FUN!
  • Use Integrative Medicine as you desire.
  • Employ relaxation techniques such as:
    • Mindful Meditation
    • Basic Autogenic Training
    • Progressive Relaxation
    • Passive Progressive Relaxation
    • Guided Imagery
And, remember Don Miguel Ruiz's Four Agreements, they will certainly reduce your experience of stress:
  • Be impeccable with your word- especially to yourself! When speaking to yourself, be kind rather than critical or judgmental. Make sure that you say what you mean, and mean what you say. It wastes less time and is far more effective.
  • Don't take things personally. Most of the time, it's not about you. Those around you will ALWAYS have their own opinion and it's up to you to respect their right to an opinion, even if you don't agree. What they may say to you is a reflection of that opinion, and may not have any semblance to the reality that you maintain!
  • Don't make assumptions. Assumptions about others are typically a sign of self-importance. Who made you the expert on other people? Allow yourself to make observations about things that happen and avoid criticizing or judging. You are not their judge and jury, nor would you want someone else to be yours.
  • Always do your best- and know that your best is going to change from day to day, depending on how you feel! If you're on top of the world, your best is going to be nothing short of outstanding. If you've got the flu, your best may be getting out of bed and taking a shower! Give yourself some latitude and make sure that the standards you're setting for yourself aren't a set-up!
Dealing with Difficult People-

When we interact with difficult people or situations, we experience emotions. These feelings provide us with motivation to change how we interact with others. If we were to silence or stuff these feelings, we would eventually make ourselves sick. Research shows that emotional distress has a significant impact on physical function, and given that we need to be able to rely on our bodies, we don't want to harbor negative feelings and generate physical consequences.

Strategies and Techniques for Dealing with Difficult People
  1. Identifying difficult people by type There are many labels assigned to types of difficult people, and those labels vary depending on where the information is coming from! A few of the most common types of difficult people appear below:
    • Bullies/Aggressive types: These folks tend to be hostile and angry and throw their weight around to get their way. How you feel is of no value; they are focused only on what is important to them.
    • Gripers/Complainers: These types complain about the things that they don't like or agree with, but rarely take action to change things. They depend on others to make things different.
    • Silent/Passive types: These people may have deep feelings about issues, but you'd never know, because they don't engage. They are most likely to answer with "yes" or "no" to your questions and will rarely offer more input even when pressed.
    • Very nice people/Sickly sweet types: These folks are pretty ingratiating on the surface, but do what they want to do when it comes down to the wire. They often make empty promises.
    • Yes, but'ters: These people are all ears for new ideas, but always have a "Yes, but..." waiting in response. They won't allow things to change, likely because change scares them (deep down...).
    • I know better types: These folks believe that they know everything, and no matter what kind of expert you are, they will try to give you advice. They tend to be condescending and egotistical and you are likely to think of them as narcissistic.
    • Stallers: put things off until someone else takes action. Something else always needs to be done before a decision is made, and often the delay engages someone else to act.
    • Snipers: may be very charming and engaging on the surface, but will take potshots at you in public and in private whenever they have an unresolved issue. These "backstabbers" will verbally strike you, and you'll never have seen it coming.
    Becoming an effective communicator depends on how flexible you are and how well you can shift your style depending on who you're dealing with! For example, if you think that responding to an aggressive bully with contempt and aggression will call his/her bluff, you're wrong. Don't pull the tiger's tail if you want him to walk your way. The tiger won't like it, and neither will you.
  2. Effective coping strategies for dealing with difficult people
    • with Bullies: Be assertive. Don't back down, but don't try to intimidate.
    • with Gripers: Hear them out and be empathic. Then ask what it is specifically that you can do to assist them.
    • with Silent types: Always ask open-ended questions to which "yes" or "no" would not be a response option. If they respond with a "no", identify your position or plans.
    • with Very nice people: Try to be accepting of them, then find out what their ulterior motive is (assertively!)
    • with Yes, but'ters: Identify all strategies that won't work before they have the chance to. Then, follow-up with a concise description of strategies or plans that will work.
    • with I know better types: Research your position and have the data at hand when you enter the confrontation. Prepare in advance, responses to any potential conflicts or problems that you can foresee.
    • with Stallers: Collaborate to identify the real problem for the delay. Offer your input and ask for theirs.
    • with Snipers: These folks tend to feel pretty powerless inside, and attempt to control others passively. Try giving them the respect that they deserve, and together determine what the real issue is and negotiate a solution.
  3. Communicating assertively All relationships benefit when you can communicate assertively, but remember, there are some situations where it may be difficult to assert yourself. Be aware of potential obstacles to assertiveness before you enter a confrontation.

    Assertive communication is that in which each party's opinion is respected and accepted, and where each party's needs and desires matter. This differs from aggressive communication in which one person dominates the other. It also differs from passive communication, in which one person concedes to the other.

  4. Clearly defining problems/conflicts Another strategy that may be helpful when dealing with difficult people is to clearly define problems and conflicts as they arise. Effectively communicating that there is a problem requires two steps:
    • Attitude: It is in your best interest to adopt the attitude that:
      • problems are a normal part of living
      • problems are generally personally- they don't arise just to piss you off or ruin your day
      • it is possible to cope with problems as they arise
      • you can identify rather than deny problems as they arise
      • it is better to avoid quick, impulsive responses to problems
    • Problem definition:
      • Identify the problem clearly and in concise parts or segments if that is appropriate.
    • Designing and implementing effective confrontations When you deal with difficult people, you will eventually engage in confrontations. Confrontation has been given a negative rap-- these incidents don't have to be uncomfortable and "bad"; you just have to learn a set of techniques for making confrontations effective to get positive results.

      We have to remember that our thoughts can get us into trouble, and if we have core beliefs that confrontation is always bad, we'll have to address these beliefs before we're successful with confrontation.

      There are several confrontation styles that may be useful when dealing with difficult people. These include:
      • Information confrontation: When there is some misunderstanding or the person has been misinformed.
      • Experiential confrontation: When two or more people respond differently to a situation.
      • Strength confrontation: When a person is underestimating his/her power or value.
      • Encouragement for action: When the person just needs a gentle push to succeed.
      Know that confrontation requires some kind of relationship foundation. If you have no relationship with the person, try to take an assertive posture, but realize that you are dealing with an unknown. Confrontation, when approached positively, can bring people closer, so heed these tips for effective confrontation:
      • Choose the right time and place (a private setting usually allows people to speak more freely. However, if you're dealing with a bully, you may want to select a low-traffic, public area).
      • Be a good listener. After giving the person time to summarize his/her position, ask questions to determine if you have an accurate understanding.
      • Know that taking a defensive posture typically doesn't pay off in the end. It just gives the other person a place to dig in.
      • Be willing to compromise (before you even begin).
      • Require and provide appropriate respect.
      • Be assertive rather than combative.
      • Provide constructive criticism (remember that confrontation should be for the good of the other party).
      • Criticize the behavior rather than the person.
      • When confronted, don't respond impulsively. Count to ten if you need to.
    • Releasing anger in a healthy fashion When the difficult person that you're dealing with is part of your daily life, it is important to cope with the situation quickly and effectively. When you have an investment in a relationship with a difficult person, anger is likely to be a natural consequence of engagement. Deal with your anger instead of denying it.

      Just as with confrontation, your core beliefs about anger will impact how you express it (or don't!!!).

      Releasing anger is important to your mental and physical health. Follow these steps for healthy anger release:
      • Admit that you feel angry (first to yourself, then when appropriate, to the other person)
      • Count to 10, 20 or even 100 before engaging when you are angry (1000 if it takes you that long to simmer down!)
      • Stop, look, and listen.
        • Stop: Take some time to determine the cause of your anger. Discard any cover stories that might be veiling the real source of your anger.
        • Look: Take a look at the incident and determine what part, if any, you had in it.
        • Listen: By learning to become aware of the things that trigger your anger, you can deal with these issues and let go of less important or insignificant ones.
      • Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Is it possible that he/she wasn't trying to provoke you??? What if his/her actions or words weren't personal?
      • Be assertive and express your anger in a clear, concise way. Use this assertive statement block,

        When you ________________________________, I feel angry.
      • Try some vigorous exercise to blow off some steam so that the anger doesn't get directed at your body or anyone else's!
      • Cut your losses. If you have expressed your anger effectively and you have used appropriate techniques for confronting a difficult person, and the person continues to resist or poses a problem, try a new tactic. If there is no hope in sight, move on to a less anger-provoking interaction.
      • Allow yourself to let go. Once you've made a real attempt to deal with the incident, give yourself the gift of moving on.
      • Reward yourself when you make a successful attempt to release anger.
Performance Anxiety & Enhancement-

When your position or promotion depends on your performance, failure is not an option!

Many of us experience some form of anxiety or another. But, when you suffer from performance anxiety in the workplace, it can have catastrophic effects. Fear not, performance anxiety can be resolved relatively easily.

Some of the common interventions for performance anxiety include medications, behavioral therapy, and cognitive behavioral treatment.

  • Medications The most common medications for performance anxiety are anti-anxiety agents and Beta-blockers. For those whose jobs require public speaking, Beta-blockers can be taken episodically to reduce the anxiety that is specific to the speaking engagement. They are not taken daily, but instead taken to reduce anxiety that only arises when the person is called to perform. For those whose anxiety is more pervasive, a daily anxiolytic may prove more effective. For instance, an introvert who has a managerial position that requires frequent communication with team members might do well on a low-dose anxiolytic like Buspirone. For those whose performance anxiety sparks a more intense reaction, even panic, anxiolytics like the Benzodiazepenes may be more useful. Unfortunately, the Benzodiazepenes (e.g. Xanax, Valium) are habit-forming and must be carefully monitored. Brief, infrequent use can provide relief and allow the person to function normally, while long-term or consistent use can generate rebound anxiety that is even more difficult to manage.

  • Behavioral Therapy The most common type of behavioral intervention for performance anxiety on the job involves the reinforcement of positive steps (performing functions such as public speaking) and extinguishing reactions that inhibit function (eg. Sweating profusely, vomiting, running out of a staff meeting).

    When working with a behavioral therapist, you will likely use some form of systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization is a method of teaching a person to invoke the relaxation response while they are experiencing an anxiety-provoking event, object, or life form.

    During this treatment, the person identifies the most anxiety-provoking experience and that is placed at the top of the anxiety pyramid. Then, the person identifies the least anxiety-provoking experience and that is placed at the base of the pyramid. The person continues to identify those experiences which are more and more anxiety-provoking until the pyramid is complete. For example, if a person has a phobia about speaking in public, actually being required to deliver a presentatin to a room full of 500 people might be placed at the top of a pyramid. Having a conversation about someone who delivered such a presentation five years ago might be placed at the bottom of the pyramid.

    Once the anxiety pyramid is complete, the therapist teaches the client how to invoke the Relaxation Response. After some practice, the client is exposed to the least anxiety-provoking stimulus, and is then asked to generate the Relaxation Response. Level by level, the person is exposed to situations that have previously triggered anxiety and is engaged to produce the Relaxation Response until the client is capable of relaxing, even under the circumstances that were previously considered the most anxiety-provoking!

    The combination of learning techniques such as the Relaxation Response with the reinforcement of forward movement, will likely reduce the majority of the Performance Anxiety. Repetition over time further ensures that the anxiety response or its symptoms will extinguish over time.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy There is quite a bit of research to suggest that thoughts, and the emotions that they trigger, are more than likely responsible for performance anxiety in the workplace. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the client first describes the problematic situation (e.g. presenting at a staff meeting). The client then identifies the emotions that are experienced in response to the disquieting situation and rates the intensity of each. Then, through a process referred to as Socratic Questioning the therapist and client uncover all of the the thoughts associated with the uncomfortable situation. The inquiry into each thought uncovers yet another, deeper thought that is likely to be associated with ever more intense emotion. When the the client and therapist reach the hot thought or the idea which seems to be foundation and generating the most intense emotion, they stop the probing. The team then considers each automatic or unreasonable thought and generates a more logical or reasonable response. Once all of the thoughts have been revised, the client identifies and rates any remaining emotions.

    The CBT process can be used in a variety of ways, but has been proven highly effective at eliminating thoughts which support performance anxiety. In addition, for those desiring to enhance their performance on the job, CBT offers daily affirmations which can promote self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. Affirmations such as "I have important information to share" and "I am a caring communicator" can enable introverted or anxious employees to shine as leaders.

  • 360º Feedback In addition to the techniques outlined above, use of 360º Feedback can drastically enhance workplace performance. The 360º Feedback Program involves the selection of a group of employees who work directly with the client. Employees complete a questionnaire and/or interview in order for the consultant to collect data about the client's performance, work and communication style, and perceived effectiveness. The data is then compiled and presented to the client. The feedback is then used to modify styles or strategies that are sub-optimal and to promote strategies and styles that are perceived as highly beneficial. Result: improved performance of the client, increased communication between team members, and enhanced experience of respect and consideration by all those involved in the feedback process.
Hostile Workplace

We have seen significant progress in workplace behavior and design during the last ten years, but we have yet to eliminate all workplace drama and trauma.

In past decades, the focus of Workplace Health was on the elimination of Sexual Harassment. In more recent times, we have realized that not all harassment on the job is sexual in nature, but is no less traumatic for the person being targeted.

All employees have the right to work in facilities that are free of conditions and circumstances that promote alienation, isolation, bias, or discomfort. For instance, if a foreign-born employee is exposed to racist remarks by other employees, the situation is considered a hostile workplace. Another example of a hostile workplace is the new male employee, freshly out of college, whose boss criticizes his inexpensive wardrobe every day.

As an employee, you have a legal right to be able to do your job, free of harassment of any kind from any other employee. In the event that you do experience a Hostile Workplace, here are a few tips:

  • Do not attempt to defend yourself or fight back (unless the attack on you is physical).
  • Immediately contact your supervisor and ask for a meeting.
  • Inform your supervisor about the situation or circumstances to which you have been exposed. Your supervisor should, in turn, contact the Human Resources Department, who should then interview you. In the event that your supervisor does not do so, identify your rights to work in healthy conditions and ask them to contact Human Resources. If your supervisor refuses to do so, complete your shift and leave the premises. Contact a Labor Law and Employment attorney as soon as possible.
  • If your supervisor contacts Human Resources, they will likely schedule and interview with you within 48 hours.
Sexual Harassment

According to a recent article on GirlsinTech.org, studies suggest that 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 34 reports the experience of some form of sexual harassment on the job. For women in the tech industry, a staggering "60% of women in tech reported having experienced unwanted sexual advances at some point in their careers." And, because nearly 40% of sexual harassment is not reported, those numbers likely reflect even less than what is actually occurring at workplaces across the nation.

The term "sexual harassment" refers to a variety of behaviors that leave a victim feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, demeaned or devalued. Behaviors can be harassing without being overtly sexual. A manager who consistently schedules an employee for the least favorable shifts, a supervisor who utilizes intimidation to force a subordinate to do things that s/he doesn't want to do, and a peer telling vulgar jokes are all examples of sexual harassment. Managers, colleagues and peers who demand sexual favors or who are sexually intrusive or who violate boundaries are also guilty of sexual harassment.

Be advised that those who endure sexual harassment often develop psychological, emotional and even physical symptoms as a result. Some victims may even develop full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The most common symptoms that develop following the experience of harassment include:

  • Changes in mood- heightened anxiety, depression, and obsessional thinking
  • Changes in behavior- Fight, flight or freeze dynamics may lead an employee to behave more belligerently or erratically than normal; may result in an employee frequently calling in sick in order to avoid the perpetrator; or may cause the employee to shut down emotionally, and even physically (making her/him more vulnerable to subsequent assaults)
  • Changes in wellness- those who have experienced harassment often report problems sleeping, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, decreased motivation, increased incidence of illness, heightened experience and perception of pain
  • Changes in social interaction- those who experience harassment may feel the need to isolate, and some may even end relationships to do so! The desire, sometimes even unconsciously, is to self-protect by limiting contact to only those whom the employee believes s/he can trust.

In the event that this has happened to you:

  • Document it immediately!
  • Speak to Human Resources as soon as possible, and if you have a Manager or Supervisor, discuss it with that individual as well.
  • Unless you are in physical danger, try to remain on the job. Even if you need to take a Leave of Absence ("Stress Leave"), you may have far better options for resolving the issue or filing a claim if you remain in your employment. However, if you are in physical danger, do not hesitate to quit and immediately file a police report.
  • If attempts to resolve the issue though contact with your Supervisor, Manager or HR fail to adequately address your concerns, contact the Department of Fair Labor & Housing in your city or hire an Employment Law Attorney. If your symptoms warrant, you can also direct your concerns to a Personal Injury Attorney (it is not necessary to have physical injuries to hire a PI attorney).