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Get it together – Stress Part 1: Causes & Effects

Oct 15, 2012 02:13PM ● By Stacy

Katherine D. Anderson, professional organizer

On a level of one to 10, is your stress level usually around a 12? Do you suspect that stress is causing your headaches, inability to sleep, difficulty concentrating, upset stomach and other physical symptoms? Are you more short-tempered than you used to be and find less job satisfaction?

If so, you’re not alone. All these, plus low morale in the workplace, are being reported in professional journals, discussed in the media, acknowledged by many and recognized in ourselves by increasing numbers of people.

This first of a two-part series will help define stress, its causes and its effects. My next column in the winter issue will offer proven ways to reduce the stress in your life.

Stress can be defined as the body’s reaction to a stressor that is, or is perceived as, beyond the ability to cope with the resources at hand. We must adapt to find new resources. Now, not all stress is bad. Our physiological response to a stressor is designed for an acute physical threat, and it works well for that. Our response to a stressor is what enabled us then to react quickly to the appearance of a saber-toothed tiger outside our cave, or enables us now to put in that extra effort needed to meet a deadline.

It’s too much stress that lasts for too long and is too constant that is the problem.

Stressors, the things that cause stress, can be either external or internal. External stressors from work include such things as the lack of control many have over their work lives, the expectation of ever increasing work loads, the technology that seems to require constant attention, major changes in businesses, “presenteeism” (going to work when you’re too sick to work), pressure from increasing competition and even looming retirement.

Outside of our work lives, external stressors include the constant media reminders of the dangers of fire and terrorism and other violence, the death of a loved one, divorce, personal illness or injury and caring for someone with a chronic illness or disorder.

Internal stressors, those that come from who we are and what our experiences have been, can include a lack of outlets for frustration, a lack of social supports, fears about our financial state, disorganization, a feeling of loss of control, personal goals that are unrealistic or obsolete, values or beliefs that no longer help us to get on with life and better cope with the stressors we all encounter.

How many of these, or other, stressors do you have in your life? What in your life feels beyond your ability to cope?

Too much stress affects us emotionally, physically and behaviorally. The emotional effects include irritability from mild annoyance to rage, anxiety and fear and a loss of judgment. Loss of judgment leads to inability to prioritize or differentiate between the important and the unimportant.

The physical effects of constant, chronic stress can very serious, even potentially fatal, and can be experienced in every part of our body. The long list of adverse effects include an acceleration of the aging process, the harming of neurons leading to loss of learning ability and memory, pain in the back or head or elsewhere, hastening of accumulation of body fat, respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema, cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes, clinical depression, job burnout, diabetes, ulcers and other G-I problems, arthritis, skin problems and cancer. (A little research on the internet will confirm all of the above and list other problems as well.)

The list of behavioral effects is just as long and just as scary as the physical effects. In particular, perhaps employers should consider these manifestations of stress, although employers, along with family and friends frequently don’t make the connection.

Stress leads to lower performance at work and at home, resulting from fatigue, increased errors and accidents, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate or organize, procrastination and impulsivity, loss of perspective with an overemphasis on the trivial, and inability to make decisions. There is an increased use of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.

All this, of course, leads to increased expenditures for health care, by the individual, by the employer and by the taxpayer.

Identifying the stressors in your life is the first step. Recognizing the cost of stress is the second step. The third step is taking steps to reduce the stress in our lives, and we’ll cover that in the next column.

Next: Stress Part 2: Reducing It in Our Lives.
©2012 by Katherine D. Anderson, CPO-CD., Anderson Organizing Systems. All rights reserved.

– Katherine Anderson, CPO-CD, has been helping businesses, groups and individuals get better organized for more than 30 years. You can reach her at