A Common Source of Stress


Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

It is no accident that managers are getting coaches, companies are offering sabbaticals, and yoga has entered the workplace.  There are on-site gyms, massages, picnic areas and nap rooms.  There are thousands of new products and new businesses to serve the needs of working people who are hopelessly too busy.

We have breakfasts in a can and one-step lunches in a bowl.  Every large supermarket has a vast array of pre-cooked food in its deli.  We have traveling chefs who come to your house and prepare a week’s meals.  There are dog walkers, kid chauffeurs and plant caretakers.  In major cities there are concierge companies who supply people who happily climb any mountain and run any errand.

The level of stress is high and rising, about half of American adults are having trouble managing it.  Some solutions are pretty obvious: many people need to start living within their means.  Organizations need to be very clear about what’s considered an acceptable work week.  And organizations need to develop a new etiquette to let people know the rules about when they must be available and when it’s okay to be offline and unavailable.  And employees need to figure out what kinds of requirements or freedoms would be good for them at this moment in their life.

A common source of stress stems from the fact that it’s getting harder and harder to get away from work. Our high-tech tools, cell phones and laptops, all the things that keep us connected, boost our productivity – and our stress.  We bring these tools everywhere.  Most people need to draw a line between work and home.  The majority of people need to take real time out, have some fun and connect with people they care about.

There are lots of things that people can do to make themselves feel better and people need to find what works for them.  People need, for example, to find activities that bring a grin to their face; most people should take vacations and on vacation, disconnect; people should explore ways that help them to recharge – they can join a club, go to church, learn a skill, have a hobby…master meditation or practice yoga.

I love hatha yoga.  It’s the exercise form of yoga and it makes you feel great.  I’ve been practicing hatha yoga for years and I’m pretty good at it.  But – like having a massage or making new friends or having a great vacation – it makes you feel better for a while. Yoga, massages, vacations or new friends…don’t address and cannot change the basic reasons why people are so stressed.

The fundamental reasons why most people are too stressed are first, they’re experiencing anxiety, which is a vague sense of dread or uncertainty about what’s going to happen.  Second, the majority of Americans have much too much to do because the demands made by their work and personal universes keep rising; the To Do list keeps growing faster than tasks can be accomplished. And lastly, thriving in a borderless world requires a lot of autonomy, initiative and flexibility. But many people don’t have enough self-confidence to be self-directed, proactive and adaptable, especially in tumultuous conditions.

To regain a sense of having control in our harried lives we need to:

1. Reduce anxiety ~ Convert vague anxiety into specific problems and address them.

2. Reduce overload ~ Establish priorities and reduce task overload.

3. Gain confidence ~ Engage manageable risk and challenge and gain confidence.

Then and only then will we have a handle on our lives and finally will be able to manage the daily chaos we created.



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