by Dr Jeff Bailey

Before I proceed to tell you how to deal with stress, I want to give you some idea of how people respond to stress. Then I want to introduce you to the idea of negative self-talk – one of the great enemies of stress reduction techniques. My first example is Jane who is failing to cope at work.

Jane is 42 years of age; she has had no previous problems, no previous stress attacks, and no mental health episodes. Lately, she has been very distressed at work and has fears that everyone thinks she’s incompetent. She has become over-sensitive to her leader’s feedback and to the looks of her colleagues. You could say that she is slightly paranoid. The outcome of all of this is that she has become socially phobic. She finds it very difficult to go to parties with her husband. She tends to hide in another room so that she doesn’t have to socialize with people.

Jane is suffering extreme work stress. She has reached the point in her work life where everything is weighing her down. Her physical responses include feeling being physically sick, and even nauseous. She says that she is depressed, reports that she is afraid of making mistakes at work and feels that she cannot cope with work demands.

Jane is not performing well at work. She can’t manage the stress and her system is overloaded. You feel the same way sometimes too? Can you understand her level of stress? Have life’s events overtaken you? Are you constantly tired and mildly depressed? Do people ask what is wrong with you? Are you tired of life? Are you coping well? Has all of this made it much less effective at work?

If the answer is YES!!! – you are suffering extreme stress. And this is a very common phenomenon in today’s high paced society. Some people think that stress is an acceptable bi-product of our busy lifestyle. Research on cardiac disease after the 9/11 attacks showed a significant increase in cardiac ailments. These included high blood pressure, strokes, and heart problems. People’s physical states were impacted by their emotional states. And when people are not well emotionally they have difficulty being highly productive at work.

What are these workplace stressors? That is, what are the events that elevate stress? They include a long list of things.

These include excessive workplace demands. Poor management and poor communication in the workplace cause stress. Oddly enough, poor relationships at home can cause workplace stress as much as interpersonal conflict with colleagues.

What is the best way to cope in the workplace? In large measure its up to you. You can change jobs but this is not very effective. One clever way to solve the problem of your boss is to list his or her name with a headhunter in the hope that someone else will employ your boss. From my experience the major problem with stress at work is poor role specification. Different perspectives on your work responsibilities will cause stress. The question remains how to solve this problem appropriately.

But what does this mean? Here’s the first message – YOU ARE WHAT YOU THINK. You are your own pilot navigating your way through your own life. YOU are responsible for yourself. YOU can make the changes in your life if you want. If you are in a stressful situation, you CAN deal with the stress and the situation. The first principle is to know yourself and the nature of your self-talk. Most of how we feel is determined by what we think. We spend a very large amount of our day filling our head with self-talk – little conversations we have with ourselves.

I know this sounds simple but it is true. We constantly run ourselves down and criticize ourselves. We have probably 10 times more negative and dysfunctional ‘self-thoughts’ than we have positive self-thoughts. More than anything I can think of, this tendency to be continually self-critical causes the greatest tension. And guess what, if we have friends, family, loved ones who also criticize us unrelentingly, we are really in trouble. The challenge is simple – if we want to improve our lives we have to change our thinking.

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