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Coping with Work-Related Stress
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In the last section we discussed factors of stress. Three factors of stress that we discussed were the male client’s sense of choice, degree of control, and ability to anticipate consequences.
In this section... we will discuss how the workaholic's body copes with stress. This information may benefit your workaholic client in understanding how prolonged stress can cause permanent damage. Three ways the body copes with stress are through motor nerves, autonomic nerves and through the adrenal gland and hypothalamus. As you listen to this section, you might consider how the information applies to a client you are treating. Would playing this section for your client be productive?
♦ 3 Ways the Body Copes with Stress
According to Hans Selye, M.D., who pioneered stress research, the body copes with stress in three ways:
1. First, stress messages travel from the brain through motor nerves to the "action" muscles in the arms, legs, and skeletal system, preparing them for sudden, explosive motion. You already know that this is often referred to a fight or flight response.
2. Second, stress messages travel from the brain through the autonomic nerves to vital organs, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, respiration, and red blood cell count. This, in turn, increases the supply of oxygen and energy available to the body. The same pathway also slows down intestinal movement, since digestion must yield to action in an emergency.
3. In addition to motor nerves and autonomic nerves, stress messages travel from the brain to the adrenal gland and the hypothalamus. The adrenal gland regulates the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream as a fast-acting general stimulant. The hypothalamus, the "emotion center" of the brain, signals the pituitary and the adrenal cortex to release hormones into the bloodstream that offer slow-acting stress protection.
The hormones alter the salt/water balance of the blood to raise blood pressure; stimulate the release of thyroid hormones to speed up metabolism, allowing rapid conversion of food to energy; and raise the white blood cell count, affecting some immune and allergic responses.
David, age 36, asked, "How does any of this help me?" How might you have responded to David?
♦ Fight-or-Flight Responses
I stated, "These biochemical, cardiovascular, and muscle-tone changes prepare the body for either a fight-or-flight reaction, and they probably evolved at a time when stress meant an external and immediate threat. The "fight" response may have helped a man defend his territory or his mate. The "flight" response may have helped him escape from a wild animal. In today’s world, however, stress is too often internal rather than external, and chronic rather than intermittent. Instead of running from bears, we are running to buses and trains. Instead of fighting enemies, we are fighting anxieties. Instead of fearing avalanches, we are terrified of aging.
Actually, relaxation would be more helpful in these present-day stress situations than would the responses of increased heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. But your stress management system reacts to being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic just as it would to a stress that requires action. Are you going to leave your car in the middle of the gridlocked intersection because our body is set for flight?
Are you going to jump out of your car and beat up the motorist in front of you because your body is set for fight? Or are you going to sit in traffic and feel your heart working overtime, your digestion shutting down although you just gulped breakfast, and your muscles tensing for action that will never come?"
♦ General Adaptation Syndrome
Because stress mobilization systems are relatively nonspecific, I find it may put the body through the same changes whether a client like David gets good news, bad news, or even no news. As you know, Dr. Selye called these physiological changes the General Adaptation Syndrome.
To apply the theory of General Adaptation Syndrome to David, I stated, "If your stress is "good stress," under your control and short-term, your body will have a chance to rest after the General Adaptation Syndrome has been activated. But if your stress is long-term , like continuously working long hours, and the stress is beyond your control, like a delay or cancelled flight, your body will not have a chance to rest and you may begin to experience stress symptoms."
♦ Technique: Divide and Accept
To help David decrease his stress levels regarding long term stress cereated by his workaholic life style, I implemented the ‘divide and accept’ technique. This technique was developed by Patricia Carrington. Carrington suggests that clients like David begin by accepting a small part of the problem. As you listen to how I applied Carrington’s technique with David, compare my use of divide and conquer with your own version of this concept.
I stated to David, "Try the following steps...
1. First, accept some insignificant aspect of the situation." For example, David responded, "OK. I accept the color of the shirt I was wearing when I got demoted last month."
2. Next, I stated to David, "Try accepting one percent or even a tenth of a percent of the situation." David responded, "Well, I guess I accept the first ten minutes of the meeting with my boss when I got demoted. At least he didn’t sugar coat it."
3. Third, I stated to David, "Now try accepting the entire situation for two seconds at a time." David verbalized his acceptance of the situation by stating, "I accept my failure as I count to two." David then proceeded to count to two.
4. The fourth step in the divide and accept technique was for David to accept just the feeling of needing current reality to be different.
5. Finally, David accepted something that was easy to accept.
For example, David stated, "I accept that today is Thursday." Then David returned to his original stressor, which was his demotion.
Think of your David. How might your client benefit from the divide and accept technique? Could playing this section also benefit your client?
In this section... we have discussed how the body copes with stress. Three ways the body copes with stress are through motor nerves, autonomic nerves and through the adrenal gland and hypothalamus.
In the next section, we will discuss male stress. We are going to discuss how stress is different for male clients. Our discussion will include physical signs of stress and how those physical signs of stress are perceived differently by women and men. We will also look at symptoms of stress that generally appear to be unique to male stress. Generally speaking there are two types of stress symptoms regarding male stress. Two types of stress symptoms are common symptoms and symptoms unique to men.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brough, P., Drummond, S., & Biggs, A. (2018). Job support, coping, and control: Assessment of simultaneous impacts within the occupational stress process. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(2), 188–197.
Watson, S. B., Goh, Y. W., & Sawang, S. (2011). Gender influences on the work-related stress-coping process. Journal of Individual Differences, 32(1), 39–46.
Wolever, R. Q., Bobinet, K. J., McCabe, K., Mackenzie, E. R., Fekete, E., Kusnick, C. A., & Baime, M. (2012). Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17(2), 246–258.
What are three ways the body copes with stress?
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