three types are well represented in
movies or books. However, since
these levels of stress rarely occur in
normal engineering environments,
we'll only look at the chronic stress
that's more typical.
amount. The big difference was that
the first monkey could control the
shocks through his behavior and the
second one couldn't. The result was
that the second monkey showed
significant health problems. In short,
the ability to control the stressful situation is very important in controlling
the amount of stress.
There is one extremely good form
of stress. It's called exercise. This is
good since it burns up (simplistically
stated) the adrenaline in your system. It's doing exactly what the body
needs to do. And it is indeed stress.
This is because as you start to work
out, the adrenal glands release
adrenaline and the heart beats faster
and your blood pressure rises. The
two special things about exercise are:
the stress level is completely controlled by you and excess adrenaline,
from other causes, can also be
burned up. Doctors recommend exercise for everyone who is physically
able. Obviously, exercise has many
other healthful benefits, as well. The
overall benefits of proper exercise are
difficult to overstate.
It is critically important to recognize the control factor in stress. It's
usually overlooked but it's often at
the root of bad stress. Let's look at
two people. The first one chooses to
jog a mile during his lunch break for
exercise. That's good stress. The second one is forced to do exactly the
same thing because his boss needs a
new stapler. Obviously, this isn't as
good because anger and frustration
are present to create stress. In fact, a
classic study was done many years
ago that demonstrated this directly.
This experiment used groups of
paired monkeys. The first monkey of
the pair was taught to perform a task
and received a small electrical shock
every time the task was performed
improperly. The second monkey was
separated from the first and
was free to do whatever monkeys do. However, this second
monkey also got shocked
whenever the first monkey got
shocked. Both monkeys got
shocked exactly the same
We can see that some stress is
the result of physical actions.
Arguably, the most extreme form of
physical stress is torture. However,
the most likely forms of physical
stress in the workplace come from
overwork and lack of sleep. Pushing
yourself beyond your typical
capabilities requires the body to
compensate. It does so by releasing
adrenaline/cortisol to keep you awake
and functioning. This is not too bad if
it happens occasionally. However, it
is bad if this is a chronic situation. It
is also very important to remember
that different people have different
capabilities. Working 70-80 hours
each and every week may be easy for
Bob, but impossible for George.
Simply because one person can
accomplish this doesn't mean that
you are less of a person if you can't.
Additionally, management must recognize this, as well. It is fundamentally wrong and stupid to assume that
everyone can perform to the
maximum physical ability of the best
person in the department. If that was
truly the case, then Mr. Manager, you
should easily polish off an Iron-man
Triathlon every week.
Some people think "that which
doesn't kill me makes me stronger."
There certainly is some truth to this,
but only under certain situations. One
way to improve yourself is to push
yourself beyond your limits.
Conquering adversity does give you
confidence and experience. But
chronic stress is more like the
Chinese proverb, "running water
wears away the strongest stone."
By far, the most common form of
stress in the engineering arena is
emotional stress. Most typically
this comes from management's
schedules. It seems that there is
never enough time allotted to
properly perform any task. The result
is never-ending time pressure to
design, debug, test, document, and
manufacture a product. And, of
course, once there is a problem in one
facet of the system, the whole system
is affected. We see that stress can be
a communicable corporate disease.
The second common form of
stress comes from working with "diffi-cult" people. Perhaps you don't like
your boss or he doesn't like you.
Clearly, that makes the work environment stressful. Sometimes you have
to work with someone who is annoying or has habits that you find distasteful. Other times you may be on a
team where not everyone is doing his
share. That means more work for you.
Lastly, you may be forced to do
work that you dislike. Or more simply,
you no longer like your job. It's true
that many people have jobs that they
don't like (although most engineers
like their profession). The level of
dissatisfaction is directly related to
the amount of stress that occurs. It's
important to realize that stress is a
very personal condition. Each situation creates a particular stress level
for each person. And this level is
subjective. There is no easy way
to measure how much stress any
particular person is experiencing.
Worse, the same stress level has
different effects for different people.
There are many, many ways to
“Coping with stress requires understanding
what it is and what it does to you. Some
stress you can control, some you can't.”
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