Stress is the physical and emotional response we all experience when faced with demanding situations.
Our stress can arise from within when we fear we’re unable to meet our own high expectations. Or it can come from an inability to meet the requirements of employers, financial institutions (think of your credit card repayments), partners, family and others. But while stress arises from what we assume others expect of us, the accuracy of these assumptions is variable.
When stressed, we experience a heightened sense of arousal and a range of emotional responses from feeling motivated to achieve, through to being overwhelmed, irritable and anxious. Stress can also cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, head and stomach aches, nausea, sleep disturbance and fidgetiness.
Stress is not always bad. From an evolutionary perspective, stress activates our autonomic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight response” crucial to an animal’s survival. In today’s society, stress can make us work harder, meet deadlines and complete tasks that might otherwise remain uncompleted.
But excessive or persistent stress can be harmful to our physical and mental health.
Depression and burnout
Depression, anxiety and burnout are sometimes used to describe the experience of stress, but there are important differences between these conditions.
Depression is a state of persistent ill health. It can arise without an external cause and often does not resolve when external problems are solved. Depression is usually effectively treated with psychological support but sometimes medication is required. Those with depression are more susceptible to becoming stressed even by relatively minor triggers.
Burnout is a non-medical term that refers to a state of exhaustion. While stress can lead to higher states of productivity, burnout is often accompanied by cynicism and lack of productivity. Those with burnout report feeling tired and bored and experience an accompanying loss of enjoyment.
The early studies of burnout focused on work environments but burnout can occur in the context of relationships, family demands and even pursuit of hobbies and interests. Burnout usually requires a break or a change. Unchecked, that tiredness and loss of enjoyment can contaminate other areas of your life.
What stresses us out?
According to the Australian Psychological Society’s 2014 Stress and Well-being in Australia Survey, one-quarter of Australians experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the previous 12 months. Stress was most prevalent in young Australians aged 18 to 35.
Financial problems, work and relationships were all common sources of stress for younger Australians, whereas health problems were more likely to worry older people.
Like many areas of health and well-being, genes and environment interact to influence the levels of stress that people experience. If you have an inflexible nature, a trait which is highly heritable, and you have experienced unhappiness and adversity throughout childhood, for instance, you are at greater risk of being susceptible to elevated stress responses to relatively minor demands.
Personality undoubtedly influences people’s experience of stress. Those who have perfectionistic tendencies (obsessional) and those with a tendency to put the needs of others ahead of their own or seek the approval of others (dependent) are particularly vulnerable to stress.
Having these personality traits is not a bad thing. Obsessional tendencies make people highly successful when their work that requires attention to detail. Think of surgeons, solicitors, and accountants. But these successful attributes can come at a cost to the individual.
Stress is part of life; the aim should be to manage rather than avoid stress. This can be achieved through preventive and reactive measures.
Time management, budgeting, healthy behaviours (adequate sleep, regular exercise and healthy diet), social activities and pursuing interests are all important in fostering resilience and preventing excessive stress.
But once overwhelmed, the above techniques should be accompanied by psychological interventions, which are also available online. The core principles of stress management include recognising stress, identifying the sources (and, where possible, resolving them), relaxation strategies and mindfulness.
You may also benefit by challenging patterns of thinking. Being given a work project, for instance, might engender excitement in an employee who views this as an opportunity to develop new skills and enhance their curriculum vitae. But the employee who perceives they are being asked to do work outside their job description or perceive the extra task is unfair will have negative emotions associated with the stress they experience.
While principles of stress management are straightforward, applying them is not easy. Acquiring skills to manage stress is like improving fitness or losing weight. Often personal trainers are needed to achieve these goals. Similarly, psychologists and other health professionals can assist people to better manage their stress so as to cope better with demanding circumstances.
There is an increasing source of stress associated with our society’s ongoing emphasis on productivity. Arguably, employers have a role to educate and offer interventions at work to prevent the negative effects of stress that commonly accompany increase demands at work.
Unlike depression and burnout, stress is not necessarily a bad thing when well managed. However, persistent and overwhelming stress can have adverse effects on physical and mental health, such as increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and cigarette smoking.
An awareness of the causes of stress and constructive ways to manage it will be a key factor to improving Australians’ emotional health and well-being in 2015.
Any warning labels or safety information. The item might not be safe for the person you’re buying for.
Toys are age-appropriate. Check the age-grading on the packaging – it’s there for safety as well as child development reasons.
Toys for 3 year olds & under don’t present a choking hazard. Make sure no small parts can come off, and see if the toy can fit into a cylinder pencil sharpener or film canister (approximate diameter 32 mm), or better yet use the free Choke Check tool.
You’re not purchasing a banned product by mistake. Even ‘innocent’-looking products could be subject to one of the 22 permanent bans that are in place right now.
Check after Christmas
You can use the checklist after Christmas to help make sure your gifts and any toys for kids are safe.
If you have small children, make sure you keep button batteries (small, coin-sized lithium batteries) and any devices that use them out of reach – and dispose of used batteries immediately and safely.
Safe Santa’s tips for this holiday season
You’ve decorated the tree, now make sure your other festive decorations are safe! Some poorly-made festive candle holders may be flammable and could cause serious burns.
Toys with small, high-powered magnets might look like a great Christmas gift idea, but these magnets can cause serious injuries or death if children swallow them and are permanently banned in Australia.
With the warmer weather, families will be enjoying the great outdoors these Christmas holidays. Before getting out and about, check the ‘outdoor living’ category on the Recalls Australia website to ensure any products your family use haven’t been recalled for serious safety hazards.
Button batteries can quickly burn through a child’s oesophagus if swallowed. Check gifts and devices for coin-sized batteries and keep them out of reach of kids.
Burnout is on the rise. It is a growing problem for the modern workplace, having an impact on organisational costs, as well as employee health and well-being. These include possible long-term health risks and, due to its contagious nature, a toxic working environment of low morale, scapegoating, and increased office politics.
Organisations have focused on burnout to protect their profits, placing blame for lowered performance on individual employees, rather than making adequate adjustments to safeguard against stress. This emphasis on the employee has led to psychometrically profiling those that may be at risk of burnout due to their psychological make-up, rather than organisations taking responsibility and making systematic changes to reduce stress caused by structural level problems.
This blame game is often unhelpful. Not just for the employees in question, but also because it risks a skills shortage in certain professions such as health and social care. Plus, it further contributes to the burnout cycle: with limited staff and resources, demands are placed on fewer employees.
Research into burnout has been linked to office politics, menial working tasks that interfere with work duties and high job demands that lead to exhaustion. Rising workloads and long hours are the main culprits; however, some employees are better able to cope or are more adaptable than others.
Perception of stress is also a contributing factor. If you perceive you do not have the right resources to cope with your workload, or perceive it to be more than you can cope with, you are much more likely to succumb to stress-related disorders.
Individual differences and personality types also play a role in the risk of burnout. Type A personalities, for example – who have a mix of behavioural traits that include hardiness, impatience, competitiveness and drive – and people who like to have large amounts of control, are also linked to higher rates of stress at work. Research shows that employees with these personalities tend to be more restless, hostile and time-conscious, which puts them at greater risk of workplace stress.
It is important, however, not to make banal assumptions when it comes to understanding how different people experience stress. This runs the risk of organisations screening out applicants for jobs on the basis of personality or attributing blame to employees, rather than taking responsibility as an organisation to make adequate changes to safeguard their employees from stress.
Many global organisations have intervention plans that place the onus on the employee to manage their health and well-being through training programmes such as building resilience and coping skills. But this often has the semblance of blaming employees, while abdicating responsibility and not making any real changes to policies. The reality is that organisations are stressful, often purporting an employee wellness agenda that isn’t really implemented in practice.
There are three main dimensions of burnout according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the most commonly used burnout scale: exhaustion, cynicism and a sense of personal accomplishment, with exhaustion being the most obviously displayed. Signs of burnout can vary between employees and manifest in multiple industries, from healthcare and education settings to legal and corporate finance firms.
Burnout causes a range of psychologicaland physical problems and can affect people long after they no longer face the stressful situation. These include fatigue, irritability, depression, withdrawal, mental and physical health problems, and self-medication with alcohol and drug use. Consequently, it is something that employees and organisations must manage carefully.
Employees come in all shapes and sizes. As a result, it is imperative that managers and organisations do not prescribe a one-size fits all model to managing employee well-being. Instead, they should work on an individual basis with each employee, finding flexible interventions and providing an adaptable and agile working environment along the way.
Many workplaces are built around teamwork, collaboration and endless meetings to harness creativity. This model does not bode well, however, for people whose creative juices and energy levels are depleted through constant collaboration. In fact, many individuals, especially those that are more introverted, feel exhausted and find it difficult to get their work done in this kind of environment.
As such, organisations can provide a space for these personalities to work alone, where their productivity increases and creative juices can flow. Similarly, organisations can work with employees, providing agile working conditions to help create a sustainable working culture and work-life balance, thus reducing the likelihood of burnout.
Of course, individuals have a role to play too. It is important that people manage their own personal expectations, harnessing their skills and reflecting on their own personal values. This is particularly the case if you’re working in a role that does not readily align with your own values or predisposition. It’s important to reflect on what matters to you, as living an inauthentic life can lead to burnout when your personal values are conflicted.
According to The Age and the EFTM blog, Civil Aviation Safety Authority is investigating after a video showing a man piloting a drone to a Sunbury Bunnings carpark for a sausage while he sat in his home.
You should only fly in visual line-of-sight and be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through first-person-view [FPV, binoculars, telescopes]) at all times, (unless you operate under the procedures of an approved model flying association.
You must not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.
You must not fly over populous areas such as beaches, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals while they are in use.
In controlled airspace, which covers most Australian cities, you must not fly higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above the ground.
You must not fly in a way that creates a hazard to other aircraft, so you should keep at least 5.5 km away from airfields, aerodromes and helicopter landing sites.
The Age reported that the drone, crossed a four-lane road before hovering over the Bunnings, dropping a note in the carpark saying “Please buy snag and put in bag, here’s $10”. An alleged accomplice then placed a snag into a receptacle connected to the drone by a string and the drone returns to a suburban backyard to a man sitting in his spa.
The aim of the Safe Work Australia report is to provide statistics about people who die each year from injuries that arose through work-related activity. This includes fatalities resulting from an injury sustained in the course of a work activity (worker fatalities) and as a result of someone else’s work activity (bystander fatalities).