Stress is a lifelong ailment. No living being can claim to be devoid of stress; some may have a lot of it, some manage to keep it tamed at all times and hence have lower degree of stress. “We poison our lives with fear of burglary and shipwreck, and, ask anyone, the house is never burgled, and the ship never goes down.” (Jean Anouilh). A lot of stress is self-created and inflicted.
There is stress that is self-induced and there is the stress due to external factors. Both are equally deadly, yet in my opinion stress caused by “internal mental make-up", is more lethal. If the prevailing external factors give oneself a more stressful living, the individual always has a chance to walk away from those circumstances. No one can ignore stress that rises as a consequence of its internal uprising.
Stress triggers anxiety. Most of us are stressed for performance; for meeting expectations of others, both from co-workers and family members. We keep judging if we can accept the challenge. We ask ourselves, do I have the skill, talent and wherewithal to achieve the given goals. By internal conversations with the self, we attain a heightened level of stress that causes anxiety to set in.
The dictionary says, stress is the body’s reaction to a threat, whereas anxiety is the body’s reaction to the stress.
Anxiety on the other hand is defined by persistent and excessive worries that don’t go away even when there is no stress factor. The psychological association of the United States of America defines anxiety as “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. Anxiety is a sickness of the soul.
Stress may come and go, anxiety is more sticking and persistent because inherently anxiety does not necessarily have a prompt or identifiable trigger. Stress and anxiety cannot be brushed away from the life of any individual ----they acquire the status of a problem or medical condition, when the emotion overwhelms. Stress can be a lifelong ailment, if not addressed.
Stress can be both positive and negative. The flow of adrenaline makes for extra ordinary performance. The stress to discipline oneself for a quality performance will fall within the realm of positive stress. It is unlikely that positive stress would give ulcers; instead it heralds a state of general happiness. Contrarily, negative stresses raises blood pressure, enhances the pulse rate and reduces to the individual a high level of anxiety that is invariably injurious to health. When I look at my own career, I find some of my finest moments of performance were when I was in a state of muted stress. The anxiety (stress) to perform has potential to release positive energy that allows the deliverance of desired results.
Stress spurs action. It gives impact to creativity. For those who only perform when challenged with stressful environment, it is an elixir; a fountain of life. This attitude however has its own constraints. In the short-term, meaning at younger years of life, it can be a vitamin for zestful living but middle age onwards it can become a poisonous initiation for an assured future of cardiac issues.
Leaders/managers who afflict themselves with stress and anxiety make sure they keep transferring enough dosages every day to their colleagues, by way of odd behavioural responses. At the first sign of demonstrating an opinion that either challenges or negates, their view, they would lose their shirt in public and create an unhealthy scene, which goes to impair and cloud the judgement of their reports and in turn goes towards making the entire environment toxic. Of course there are many in the corporate and business world, who unashamedly subscribe to the popular dialogue, from an Indian movie, “tension lene ka nahi, ene ka” (loosely translated, don't take stress but give it to others). Those who practice this with full knowledge to their own-selves of this being a despicable managerial attitude are essentially sadists, who take pleasure in causing pain to others.
Supervisors who choose to keep very short dates for accomplishment of task, with total disregard to determining, of how much input of labour of hours would be required to achieve objectives, are those who contribute to keeping high level of stress in the environment. These type are labelled, albeit wrongly, as hard task masters; nay they are corporate bullies, lacking knowledge and the proficiency to know, how long it takes to produce quality work. A real hard task master is one who assigns work/tasks, including the burdensome ones, to his team mates, and regularly follows up, with full assistance by direct participation in the completion of the task and by making the environment, an enabling one.
Such are motivational drivers and not stress givers. Leaders and managers may be sticklers for perfection but they should not be corporate tyrants or villains, who by conduct unbecoming, either intentionally or unwittingly, assist the pharmaceutical companies in their sale of anti-depressants or nerve soothing drugs.
Those who experience stress find themselves with the condition of being irritable, angry, fatigued, tired, having muscle cramps, difficulty in sleeping, and in more severe cases, have digestive issues.
I have only been associated with the financial industry, and within its folds, there are many functions that are less stressful, but there are others, like treasury that induce high levels of stress. At a very young age I experienced being in the treasury function, a very high level of acidity. The stress to maintain position of liquidity and exchange position was tremendous. The heartburn was unsettling and a disturbing medical condition.
Some managers have anxiety not as a temporary condition, but more as a trait. A condition can undergo change with focus and training to shun it; while a trait is part of the personality. There are some leaders and supervisors who relish in creating panic conditions for the smallest of things; for the team members this is done through putting pushing time lines for completion of a task. Some do it by punishing time schedules, they can go to the extent of starting work (for personal reasons of being affected with insomnia) at the crack of dawn--- they love to live a life of rooster and continue working (pretend!) till wee hours of the morning, after making sure that the owls have retired for sleeping. I have seen such managers.
In this enactment, productivity takes a nose dive; something that goes amiss with the person, who is creating stress and anxiety in the workplace environment. Failure to perform is a fear that begets, stress and leads to anxiety. Thomas Jefferson had said, much pain have cost us the evils which never happened.
During stressful moments/times, it is best to leave the desk and take a walk around the office. If one is living in city, that has friendly climatic conditions, it is even better to take a stroll outside the office. Breathing exercises also help reduce stress: so does watching trees and plants. Looking at a fish tank is a soothing experience. If your supervisor is a stress generator, gift him a fish tank for his cabin; or place some pots of fresh green plants or flowers. It will surely have magical effect on behaviour. This is a time tested and personally witnessed formula.
The writer is a senior banker