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Train of Thought...
October 2008 -Stress!!!

As part of Mental Health Week the RPH Staff newsletter offered us 10 tips to ensure we stressed less. Of course ,this presumes we are feeling stressed to start with! I wonder how many of us admit to being stressed from time to time let alone most days? Fortunately I never stress, though others have been known to differ with me on that on that score!.

What is this thing called "Stress"? Assuming I am not simply a material object, my trusty dictionary advises me that stress is "a demand on physical or mental energy". It goes on to offer "Stress disease: a disease resulting from continuous mental stress". Interestingly the root appears to be the Old French estresse meaning narrowness or oppression, and ultimately the Latin strictus meaning strict (as in stricture). Is the connection with the tendency of stressed people to "blow a fuse".

The concept of stress is an interesting one. There seems to be good stress and bad stress. I believe we need a certain level of stress in order to perform. Not unlike the athlete who has to put demands on him or herself that stretch their capability if they are to succeed, we all need to do the same in our professional lives if we are to develop. When does stress become a problem then?

While I agree with the dictionary definition of stress being a demand on energy, I suspect the problem is not the demand itself, but rather a depleted resource available to meet that demand. What leads to this depletion I wonder? Are the same forces at work that deprive us of motivation when we struggle to be enthused getting up for work on a Monday morning, or staying till 5 on a Friday evening?

When I am struggling, I find it very helpful to timetable my jobs and tick them off as I go. This works for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can see progress, results for my efforts (usually!!). Secondly I gain a sense of control over my work. This, I believe, is the more important factor. I view negative stress as having a sense of not having control over your life.

In this context, it is interesting to review the 10 "Stress Less" tips offered in this month's RPH newsletter. Top of the list is "Organise your day". This is followed by "Eat healthy", "Go for a walk and "Have an early night". I have always believed that "To eat is Healthy" and I am determined to go for a walk every lunchtime, so I endorse both of those. Making the time to walk, and eat of course, does require you to wrest control of your day so are consistent with my thesis. I have a spot of bother with the early night advice as I find it is the worst thing to attempt when I am preoccupied with an issue - I can't go to sleep so get more distracted. Number 5 is "See the funny side of life" which I take to mean put things in context. We then move on to "Catch up with friends", "Learn something new", "Ask for help" and "Take time out". These last 4 are really about the same thing which is pulling your own energy tank up for refuelling. We all learn from each other, we are all able to teach each other and can do this through taking the time to be collegial. Which brings us neatly to the tenth tip which is to "Reach out and help others". This, of course, gives us a sense of purpose.

I have pondered many of these issues separately in past Trains of Thought and it is nice to see them come together in one succinct list. Stress is not something to be feared provided the level of fuel in the tank is closely monitored. Unfortunately we don't have an inbuilt warning light that comes on when the fuel supply runs low. We need to attune ourselves to our energy levels so that we can learn to recognise the alarm when it lights up so we can get a top up before having to call out the tow truck. We owe it to ourselves, our families and our colleagues.

Right now that the stress of penning yet another Train of Thought has passed by, I can resume control of my life - if anybody sees it out there walking around could you please send it back to me!

Finally to all those stressing about their CRFS exam, GOOD LUCK!

'til next month,

K.

October, 2008

kevin.gain@health.wa.gov.au

 

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