The effects of unused stress

effects of unused stress

Stress’s physiology is an automatic reaction. A bodily behaviour that we could see as an emergency behaviour over which we have no control and which is followed by certain actions.

Slap? Run? Go foetal?

Let me return, once again, to the innate and overt reaction of fight, flight and freeze. These are things we, possibly, should do based on our physiological set up, yet, commonly we do not:

Slap! A customer or client who stresses us.

Run! When being forced to share our workspace – hot desking.

Go foetal! When the appraisal meeting becomes a slaughter.

The fact is, the more we adhere to social norms (which are our norms by the way), the more we are going to suppress these innate and reactive behaviours to stress.

No – I am not saying go out and slap the person who annoys you, run from every confrontation you encounter or become paralysed in the face of adversity.

Stress and social context

What I am pointing out, is that we are embedded in our social context. A context that asks us to perform actions that are grossly removed from what our body prepares us to do. As a result, a lot of mobilised substances and energies are floating around in our body – and are not being utilised.

Of course, if this happens once in a while we can dismantle and reabsorb the non-utilised energy. Yet if it happens again and again and again the stress will leave a footprint. It will shape and possibly even reshape our bodies, minds and brains – and change our behaviour.

Stress effects

Tom Cox (in Stress, 1978, p. 92) offers a neat and scary table of the cost of prolonged stress:

Anxiety, aggression, apathy, boredom, depression, fatigue, frustration, guilt, shame, irritability, bad temper, moodiness, low self-esteem, threat and tension, nervousness and loneliness. Accident proneness, drug-taking, emotional outbursts, excessive eating or low on appetite, excessive drinking and smoking, excitability, impulsive behaviour, impaired speech, nervous laughter, restlessness, and trembling.
Inability to make decisions and concentrate, frequent forgetfulness, hypersensitivity to criticism and mental blocks Increased blood and urine catecholamines and corticosteroids, increased blood glucose levels, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dryness of mouth, sweating, dilation of pupils, difficulty breathing, hot and cold spells, 'a lump in the throat', numbness and tingling in parts of the limbs.
Asthma, amenorrhoea, chest and back pains, coronary heart disease, diarrhoea, faintness and dizziness, dyspepsia, frequent urination, headaches and migraine, neuroses, nightmares, insomnia, psychoses, psychosomatic disorders, diabetes mellitus, skin rash, ulcers, loss of sexual interest and weakness. Absenteeism, poor industrial relations, and poor productivity, heigh accident and labour turnover rates, poor organisational climate, antagonism at work and job dissatisfaction.

The bottom line:

Working consistently against our physiology can put us on the slippery slope to physical and mental suffering. This is true for individuals and for the organisation. Both endanger their WellBeing.

An individual can fall ill, experiencing psychological and physiological problems. An organisation can experience an increase in sick days and resignation and consequently a decrease in profit and prosperity. Read on to see what can be done about it.

Read more about stress and find practical tips:

The physiology of stress

The effects of unused stress

Healthy stress behaviour: fight, flight and freeze

Alleviate stress or why pooing your pants is not the only option