Stress as a Threat and Motivator
This paper deals with stress in both positive and negative contexts, as a stimulator and a motivator / driving force of the progress, and stress as a threat to the brain and the human body of a person in the work-related context. These two viewpoints have been developed alternatively as concepts to be understood and as real-time structural components. In this context, the human reaction is predictable only if the dominant styles of behavior of an individual can be traced.
Stress is a non-specific (general) reaction to the physical or psychological effects that violate the homeostasis, as well as the corresponding state of the nervous system of the body (or the body as a whole). The non-specific reaction is always defined by the same certain complex of physiological changes of the living organism in response to any claim against it, or the general adaptation syndrome. Thus, the stress is always present while the body is alive, for of there is no stress, there is no life. The phenomenon of non-specific response of the body to a variety of damaging effects is called the general adaptation syndrome, or stress. This definition of stress is provided by Hans Selye. According to Selye (1979), a businessman who is experiencing constant pressure from customers and employees, an airport manager, who knows that a moment of the lost attention may cause the hundreds of dead, a sportsman madly thirsting for victory, a husband watching helplessly as his wife slowly and painfully dying of cancer, – they are all under stress. Their problems are quite different, but medical studies have shown that the body reacts stereotypically, following the same biochemical changes, the purpose of which is to cope with the increased demands of the human organism. (p. 1422)
Additionally, stress is the state of an individual in extreme conditions, which manifests at the physiological, psychological, and behavioral levels. Extreme conditions are strong external environment, which are on the verge of tolerability and can cause adjustment disorders. Extreme factors are causes of change to the body’s limits. There are physical, physic-chemical, and socio-psychological factors.
In this framework, the aim of the research paper is to clarify the background of the information related to stress in the context of classical stress theory and modern viewpoints on stressful conditions and the role of stress in human life, accounting for both the negative and positive outcomes of stress analysis. The paper will deal with the problem of stress in the organizational workplace, assuming that human behavior affects the conditions, under which they have been completing job tasks. The paper will clarify the background of the information related to stress at work and it implications on the overall job performance.
Statement of the Problem
This paper will deal with the problem of work-related stress and conflict resolution within the organizational environment. This issue is of great importance because many people today suffer from high pressure and overload with job tasks at their workplaces. The concept of stress is highly significant at workplace, for it has both a positive and negative emotional impact on people who are included in the work environment. Being a complex, ambiguous phenomenon, which manifests itself at various levels biosocially, stress affects the community of workers either positively or negatively.
Related to work settings, stress is capable of affecting anyone regardless of their age, gender, and socio-demographic characteristics. As long as people live and interact with their environment through the implementation of behavioral acts, or communicate with other people, actualize a particular motive activity, consider the plans for the coming day or analyzing the day passed, they are in one way or another exposed to stress to varying degrees of severity.
Stress happens at work, when a person finds themselves in a situation, in which they experience strain. Particularly, types of stress can be classified on the basis of exposure to the stressor. Stressors present a variety of extreme exposure, leading to the development of an unwanted functional state – stress. Physiological stressors include excessive physical exertion, high or low temperatures, painful stimuli, etc. Psychological stressors are factors operating signal value: danger, information overload, etc.
There are two types of stress, according to the general classification:
- a) physiological stress;
- b) psychological stress.
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In most cases, workers experience the problem of stress in situations of information overload, when they are unable to cope with the task and have no time to make the right decisions at the desired pace. Emotional stress may occur in situations of threat, danger, or insult, depending on the work position.
Stress by nature may be useful or harmful. Most often, the stress reaction is derived to understand the negative impact of the external environment. Positive stress may happen under positive emotional circumstances, experience in solving similar problems in the past, a positive outlook for the future, approval of individual actions on the part of the social environment, and availability of sufficient resources to cope with stress.
However, in most cases, workers move from stress to distress (negative condition). That is possible in the absence of these factors, or the presence of other factors, both objective and subjective: emotional and cognitive factors, the lack of the right information, the negative outlook of the situation, the feeling of helplessness before the problem occurred, etc. Excessive force stress exceeds the adaptive capacity of the body.
It is evident that the long duration of stress exposure leads to the depletion of the adaptation to resources (Selye, 1979, p. 169). Specifically, if stress conditions and outcomes are negative, they may cause the drawbacks in the organizational climate, up to the conflicts that should be resolved with the help of the stress management strategies.
The objectives of this research on stress are to provide a substantial research background to the understanding of the concept of stress and to clarify the research context according to the set context and framework of the study. Particularly, this research will follow the sub objective, which is to clarify the extent of the impact of stressors on human body that can be very different: from the excitation light in anticipation a vacation trip to the distress that may lead to a severe psychosomatic disorder in the post-traumatic stress. In any case, it is evident that the effects of stress are to affect all components of human personality, such as memory, thinking, language, emotions, and volition.
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A prerequisite for the emergence of the doctrine of stress can be considered as the increased relevance of the human security problems because of the effects of environmental factors. It is known that stress can trigger almost any disease. In this way, stress should be still under research to prevent it and overcome it.
The objectives of this study are to cover the influential aspects of work-related environment to define the role of positive stress background and its negative correlation. This micro research will be suitable in the context of relationships between psychological and physiological conditions that affect human life style.
The problem of the work-related stress environment is important for this research because it empowers this study with specific notions of stress behavior for professionals. The problem of the work-related stress is explicated by Törnroos in his research on personality and work stress. This research showed “that high neuroticism was associated with higher job strain and higher effort-reward imbalance and that high agreeableness was associated with lower job strain and lower effort-reward imbalance” (Törnroos, 2015, p. 5). Additionally, Törnroos (2015) found out that ‘high extraversion, high openness, and high conscientiousness were associated with lower job strain” and “high job strain prospectively predicted higher cynicism” (p. 5) in the frameworks of the effort-reward imbalance that employees experience during their work cycle.
The research interest was developed in the hypothesis of the stress general adaptation syndrome (Selye, 1979) as part of the biological stress syndrome, according to which the causative factor has a kind of “trigger” action to develop the process of evolution of mechanisms that are important parts of the deployment pattern of the disease. As there are a variety of ways by which orders to attack or suffer are transmitted to human cells through a chemical signal, stress may provoke certain types of reactions in the internal environment of the body to provide two kinds of chemical signals or nerve impulses: the struggle to ensure the allocation agents that chemically stimulate the production of destructive enzymes that are actively attacking the pathogen, hastening its destruction, and the passive response, provided allocation agents act as tranquilizers (dampers). This creates a state of passive patience, also known as peaceful coexistence with the invading foreign substances (corticoids hormones such as cortisone). It refers to the preservation of homeostasis, and in relation to people’s activities in the life of humans, they must decide for themselves what response to choose on the basis of evaluation or the forecasted situation.
According to Selye, “stress has a non-specific response of the body to any demand against him” (Selye, 1979, p. 145). Whatever hard situation is encountered by the body, it is possible to cope with the two main types of reactions: active, which means struggling, and passive, which means escaping from difficulties or willingness to tolerate it. As related to the workplace, stress management techniques can be used effectively to tolerate the mechanisms of human body response to stress conditions, including “progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, relaxation response, biofeedback, emotional freedom technique, guided imagery, diaphragmatic breathing, transcendental meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction and emotional freedom technique” (Varvogli & Darviri, 2011, p. 74). The relaxation techniques are useful in managing the work-related stress that causes anxiety and tension in the body. The functionality of stress management is applicable to the conditions in which human body feels strained and may get exhausted. However, when applied practically, stress mitigation will reduce conflicts within a team of co-workers, increasing the efficiency of their work and productivity.
The impact of stressors on the human body is high when they are applied under conditions in which people have been living and functioning, or when they are at work. The professional stresses in the organizational environment are highly important to drive new challenges; however, they may be harmful to co-workers who have to work side by side every day. The adaptation to stresses is effective when it is applicable to work environment.
Hans Selye (1979) identified three phases of the general adaptation syndrome (OA) or biological stress syndrome (stress change):
1. Stage of anxiety – the mobilization of the body’s adaptive capabilities.
The author suggested that there are limitations to the concept of adaptive capacity of the organism. The limited adaptation manifested already at the first stage of the stress response. The body changes its characteristics when subjected to stress, but its resistance is rather low, and in case the stressors are strong, such as severe burns, too high or too low temperatures, a person can die within the days or even hours. However, if the body is able to adapt to the stressor, it goes to the next stage – increased activity of the adrenal cortex atrophy or shrinkage of the thymus and lymph nodes, the occurrence of ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract. The alarm stage is divided into two phases: shock, which is the early exposure to the stressor (up to 48 hours), and resistance, which is activation of the nervous system, proper mobilization of adaptive capabilities of the organism (the average lasting is 11 days) (Selye, 1979).
2. Stage of resistance (resistance or adaptation).
If the adaptation possibilities allow tolerating the action of the stressor, the body resists it, consuming balanced adaptation reserves. Signs of anxiety reactions virtually disappear, the level of resistance rises significantly, but considering the fact that the adaptive reserves are limited and the stressor continues to impact the organism for a long time, one cannot remove or reduce the impact of its intensity. Here comes the third stage. The duration of this stage is ten times longer than the first one, and depends on the intensity of the stressor and the energy reserves of the individual.
3. Depletion phase.
After a prolonged action of the stressor to which the body has adapted, stocks of adaptation energy gradually deplete. Again, there are signs of alarm reaction, but now they are irreversible and the individual dies.
After the initial reaction of alarm, body adapts and resists, with the duration of the period of resistance depending on the inherent adaptability of the body and the strength of the stressor. Therefore, if time does not decrease the action of the stressor, in the end, there comes exhaustion and the body dies.
It is necessary to distinguish between the surface adaptive energy and the deep one. Surface adaptation energy is available immediately on demand, and the deep adaptation energy is stored in the form of a reserve, which apparently does not get activated as long as enough of it is on the surface. Besides, if the surface energy is relatively easy to restore (for example, going to bed after a hard day’s work), the depth is almost never a subject to replenishment. Thus, the stage of exhaustion after a short-term stress experienced by the body is reversible, but the complete depletion of adopting energy is irreversible (Aronson Wilson, Akert, & Sommers, 2015).
If stresses at work are not appropriately managed or people cannot adapt to them effectively, they may suffer from continuous high blood pressure leading to coronary insufficiency and creates a real risk of fatal heart attack (heart attack). When stress increases, cholesterol levels increase proportionally in the human body. An indicator of health is the value of blood pressure at the time of increased activity of the body, so the examination in a doctor’s office cannot determine the degree of risk of heart disease. A direct link between stress, immune system disorders and cancer has been established.
In some cases, stress response may be chronic anxiety, whereby the body is being prepared for long-term changes. Studies have shown that stress is the most frequent response to disaster, depletion of vital resources, any kind of confrontation, and dissatisfaction with the individual’s feelings. Anxiety is a biological reaction to the loss of self-control, and in today’s society, this kind of reaction can have disastrous consequences.
Although for most people, the real danger or physical conditions of survival is a very rare phenomenon, people of the “explosive” category react strongly to any stressor, as if he their body is constantly attacked by tigers or they face imminent death from starvation. Even a most ordinary accident gives them a sharp jump in blood pressure. During alarm intensely cortisol is released. Under its influence blood pressure slowly and steadily grows, there is a shortage of salt, increasing acidity of gastric juice, the body needs more calories. The blood received high-energy fats and processes enzymes. The immune system is weakened, sexual activity and other secondary hormones are suppressed. The body is prepared for a long overload. The danger of negative stressful conditions at work may have an effect on health issues and organizational performance of human resources.
The work-related stresses are part of life for many people. However, stresses are not only a malicious state of mind, body, and soul, because they can also be an essential tool for training human resistance to the environment to increase the resilience of the mind and body as a whole for the elaborating of adaptive mechanisms. Stress is one’s faithful ally in the ongoing adaptation to any changes in the environment.
Stress is not always the result of damage to the brain, but indeed the “activities related to stress, can be pleasant or non-pleasant, but the complete freedom from stress is death” (Selye, 1979, p. 169). In this relation, the study of the biological basis of the degree of stress and its impact on people’s activities, elucidation of its occurrence and development mechanisms is of paramount importance . Therefore, a proper understanding of the positive and negative aspects of stress, their appropriate use play an important role in maintaining human health, creating conditions for the manifestation of his creative abilities, as well as productive and efficient operations in the ever-changing society.
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Depending on the occurrence of stress mechanisms, they are two kinds: physiological and psychological. In spite of the convention, such differentiation is the subject to any performance incentives primarily addressed, including the biological and psychological ones. From this point of view, physiological and psychological stressors can be considered crucial to the functioning of the human organism.
In the context of this research paper, stress is studied under the organizational environment, where many employees and managers suffer from dangerous stress that may affect their mental health and negatively impact their work efficiency. However, the evaluation of stressors under organizational conditions may have a positive impact on conflict resolution and reduce the stressful environment, improving the performance and climate within a company.
Stress equally affects all living organisms that are able to interact with the environment. The reaction of the body to stress is aimed at adaptation to the changing conditions of internal and external environment. Adaptation of the organism resources in people is different and, therefore, the ability to restore them is very individual. The impact of the same stressor on different people differs, depending on the extent of severity of stress, as each individual has their own adaptive capacity, as the part of the process of adaptation to life events.
The work-related stresses may be either positive or negative. On one hand, stress factors may bring new positive challenges for a company; on the other hand, stressors may have a negative impact on human body, driving conflicts into processing and causing harmful conditions within organizational environment. But, when stressors are identified and classified, they are easy to manage for the benefit of employees.