SAFETY
& HEALTH
  Controlling stress prevents accidents and illness
Mary Zitek, Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives Safety/Education Services Coordinator


It's all around us - work, home and even in recreational activities. What is it? STRESS! Stress is being blamed for all kinds of medical conditions, ranging from stomach disorders to cardiac arrest. So what is this creature? Can it be tamed?

Stress is the body's natural reaction to tension, pressure and change. A certain amount of stress helps to make life more challenging, less boring and can even be beneficial. However, too much stress can be bad for you both physically and mentally.

Prolonged, unrelieved stress can lead to accidental injury, as well as to serious illness. For the sake of your health, safety and happiness it's important to recognize and manage stress before it gets the best of you.

There are basically two kinds of stress, job related and personal stress. Some examples of job-related stress could be: starting a new job, speaking to a large group, working with demanding and/or difficult bosses or co-workers, meeting deadlines, and — definitely — getting fired.

Some examples of personal stress could be: the death or loss of a loved one, personal or terminal family illness, financial or legal problems, getting married, having a child, moving to a new location, buying a house, divorce or separation, and winning the lottery (yes, even this!).

It is important to recognize the symptoms of stress and learn how to manage them. Only then will you win this battle. Signals of stress can come in many forms. They can be physical, mental or behavioral. Have you ever had sweaty palms, headache, upset stomach, fatigue, body aches or rapid breathing when dealing with any of the above stressors? These are classic examples of physical stress.

What about anger, anxiety, depression, irritability or impatience? These are emotional signals of stress. Finally, what about changes in your eating or sleeping patterns, the inability to relax or negative attitude or fluctuations in your emotional levels? These are behavioral signals of stress. You say you have them all? Boy! You're in big trouble!

Stress can be very serious, but learning to manage stress can become like clockwork. You need to examine the things that are bothering you, look for patterns and try to change those things that can be changed and accept those that cannot.

Set reasonable expectations for yourself and THINK POSITIVE. Learn that you cannot be held responsible for everything all the time and delegate when possible. If you have big projects (at home or work) break them down into smaller segments and set timeframes for each.

Physical health plays an important part in controlling stress. Make sure you eat properly and get enough rest. When your mind and body are taxed, it can only mean trouble. You should laugh (and cry) and talk to someone about the stressors in your life. Keeping it bottled up is not good. It doesn't necessarily have to be a professional, confide in a close friend or relative. Many times talking about what's bothering you can have a very positive effect.

Stretching and breathing can have very positive effects when dealing with stress. Deep breathing is very beneficial. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, the kind that you feel in the pit of your stomach, and slowly release it. These deep breaths provide more oxygen to the body and it is able to function better. Do this about five times. Make sure you exhale slowly.

There are also many stretching exercises that can help to reduce stress. Simply standing and doing some side stretches, holding your hands in front of you and stretching your arms and fingers or doing shoulder rolls can alleviate that "uptight" feeling. There are many others.

I hope I have given you some ideas on how to manage stress. If you'd like more information, there are numerous books on this subject. Take advantage of them. Most importantly, take time for yourself even if it's five or 10 ­minutes. Tune everything out, close your eyes and RELAX!

For more information

For more information contact Duane Friend at: mzitek@aiec.coop

Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives
66460 South Sixth Street Road, Springfield, IL 62708

Telephone: (217) 529-5561