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Occupational Stress

Updated on June 24, 2016



STRESS: Stress according to Hans Selye is the non specific response of the body to any demand upon it" That means good things( eg job promotion) to which we must adapt to, termed Eustress and bad things (eg death of a loved one) to which we must adapt to, termed distress. Both are experienced the same way physiologically.

Occupational stress is an extremely difficult construct to define. It is stress on the job, but stress on the job occurs in a person.

Several sources of occupational stress exist; some of these are intrisic to the job while some are related to the employer's role within the organization, some to career development, some to relationship at work, and some to structure and climate of the organization.

Interacting with these work stresses are the individuals characteristics. These are brought to the workplace rather than being a function of it, but they are important ingredients in occupational stress, nevertheless, these characteristics include the worker's levels of anxiety and neuroticism tolerance of ambiguity.

Added to this brew are the sources of stress that come from outside the workplace and outside the worker.

These extra-organizational stress stem from family problems, life crises, financial matters, and environmental factors. Mix it all up and out some symptoms of occupational health problems may develop into full blown diseases.

This model of occupational stress, as complex as it appears, is simplified by limiting the examples of stress at work,individual characteristics and extra organizational sources of stress. Many others could be included.

Further, the interactiion between these factors is depicted as evenly weighed. In actuality different work places have different levels of anxiety and tolerance of ambiguity and different workers experience different amounts of family and financial problems.

Another way of looking at occupational stress utilizes the Occupational Stress Evaluation Grid (OSEG)


Stress cannot and should not be avoided; the secret lies in successful management of stress. All machines wear out with excessive use and the human body is no exception


Stress theory is based on the concepts of adaptation and homeostasis. People strive to adapt to their stresses to maintain some semblance of balance.

Stressors elicit a response from a person's entire body, including psychological and physiological components.

Based on his defination cited earlier, Selye (1978) identified the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). In this syndrome, physiological responses in the nervous systems alert people to the occurence of either distress or eustress, effects include enlargement of the adrenal gland.

Shrinkage or atrophy of the thymus, spleen lymph nodes and almost total disappearance of the oesinophil cells and bleeding ulcers.

General Adaptatiion Syndrome of reactiions and response to stress consists of three stages:

1. Alarm Reaction: This is a bodily expression of a general call to arms of the organisms defensive forces.

2. Stage of Resistance: This stage is physiologically opposite to the stage of alarm reaction.

The adrenal cortex accumulates an adequate reserve of corticoids instead of (during the alarm reaction) discharging corticoids to the point of depletion.

3. Stage of Exhaustion: Following long-continued exposure to the same stressor, to which the body had become adjusted, eventually adaptation energy is exhausted.

The signs of alarm reaction re-appear but now they are irreversible and the individual dies. In many organisms (individual)this is the stage of premature ageing caused by the wear and tear of the stress.

With the exception of Extreme physical excercise most people go through only the first two stages of the GAS the majority of time when subjected to stress.


The bodily reaction to stress typically includes:

1. Increase metabolism

2.Increase blood pressure

3. Increase Heart rate

Increase amount of blood pumped to the skeletal muscles which in turn stimulates the nervous system(ANS) and the anterior pituitary gland stimulation of ANS causes the heart rate to increase, the digestive system to slow down ( causing constipation), and epinephrine and norepinephrine to be released.

When the anterior pituitary gland is stimulated it releases Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), which subsequently stimulates the cortex of the Adrenal glands and causes release of steroids or anti-inflammatory hormones Selye,(1978).

When the sympathetic portion of the ANS is activated a "flight-or flght" reaction is manifested in accelerated heart rate, increased respiration, etc. Each stress activates the sequence just described, Selye stated that the critical first step in managing stress is " to know thyself" Everyone is familiar with the sensation of being keyed up from nervous tension.

Although each person reacts in unique way to stress, there are several commonly observed physical,behaviour and emotional indicators of increased stress.


1. Elevated blood pressure

2. Increased muscle tension ( neck, shoulder, back)

3. Elevated pulse and/ or increased respiration

4. Sweaty palms

5. Cold hands and feet

6. Slumped posture

7. Tension headaches

8. Upset stomach

9.Higher pitched voice

10.Change in appetite

11. Urinary frequency


13.Difficulty in falling asleep or waking up

14.Dry mouth and throat


1. Decreased productivity and quality of job performance

2. Tendency to make mistakes, poor judgement

3. Forgetfulness and blocking

4. Diminished attention to details

5. Preoccupation, day dreaming

6. Inability to concentrate on tasks

7. Reduced creativity

8.Increased use of alcohol and or drugs

9.Increased smoking

10.Increased absnteeism and illness

11. Lethargy

12. Loss of interest

13. Accident proneness


1. Emotional outbursts and crying

2. Irritability

3. Depression

4. Withdrawal

5. Hostile and assultive behaviour

6. Tendency to blame others

7. Anxiousness

8. Feeling of worthlessness

9. Suspiciousness


Major sources of situational stressors facing workers have been reported by Schwartz(1980).

1. Work overload

2.Extreme ambiguity or rigidity

3. Extreme role conflict or too little conflict

4. Extreme counts of responsibility

1 Lack of participation

Workers perceptions of the degree of participation in the decision making process, the degree to which they are consulted on issues affecting the organization and their involvement in establishing rules of behaviour at work have proven to be related to job satiafaction,job related feeling of threat, and feelings of self esteem.

Others have found that non-participation is related to overall poor physical health, escapists drinking,depressed dissatisfaction with life,low motivation to work, intention to leave the job and absenteeism

2 Role Problems

A clear sense of your role in an organization and a sense that you can "play the part" are important in keeping stress at a minimum. A variety role-related problems may arise for workers who lack these feelings

Stressors are observed in many work situations because of factors such as poor communication,politics within the organization,conflicting demands for time and attention,lack of knowledge of what is expected,under use of skills,changes in the organization,lack of participation in making decision,limited job progress or career advancement.

3 Role Overload

When job demands are so great that the worker feels an inability to cope, stress will develop. You can imagine feeling of having too much to do in too little time

4 Role Insufficincy

When workers lack the training,education,skills or experience to accomplish the job,they feel stressed. A poor fit between workers talents and the organizations expectations creates disharmony and dissatisfaction.

5 Role Ambiguity

When aspects of the job and work place are unclear, frustration and stress are likely to develop. Workers should know the criteria for career advancement priorities of the organization and generally what is expected of them

6 Role Conflict

Sometimes workers get caught in a bind. Two supervisors each expect something different. The work may be faced with conflicting demands.

This is the " dammed if you do, dammed if you don't "dilema. Such a situation is a factor in occupational stress


1 Healthy living: Get enough sleep,eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly.Learn to relax. deep breathe is a natural relaxant.

Eat regularly take a full launch hour break. take lot of waterless sugar.Practice simple relaxation exercises. Take a brisk walk,run,play tennis or dance to stimulate blood flow.

2. Self awareness: recognize the signs of stress within you. Identify what thoughts,feelings,and behaviours you exhibit when under stress.Get to know your body so that you can recognize the first signs of stress.

3. Coping Strategies: Learn effective relaxation techniques,think positively,priorities and set limits, and develop sense of humour. Learn to accept things and people. Learn to smile and laugh and to balance work and recreation.

4. Support: Share your concerns with emphatic family members,co-workers,and friends if necessary,seek professional counseling.

Create and use support network, from members of a reliable and caring work, family or social group,.Everyone needs someone to trust and with whom stress producing situations can be discussed in department without fear or rejection

5. Job satisfaction: know what type of work and environment you enjoy and seek to find it.Take one thing at a time. Be assertive


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    • NIKADE profile imageAUTHOR

      Nikade Etimide 

      11 years ago from Nigeria

      sometimes people end up killing themselves out of ingorance you know

    • Jewels profile image


      11 years ago from Australia

      Nikade, that was very informative.  I thought stress was a way of life and not a part of life.  As you can imagine with that take on it, stress caught up on me and I had to change drastically. Your above information helps with awareness on many levels.


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