Business of Stress: Rise of the Type A Machines

PieroDellaFrancesca_Malatesta

The now irreversible and accelerating developments in communication technology (multiple e-mail addresses available from any platform, high-speed anywhere Internet access, smart mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and what not) have enabled greater flexibility and mobility (e.g., teleworking, telecommuting) but they also have removed traditional boundaries between different roles in life (work, family, leisure). Thanks to these ubiquitous and always-on hardware devices and the software tools they provide, there often is no solution of continuity between work and non-work states, between being somewhere dedicated to work activities and being somewhere else, where relationships or relaxation are possible.

In addition, short-term employment, work on time-limited projects, and working two or even three part-time jobs simultaneously are becoming increasingly more common. These trends may indeed be producing  beneficial effects in terms of greater task variety and flexibility, but also an increased risk of stress due to work overload, disruption of natural circadian patterns, role conflicts, and lack of time for relationships, for rest and energy replenishment through sleep or relaxation activities.

The individual executive, rather than the company, is now tasked with setting appropriate boundaries between work and other roles in life. This is a particularly challenging task for the executive who may be classified as exhibiting Type A behavior. What is type A behavior and why is it becoming increasingly problematic?

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Business of Stress: The Psychosocial Benefits of Work

David_NapoleonSt-Bernard

Being out work carries more than financial consequences to the individual. One of the most important sequelae is the negative impact on self-esteem and to the sense of well-being and adjustment.

Having a meaningful activity provides many non-economic benefits. These may include giving a consistent time structure to the day; self-esteem through achievement and self-satisfaction; the respect of others; an opportunity for physical and mental activity; a setting where to use one’s skills; and frequent interpersonal contact.

When Bohb Jadhav’s architecture firm reduced its staff by 30 percent a year ago, he turned a cozy Park Slope coffee shop, with its sitcom-style mismatched furniture and a rotating gallery of local art on the walls, into his new work space. For six hours each day, Mr. Jadhav takes up residence in one of the comfy, oversized chairs, works on his future plans, and indulges in occasional, workday-like breaks for coffee, cigarettes, lunch and general kibitzing. Mr. Jadhav says the stimulating environment, the hum of ceiling fans, music and conversation, was a crucial bulwark against the feelings of desperation that followed the loss of his job. ”This place is critical to my sanity,” he says. “If I was at home I’d be more easily distracted. And it’s nice to have the company of others. It’s like working with the TV on.”

The New York Times Nov. 27, 2009

Very often, the loss of these psychosocial benefits of employment is at least as important as loss of income to the stress levels and overall health of unemployed people.

Stresshack #3: Livingstone, The Lion and Me

 Livingstone_LionRIn going round the end of the hill I saw a lion sitting on a piece of rock about thirty yards off with a little bush in front of him. I took a good aim at him through the bush and fired both barrels into it. The men called out. “He is shot, he is shot.” Others cried, “He has been shot by another man too, let us go to him.” I saw the lion’s tail erected in anger and turning to the people said, “Stop a little till I load again.” When in the act of ramming down the bullets I heard a shout and looking half round I saw the lion in the act of springing upon me. He caught me by the shoulder and we both came to the ground together. Growling horribly he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first gripe of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror though I was quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe: they see the operation but do not feel the knife. This placidity is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora and if so is a merciful provision of Creator for lessening the pain of death. As he had one paw on the back of my head I turned round to relieve myself of the weight and saw his eyes directed to Mebalwe who was aiming at him from a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun which was a flint one missed fire in both barrels. The animal immediately left me to attack him and bit his thigh. Another man whose life I had saved after he had been tossed by a buffalo attempted to spear the lion upon which he turned from Mebalwe and seized this fresh foe by the shoulder. At that moment the bullets the beast had received took effect and he fell down dead.

David Livingstone (1857). Missionary Travels (pp. 11-12). London: EW Cole.

Scottish explorer Livingstone, in his journey to discover the sources of the Nile, reported what is now known as stress-induced analgesia. Under conditions of extreme stress or in the adaptation to an extreme environmental challenge, an individual’s normal reaction to pain—reflex withdrawal, escape, rest, and recuperation—could be disadvantageous. In a dire emergency, these reactions to pain are automatically suppressed in favor of more useful behaviors. It turns out that we have a piece of software, the analgesia system, that automatically activates in these circumstances, with rather remarkable effects.

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Stress Hardware Review: The Amygdala

AmidalaL

There are things I cannot do. I cannot watch my people suffer. I cannot sit when something must be done. I cannot judge those who are different. There are things I cannot do. Run. Hide. Ignore. There are things I cannot do. But there are certainly things I will do!

Padmé Amidala in Star Wars: Clone Wars

One of the most important structures of the brain’s limbic system is the amygdala, which in Queen Amidala’s imaginary brain produced behavior that was characteristically cool and aloof at times, forceful and passionate at others, but always kept in balance by poise and careful deliberation. An exemplar of good stress management.

amygdala The human amygdala is an almond-shaped double  complex (one on each side of the brain) of multiple small nuclei located immediately beneath the cerebral cortex of the medial anterior pole of each temporal lobe. It has abundant bidirectional connections with the hypothalamus as well as with other areas of the limbic system. The amygdala is understood to be a behavioral awareness area that operates at a semiconscious level. It also appears to project into the limbic system one’s current status in relation to both surroundings and thoughts. The most important function of the amygdala is to make the person’s behavioral response appropriate for each occasion… or not, as the case may be.

What specific stress behaviors are directly regulated by the amygdala? We can only infer, as the Maker did not provide a user manual, through observing what happens when the amygdala is accidentally or intentionally removed. Take the jump to find out.

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