Whether work demands stress or simply stretch is a subjective assessment and is often a matter of degree or accumulation. Subjectively, what may be stressful for one individual may be stimulating or productive in another.
I’ve been an air traffic controller at Kennedy International Airport for 20 years. Most people would call this job high-stress, but I thrive on it. You either love this type of job or you quit, or you never get into it in the first place. You’d think I was the type of kid who loved excitement or always took chances. I wasn’t. I could never be a firefighter and go into a burning house. That would be stressful. It’s just not in my makeup. (…) While we’re working, we’re “in the zone.” We work for two hours and then take a break. It’s mandatory. I don’t care how good someone is, after directing busy traffic for awhile, you need to decompress. At the end of those two hours, you know you’ve done a good job if the planes assigned to you were within the limits. I like that instant feedback.
Degrees of stress or its accumulation also matter in determining stress vs. stretch. One may be able to manage stressful situations quite well at work (where specific motivation, competencies, skills and experience may come into play) but not in other aspects of life such as relationships, parenting, nutrition, fitness (where different skills may be required).
One way to determine whether work demands constitute simple stretch or even stimulating arousal that leads to more productive results, or instead cross over into the harmful stress category is by assessing balance. See a simple how-to after the jump.
What constitutes a balanced approach to work and to other aspects of life? Intuitively, if interpersonal relationships are being negatively affected either at work or at home there is reason for concern. Substance abuse is also a strong indicator of trouble. Dependence on caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, uppers or downers, and sleeping aids is a telltale sign that endogenous resources are needed to cope.
Stress or Stretch: A Matter of Balance
Questions that can help determine work-life balance are:
- Do I feel truly appreciated for who I am in settings other than work?
- Can I articulate a sense of purpose that extends beyond my professional goals?
- In my private moments, do I truly like who I am?
- How capable am I to express my genuine feelings about people and situations?
- Do I have sufficient available resources of energy and motivation to see me through most situations at work and outside of work without turning to chemical helpers?
- Can I sleep naturally the number of hours that is appropriate for my age group?
- Do I take good care of my body’s need for exercise, adequate rest, healthy nutrition?
- Would people who know me well answer these questions the same way I do?
Answering in the affirmative to most of these questions may provide an indication that work-life balance is within reach or substantially in place. Answering in the negative may indicate a need for further assessment and would appear to indicate that work demands a disproportionate amount of personal resources, to the detriment of other important aspects of one’s life.