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Type A and Hi-Tech: A Dangerous Mix

Tower of Babel by Bruegel at Stresshacker.comWhat does the relentless push of technology into our lives do to our ability to manage stress and to our health in general? It depends on the personality. For individuals who have a type A personality, multiple e-mail addresses available from any platform, high-speed anywhere Internet access, smart mobile phones, tablets, and e-readers have enabled even greater flexibility and mobility in teleworking and telecommuting. In effect, traditional boundaries between the different roles at work, in the family, at leisure have been blurred or even removed.

In addition to the advancing technology, economic conditions have made short-term employment, work on time-limited projects, and working two or even three part-time jobs simultaneously increasingly more common.

Type A individuals claim that this new rhythm of life has produced beneficial effects in terms of greater task variety and flexibility. Thanks to these ubiquitous and always-on hardware devices and the software tools they provide, there often is no break 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. Again, for the type A personality, this is just fine–at least in theory and by their own admission.

Type A Individuals Thrive…At Their Own Peril?

Type A personality is characterized by an extreme sense of time urgency, frequent impatience with one’s self and others, high competitiveness, and more frequent aggression and/or hostility (either in the form of overt outbursts, or constricted and internalized through tight behavioral control). Clinical evidence indicates that there is at least an increased risk of stress in these individuals due to their proneness to work overload, disruption of natural circadian patterns, role conflicts, lack of time for relationships, for sufficient rest and energy replenishment through sleep or relaxation activities.

This particular personality type, given the current availability of communication and connection devices, appears to thrive in this environment that promotes maximum efficiency, high productivity, a faster pace of work output, and competitiveness.

Is this a competitive advantage for individuals who happen to possess these personality traits, or is this a potential problem? Apparently, higher productivity and efficiency are desirable outcomes. From a business efficiency point of view, they most definitely are. This may explain why significant technological resources are being devoted by an increasing number of companies toward making this always-on-the-job state of affairs a reality for their employees. It is seen as a competitive advantage over other companies (which are fewer and fewer) that shut down at a reasonable hour and do not work on weekends.

Most type A individuals proclaim to “love” this uninterrupted access to the marketplace and the instantaneous availability that is demanded of them.

There are however potentially serious health consequences, unless the individual can set and maintain reasonable and appropriate boundaries.

Type A personality have long been known to be at risk in terms of elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, higher blood lipids, and near-continuous catecholamine (stress hormone) output. Intensive, frequent, and sustained activation of these physiological stress responses can contribute to the atherosclerotic process and to blood clotting. This prolonged state of arousal can cause, with type A behavior, an elevated risk of myocardial infarction. A longitudinal study by Barefoot et al., found that medical students with high scores on the Cook-Medley hostility scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)–which would indicate type A personalities– had a six fold increase in mortality when followed up 25 years later, mainly due to coronary heart disease.

The negative psychosocial and socioeconomic factors in which type A behavior appears to thrive is associated with increased risk of serious illness and mortality because of the elevated activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system and the increased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. A very high workload, such as regularly working more than 10 hours of overtime per week, is also associated with markedly elevated cortisol levels. Prolonged and sustained activity of the HPA system is related to a series of endocrine and metabolic effects, causing, among other things, increased storage of fat in the abdominal region.

It is a mixed blessing, to say the least, for type A personality to see modern technology facilitate and indeed augment their relentless rhythm of activity. Is the risk really worth the reward?

The Changing Face of Stress: Who Me? Worry?

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There is a new way of managing stress and it’s called “don’t worry, be happy!” Yes, I know the Bobby McFerrin song that hit #1 on the charts before the French Revolution, that is, way back in 1988. This is 2010, however, and it’s way more than just a popular song.

It is the new creed of the Why Worry Generation, as it has been aptly named, which is also known as Generation Y or simply Generation Me. It is composed of the young people who grew up in the boom-and-bust years, that have known Columbine, September 11, and the biggest recession since the Great Depression. They have seen their parents lose their jobs, their bank go bust, their family savings evaporate; many have had their homes foreclosed. They have also experienced the skyrocketing cost of school, saw gas seesaw up to almost $5 per gallon and back. They have seen Katrina, the big spill in the Gulf. They have lived through Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan. Many have died or been wounded there or know someone who did.

And yet, they are optimistic. They are positive about the future. Despite the fact that there are no jobs available. That the graduating classes of ‘08, ‘09, and ‘10 have had an increasingly hard and frustrating time in finding any decent job, let alone a good paying one or one with career advancement opportunities. That their parents and anyone older than 40 is walking around with good reasons to be gloomy and depressed.

These young adults seem to exude positive self-regard, ooze self-esteem, and a resilience that older generations may dismiss as foolish and reckless. Their self-confidence seems unfazed by having to live at home instead of getting their own place, or even having to move back into their parents’ home after a brief stint on their own.

There is another explanation for this resilience in the face of a steady barrage of bad news. It may be the result of adjusting to high stress levels and, over time, building up tolerance for change and uncertainty. This is what is predicted for individuals who are able to accept and rationalize adversity and turn it into a learning experience, instead of being destroyed by it. It is the ability to use the stress reaction to produce an adequate response to challenging circumstances.

So unlike the Greatest Generation, the Millennials, and of course the Baby Boomers, this generation is making good use of stress, making the changes that are called for, and refusing to worry or to feel sorry for themselves. Way to go, guys!

Business of Stress: Self-efficacy Predicts Success

StradaCampoImperatore In the demands-control model of occupational stress a situation is created whereby high demands are placed on the individual with little opportunity to exercise control over the work environment or the task design. This is the most common type of workplace stressor and it has been shown to have an impact on cardiovascular health. But is the problem simply a matter of demands/control stress diathesis? Why isn’t everyone succumbing to heart disease? Indeed, many individuals seem to thrive even in work environments where personal control is minimal and job demands are chronically high. How?

At least a partial explanation can be found in self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the perception that personal resources are adequate to meet life’s demands. Even in situations of low control/high demands, adequate self-efficacy can act as an important protective factor.

When personal resources are perceived as lower than perceived job demands, low self-efficacy results. Task demands are felt to exceed coping abilities, which often creates emotional and physiological overload. Prolonged exposure to occupational stress with low self-efficacy increases vulnerability to burnout, which is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, interpersonal difficulties, apathy toward personal accomplishment, and occupational disengagement through cynicism about the importance or worth of one’s work contribution.

Individuals with adequate self-efficacy believe that their available personal resources are sufficient and may even exceed what is required by their workloads. In day-to-day work activities, this belief in one’s adequate resources accompanies the process of assessing tasks and personal capabilities: in most instances, the perceived balance is in favor of having more than what it takes and the task is undertaken with vigor and confidence. Read more

Stresshack #7: Just Enough Anxiety

K2fromBroadPeak Too much anxiety forces impulsive action. When the choice between fight or flight is invariably fight, personal power and sheer determination can make things happen. Hastily taking charge of the situation however can also be a sign of anxiety brought on by low self esteem, insecurity and fear of failure. Emotional decision making prompted by anxiety, anger, or fear often has the result of producing change but also fostering unpredictability and chaos.

Too much anxiety often sabotages a person’s achievements. There is no balance in the approach to problem-solving and either too much energy is devoted to the task, or inadequate resources are mustered. The drive toward success generates a pathological focus that can quickly lead to exhaustion. In some cases, the organism simply shuts down, in other cases it is maintained in operation through artificial means such as drugs or alcohol.

Too little anxiety creates an avoidance of challenges and a drive toward comfort.  Often these individuals are quite comfortable in true and tried approaches to problem-solving and are loath to try anything new. In many cases, a short and quick fix is applied to challenges, without much thought or conviction. Far from being healthy, too little anxiety lowers an individual’s guard against potential threats, physical or psychological, by instilling a false sense of security and of foolish invulnerability.

Just enough anxiety and we feel the right level of motivation toward change, while not losing sight of the need for adequate preparation, adequate rest, and balance. We accept the incontrovertible fact that too much or too little of anything, including anxiety, can impede learning, stunt growth, endanger health.  Striving for success is important, as are solving problems and facing challenges as they arise. The right dose of anxiety (the good stress that mobilizes our resources) is just what it takes to not only meet these demands, but to thrive.

That Business of Stress…

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…or the stress of that business, as an intimate relationship exists between the two. And with ample justification. How?

Stress is by definition a perception that one’s available resources are insufficient or poorly matched to successfully face a challenge or a threat. Business, by definition, is a purposeful activity or endeavor that is a source of personal concern, usually engaged in as a means of livelihood.

When engaged in a business that is a personal concern, where we may endeavor to earn a living,  and in which our capital resources (our finances, physical and mental abilities, time, image, and self-concept) need to be allocated and expended to adequately meet the demands of the business we are engaged in, the potential for stress is always there.

Stress in business is of the same kind as the threat of a saber-toothed tiger—not the same, but of the same kind. Let’s see how. When face to face with the feline, our body instantly springs into full mobilization mode. The heart rate goes up, respiration increases in depth and frequency, muscles tense, pupils dilate, the stomach contracts, and adrenaline and other excitatory hormones are released into the bloodstream. We are faced with three possible choices: fight, flight or freeze.

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