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Over The Cliff (I)



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What can happen if stress gets out of control ?

The long term effects of stress do not begin all of a sudden. It gives sufficient early warning for one to be able to take the necessary precautions. Where you are under excessive levels of short-term stress, then you may find that your performance goes to pieces. Afterwards, however, you will be able treat this as a learning experience and can adopt stress management strategies to avoid the problem in the future.

However the effects of long term stress going out of control can be much more severe. If you do not take action to control it, this can lead to:

  • Fatigue and Exhaustion
  • Irritability and Agitation
  • Depression
  • Burn Out (Part II)
  • Breakdown (Part II)

Part I explains what happens during 

And suggests strategies in brief to avoid or cope with them.  

Fatigue and exhaustion

On getting up in the morning one ought to feel as "fresh as a daisy". One should be able to work hard without undue haste or agitation, calmly and methodically the whole day long. In the evening one should feel tired but in a pleasant way. This is normal natural fatigue, which can be banished by a good night's sleep, and the same cycle should begin the next day.

But a person under long term stress becomes incapable of relaxing, resulting in fatigue and exhaustion. Under these circumstances the daily routine of ones work becomes a constant effort, even disagreeable and stress starts taking its toll. 

Irritability and Agitation

A weary person rarely experiences the early morning freshness. On the contrary he knows clearly that from morning to evening he will have to "put up with himself ", and that he will have to endure fatigue inertia and lack of willpower. He knows that he will have to make a great effort to keep a smiling face, that one tension will be added to another etc. It is therefore easy to understand that the tired person will have "had enough". Of whom? Of himself, of other people, of everything. All this will give rise to irritability often manifesting as agitation. 

Remedial Measures

Steps to remedy this can be as simple as going to bed earlier, or taking a good break. When you feel that you are getting exhausted very easily during your work hours you can try out some of the following suggestions:

  • Take a stroll when you are stressed, it can help restore your perspective.

  • Take a five minutes break from your work every hour or so.

  • Avoid the habit of taking work home with you every night.

  • Next time you feel you have too much work to do delegate at least one task.

  • Learn from those who do not suffer from stress.

  • Avoid routinely working late and at weekends.

  • Arrange to have lunch with your partner or a close friend at least once a week.

  • Learn to talk openly about your emotions and feelings with your close friends and confidants.

  • Relieve pressure by discussing work problems openly.

  • Spend an hour or two alone each week away from work and family.

  • Learn to say 'no'. You have the right to refuse other peoples excessive demand on your time.

  • Do not ignore your problems acknowledge them as they arise.

Alternatively re-examine your life and check whether the things you are doing lead to you meeting your personal goals. This may show you which jobs or commitments you can drop. Implementing time management strategies may also help you to work more effectively, giving you more time to relax.

Where the problem is serious, go to see your doctor.

Handling Depression

Depression may often be initiated by high levels of long term stress, by failure associated with stress-related under-performance, or by life crises.

Deep depression is a clinical illness should be treated medically. It is important that if you are depressed that you take this seriously. Severe depressions that can cause years of unhappiness and low performance can be neutralised quickly with drugs, by the appropriate form of psychotherapy, or by other forms of personal action. An important part of intelligence is knowing when there is a problem, and when to ask for help.

Depression may start when:

  • you miss important deadlines
  • projects fail
  • you are passed over for promotion
  • you feel out of control
  • you are very tired
  • you are feeling inadequate while getting to grips with a new, difficult job
  • you are bored for a long period of time

The following points may help in handling depression before it gets serious:

  • An important way of guarding against depression is getting your attitude right: positive thinking really can help. As long as you can draw useful lessons from failure, then failure can be positive.
  • Similarly, talking about problems to a partner or to a respected colleague can often help a lot. They may have been through a similar situation, seen the problem before, or may be able to gently point out that you have the wrong perspective on a situation.
  • Where you are under stress caused by excessive demands, using effective time management can improve things. Similarly taking an enjoyable break may reduce stress.
  • Where you are not under enough pressure, you can set personal challenges to increase stimulus.

If you are already suffering from a mild form of depression, then the following suggestions may help you to deal with it:

  • Self-confidence: where lack of self-confidence is a factor, there are a number of things you can do:
    • Start to set personal goals. This will help you to give yourself direction in life, and will help you to acknowledge that you can achieve useful and important things.
    • Write down a list of your negative points. Challenge each item on the list objectively, asking yourself 'is this fair?', or 'is this really serious?'. You should find that many of your negative beliefs are wrong or insignificant. Where you identify serious failings, set measurable personal goals to eliminate or neutralise them.
    • Similarly, bring your anxiety and negative self-talk up to the surface of your consciousness. Ask yourself whether it is realistic to worry about the things you worry about: if you have no control over them, then worry does no good. When you look at them rationally, you may find that worries are irrational or out of proportion.
    • Write down a list of the things that you can do well, and of the positive parts of your personality. Ignore 'virtues' like humility and modesty - these are not good for your self- confidence or well-being. Be proud of your good points - they can help you to contribute positively to the world.
  • Positive thinking: almost all apparently negative experiences have positive elements to them. Learn to identify these positives: this will help you to draw the best from every situation. Even failing at something can be an intense and valuable learning experience.
  • Relationships: You may find that the root of problems lies with:
    • Assertiveness: if you are failing to assert yourself, you may find that other people are not paying attention to your wants and needs. This can be upsetting and humiliating. Learn to express your wishes firmly, but only be confrontational if absolutely necessary. Assertiveness training can be beneficial in learning to do this.
    • Social Skills: if your relationships are difficult, then you may identify that difficulties lie in the way in which you deal with other people. In this case some form of Social Skills training may be beneficial. Alternatively if you can identify where things are going wrong, you may be able to set goals to overcome the problem.
    • Other people: it is easy to assume (especially when you are depressed) that the fault in relationship problems lies with you. This may or may not be the case. Examine your relationships rationally: you may find that people around you are causing problems - there are some extremely rude, awkward, arrogant or confused people in the world. If people are making your life worse, then you may be better off without them.
  • Standards: You may find that you have set your standards unrealistically high. This will typically occur where you believe that a certain standard of achievement is necessary, but where you do not have either the financial or time resources available to achieve those standards. In this case it may be realistic to assess the standards that you can reasonably achieve within the set constraints, and aim at these.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion: If you are very tired, or have been under stress for a long period, you may find that a good break helps you to put problems into perspective.

When Depression interferes with the functioning of a person it ought to be taken seriously. Note that Major Depressive Disorder is a clinical condition, remediable by drugs and should be treated by qualified psychiatrist. Delay might result in fatal occurrences. So do not neglect.


Next Up: Over the Cliff (Part II)