Nature of Stress

STRESS – Nature, Types, Sources and Symptoms

Table of Contents:

Meaning of Stress

Work stress or job stress involves a series of workers’ responses when he is required to meet demands that do not match their knowledge, skills or abilities and test their capacity to cope with these stresses. These demands may either be quantitative demands, which are related to time or the amount of work, cognitive demands associated with the complexity of the work and emotional demands which require the person to show empathy at work. There may be physical demands as well related to stationary loads.

It is a reaction of an individual to the troubling factor of his surroundings. Anxiety is a flexible reaction to an external condition and leads to physiological, emotional and behavioural variations. Stressors are physiological or mental demands that arise from the surroundings and lead to pressure. Stressors produce tension or the possibility of tension when an individual feels that any particular demand is far greater than his ability.

Definition of Stress

According to Davis, “Stress is a condition of strain on one’s emotions, thought processes and physical conditions”.

As Per Steinberg and Titzmann, “Stress can be defined as an underload or overload of matter, energy or information input to, or output from, a living system”.

According to Fred Luthans, “Stress is an adaptive response to an external situation that results in physical, psychological and/or behavioural deviations for organisational participants”.

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According to Beehr and Newman, “Stress is a condition arising from the interaction of people and their jobs and characterised by changes within people that force them to deviate from their normal functioning”.

Nature of Stress

The nature of stress includes the following points:

  1. Simple Anxiety or Nervous Tension
  2. Not Always be Damaging
  3. Not Always due to Overwork
  4. Stress cannot be avoided
  5. Biological Response Mechanism

1) Simple Anxiety or Nervous Tension

Anxiety is not represented by restlessness or nervousness. People displaying these behaviours need not necessarily be under any pressure. In the same way, stressed people may not show restlessness or nervousness.

2) Not Always be Damaging

People are often under tension, but they do not show any sign of exertion. Everyday jobs of life involve pressure, but they may be harmless.

3) Not Always due to Overwork

People who are under the grip of stress don’t need to be always overburdened by work. Sometimes, scarcity of work can also lead to tension.

4) Stress cannot be avoided

It is a well-known fact that stress is a part and parcel of life and there is no available means to prevent the occurrence of stress. Nevertheless, it would be wise for an individual to stay away from the counteractive responses of stress.

5) Biological Response Mechanism

Stress is the body’s natural reaction mechanism. The human body has its limitations, i.e., it has a restricted capacity to cope with stressors. The demands of the workplace exert pressure on people and excessive stress affects the employee’s capacity to deal with stress.

Nature of Stress

Different Types of Stress

Depending on features, stress can be classified as follows:

  1. Eustress
  2. Distress

1) Eustress

Eustress is an optimistic and active reaction to stress which helps in the development of people. It helps to energise and inspire individuals so that they can achieve their respective aims, brings about considerable changes in their surroundings and deals with the difficulties of life. It also helps people to formulate new and innovative ways of managing their work. So, this type of stress is essential for the survival and well-being of human beings.

Eustress signifies the favourable level of stress in an individual. Under this level, the individual’s performance is at the highest degree of excellence. Stress below this level leads to boredom in an individual and he feels demotivated and indifferent toward work. 

When someone works in a very low-stress environment and keeps on experiencing dullness while working, then that individual is bound to deviate from work both emotionally as well as personally. 

The emotional breakdown will ultimately result in the occurrence of casual errors, negligence in performance and distraction from work. The physical breakdown will be denoted by lethargy and habitual absence from work which finally leads to turnover. 

2) Distress

Distress is a pessimistic and inactive reaction to stress. It indicates the tremendous level of stress in a person which negatively affects his performance and productivity. Mistakes will reoccur consistently, wrong decisions will be taken and the individual has to bear many problems like sleeplessness, stomach-related problems, and mental or emotional illnesses.

 Distress is of two types: 

  •  Acute Stress
  • Chronic Stress

i) Acute Stress: Short-term stressor leads to acute stress. It evolves all of a sudden, is extremely sharp and vanishes rapidly. 

For example, if a person is going on an evening walk, then all of a sudden, a big and shabby dog leaps out of the bushes, making a growling sound with its exposed teeth, this may lead to acute stress. Acute stress can be full of excitement and stimulation when given in small doses, but if it comes in large doses, it may become irritating

ii) Chronic Stress: This stress is the long-term stress resulting from prolonged irritating problems. This type of stress keeps coming back with the passage of days and years. Chronic stress can be due to ever-increasing credit card debts, long-term health ailments, emotionally exhausting relationships, or an exhausting job. Chronic stress results from unavoidable demands and pressures that go on continuously.

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The drawback of chronic stress is pessimistic as some people become habitual to them, give up hope, and stop trying to find solutions to the problems. The individual is surrounded by feelings of impassiveness hopelessness, and fear, due to the reduction of natural and psychological resources. Chronic stress can be fatal as people may decide to end their lives or it may lead to a heart attack or emotional outburst.

Sources of Stress

Stressors act as determinants of tension. Stressors are those conducts, state of affairs, or happenings that put extra demands on an individual. The list of possible stressors is manifold.

Various sources of stress are as follows:

  • Individual Stressors
  • Organisational Stressors
  • Group Stressors
  • Extra Organisational Stressors

Sources of stress

Individual Stressors

Individual stressors result from the thoughts of an individual about the surroundings in which he lives. The environment is not always frightening, but the individual observes the situation as frightening and responds accordingly. Problems like role conflict, role ambiguity, and non-specific fears like the fear of the future and failure can make an individual stressed. 

Different individual sources of stress are as follows:

i) Personality Type

The personality traits in the organisational behaviour of an individual are internal sources of stress. The personality of people can be divided into the following categories:

a) Type A Personality: People possessing Type A personality are prone to suffer stress due to the inbuilt traits of their personality. Type A people are characterised by a sense of irritability and eagerness, fighting spirit, forceful attainment attitude, killer instinct, tendencies to perform various tasks simultaneously, concealing true emotions, and a sense of perfection but lack self-confidence. 

b) Type B Personality: People possessing Type B personalities have a little susceptibility to internal stressors due to their basic traits. Type B personality people are carefree; less ambitious have an approachable attitude; treat everything easily, possess a lot of mannerisms; have no ill feelings and aggression towards others and have no obligation towards the time limit.

ii) Role Conflict

Many variables play a significant role in determining the behaviour of an employee in a given task. Some of these variables arise from employees while some are from the organization. There are combinations of needs and anticipation that an employee puts upon himself while some are put by others. This leads to a group of forces which are called role pressures. Thus, role conflict occurs when two or more role pressures contradict each other.

iii) Role Ambiguity

Lack of transparency about one’s performance, job objectives, and the extent of the responsibilities of one’s job is termed role ambiguity. Every human being experiences some amount of role ambiguity. The first posting, promotion or transfer, a new head at the workplace, first responsibility as supervisor, a new organisation, change in an organisational arrangement, etc, create role ambiguity for a short period, The Impact of these ambiguities is neither positive nor unbearable. 

iv) Work Overload

When an individual communicates with his surroundings, an overburden of work may occur. The amount of work to be done is overloaded or not depending on the perception of employees. This is because what is excessive for a person need not be overloaded for the other one.

v) Responsibility

Responsibilities also make a person stressed as they put a burden on an individual. For example, we often come across people who after moving into a management or similar position, willingly return to their previous job assignment due to disinterest in the new job or not being able to cope with the obligations of a new job. Thus, various types of job responsibilities work differently and act as stressors.

vi) Career Development Stressors

Career development stressors are those stressors that affect an individual’s thinking about his career planning and growth. Career variables become stressors when people have wrong notions about them and observe them as bothering, apprehensive, or annoying.

Group Stressors

Group-level stressors are the result of group dynamics and authoritative behaviours at the workplace. Stress is enforced by the managers by showing incompatible behaviour towards employees. They do not provide empathy, support and adequate guidance. They focus on developing a highly productive environment highlight the negative qualities of their employees and ignore their good performance. There are different types of group stresses.

i) Social Support: People feel satisfied when they share their problems and joys with others, but if social support is lacking, it can lead to stress. The absence of social support can enhance health problems and related expenditures.

ii) Group Cohesiveness: According to Hawthorne studies, it is obvious that bonding or cohesion is essential for the upliftment of employees. This is mainly essential for the lower rankings of the organisations. Different work designs, prohibition from a supervisor, non-acceptance of a new person by other members of the group, etc., can affect the cohesiveness adversely. This lack of cohesiveness leads to stressful conditions.

iii) Sexual Harassment: An undesirable behaviour of a sexual nature affects the occupational performance of an employee in a negative way. For example, a male supervisor is frightened to dismiss the female employee from the job, if she does not accept his demands.

iv) Physical Violence: This is a serious stressor and it is becoming more and more common at the workplace in the form of physical fighting and anger.

v) Inter and Intra-Group Relationships: Stress is the outcome of unhealthy relations within and between different types of groups. Unhealthy relations may be disunity, mistrust, uncooperativeness, disinterest in listening, and neglect in addressing problems that affect the group or individual.

Symptoms of Stress 

Various symptoms of stress are as follows:

  • Physiological Symptoms
  • Psychological Symptoms
  • Behavioural Symptoms

Symptoms of Stress

1. Physiological Symptoms

A ‘stressed-out’ worker may show different stress symptoms. The simplest method to identify own or another person’s response to stress is through physical symptoms because they can be felt or observed individually. The physiological outcomes of stress influence an individual’s physical wellness. 

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Some of the physiological or physical symptoms are as follows:

1) Increased blood pressure, 

2) Increased cholesterol level,

3) Changes in the body’s homeostatic functions (pulse rate, temperature or respiration – breathing problem),

4) Increased weight or sudden weight gain, 

5) Faster heart rate,

6) Too much smoking or drinking,

7) Sleep-related disorders,

8) Suffering from extreme body pains,

9) More inclination towards colds and flu, 

10) Recurrent unbearable earaches or toothaches,

11) Stomach problems, 

12) Any involuntary weight loss or loss of appetite,

13) Localised muscle tension or pain,

14) More headaches than usual,

15) Faintness,

16) Sweaty hands,

17) Blushing,

18) Tiredness and nervousness, 

19) Abrupt change in appearance (colour of skin, hairstyle or dress), and

20) Feeling ill all the time,

2. Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms are more damaging than physical symptoms because they can cause serious harm to the person as well as to the organisation. Stress reduces concentration and driving force and usually results in lower productivity and confidence.

Some common psychological symptoms of stress are as follows:

1) Sadness, reduced confidence and self-esteem,

2) Excessive negative thoughts, 

3) Anxious about other peoples’ opinions,

4) Illogical thoughts about oneself,

5) Forgetting things more often or through blockages, 

6) Lack of concentration or inattentiveness,

7) High degree of impatience or agitation, 

8) Bad temper,

9) Increased aggression, 

10) Increased feelings of loneliness,

11) Dissatisfaction with the job,

12) Sense of helplessness, 

13) Lack of trust and disrespect of colleagues,

14) Feeling guilty about not spending time with family and friends,

15) Feeling guilty about not being capable of doing his job, 

16) Boredom,

17) Tendency to get irritated with small things,

18) Failure to discipline oneself,

19) Illusion and confusion about duties and roles,

20) Lack of alertness and initiative, generally pessimistic, and

21) Absent-mindedness.

3. Behavioural Symptoms

The behaviour of an individual is directly influenced by stress because it depends upon the mental and physical state of an individual. Various behavioural symptoms of stress are as follows:

i)Teeth Grinding

The habit of grinding teeth or bruxism is generally seen in children and adults a occurs subconsciously at any time. If a person already has a habit of teeth grinding, then he may face more problems during stress.

ii) Tremors or Nervous Tics

Tremors or nervous tics are generally experienced by a person who is under stress. Tremors involve shaking hands while holding a glass, whereas tic involves unnecessary blinking of an eye or moving the head distinctly.

iii) Eating Disorders

Eating disorders include excessive eating or undereating, which a person does when he is undergoing excessive stress. Obesity, belching and a feeling of a full stomach are an outcome of overeating while acidity, indigestion and weight loss are caused by undereating.

iv) Clumsiness

Another symptom of a stressed person is clumsiness. Dropping utensils and spilling tea are some examples of clumsiness.

v) Forgetting Basic Hygiene

Sometimes, due to stress memory of a person becomes weak. He starts forgetting basic habits like brushing his teeth and flossing which results in dental problems.

vi) Alcohol Abuse

People generally consider alcohol as a stress reliever. They believe that alcohol helps in forget their worries and tensions and makes them relaxed and happy. Hence, a stressed person drinks more.

vii) Substance Abuse

Addiction to smoking and chewing tobacco is generally seen in society because it contains nicotine which acts as a relaxant. People believe that it makes them relaxed however excessive doses may lead to death.

viii) Social Withdrawal

The mood of a person is negatively influenced by stress. As a result, a person isolates himself from society and is least concerned about meeting friends and attending parties and weddings. Thus, ultimately person becomes a social loner as he starts ignoring people who are close to him.

ix) Impulse Buying

Impulse buying is a strong signal in which a person is not able to control his or her actions. For example, a person feels delighted with the acquisition of things and goes on random shopping.

Consequences of Stress

Stress can result in numerous positive and negative consequences. Results of positive stress are more energetic, Full of zeal and inspiration. The negative results of stress are more annoying and need more attention. Stress can lead to both personal and organisational consequences.

1. Individual Consequences of Stress 

Stress makes the life of a person more exciting. A person can be freed from stress only after his death. Stress gets converted into distress when people feel insecure. Stress can produce the following consequences: 

i) Behavioural Consequences

These reactions can harm the person under stress or others around him. An example of such behaviour is smoking. Research has found that people with smoking habits tend to smoke more while they are under tremendous stress. There are many other probable behavioural results such as proneness to accidents, indulging in violence with others and irregular eating habits.

ii) Psychological Consequences

These reactions are related to the mental health of an individual. When people are extremely tense at the workplace, they tend to become discouraged or may have a sleeping disorder i.e., insomnia. Stress also causes weariness, problems in marital relations and other family-related problems.

iii) Physiological/Medical Consequences

These reactions affect an individual’s physical health. Stress is associated with heart-related disorders such as heart attacks. Other usual health-related illnesses are back pain, headaches, ulcers, stomach-related problems, intestine disorders, and skin problems like pimples and rashes.

2. Organisational Consequences of Stress 

Stressed individuals influence an organisation both directly and indirectly. In particular, the organisation is affected by individual stress in the following ways:

i) Decline in Performance

A decrease in performance is a visible indicator of stress. In the case of operating workers, such performance can be identified through low output and a decrease in the quality of work. In the case of supervisors, it can be identified through defective decision making or unhealthy relationships with labourers.

ii) Change in Attitude

It is believed that along with enthusiasm to perform efficiently, satisfaction at the job, self-esteem and commitment toward work are also affected by stress. Therefore, people may be more inclined to criticise the worthlessness of work, perform only to their least able to sustain their living and so on. Hence, bringing about a change in their attitude.

iii) Withdrawal Behaviour

Absence from work and turnover are the outcomes of stress at the workplace. At times, absenteeism may be genuine and legitimate, such as illness, jury duty, or the death of someone in the family. But sometimes, the employee claims falsely that his absence was due to legitimate reasons and instead stays at home.

When an employee is absent, whether it is legitimate or not, the organisation suffers and the work is hampered or a substitute is hired to do the pending work. In both cases, the quantity or quality of actual production is likely to suffer. It is quite clear, that genuine absenteeism is inevitable, but organisations try hard to overcome artificial absenteeism and also try to reduce the legitimate absence, in the best possible manner.

Turnover takes place when employees leave their jobs. An organization suffers a lot when they have to substitute for the leaving employee. If the turnover involves efficient people, it becomes a more costly affair for the organisation. Turnover can be the result of any of the factors related to work, the organisation, the people, the labour market or the pressure arising from the family.

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