Coping with Stress in the Workplace and Life

In a recent Podcast interview with Gill Barstow, Director of Orbit Business Development, Gill referred to the work by Suzanne Kobassa on resilience and the application of her work to the recent lock-down being implemented due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kobassa initially introduced the concept of Cognitive Hardiness in 1979 following research at the University of Chicago on the impact of stress on Business Executives and Managers. The personality characteristics of those that remained healthy against those who developed illnesses were identified.  These were further developed by her colleague Salavatore Maddi and their students at the university.

The first definitions broke the personalities into Commitment, Control and Challenge, each related to each other and marked as the resistance encountered in stress.  There were defined as:-

Commitment – tendency to involve oneself in activities in life and as having a genuine interest in and curiosity about the surrounding world. This could manifest itself in the number of activities engaged into both inside and outside of work, involvement in other people or things.

Whilst the concept of hobbies seems to have been left to the past, there are many activities available to us which are neither necessarily expensive or too time consuming that allow ourselves to be diverted into 

Control – tendency to believe and act as if one can influence the events taking place around oneself through one’s own efforts. These people liked to take control, even if it was just a minor element of their life. This gave them purpose.

Challenge – tendency to believe that change, rather than static stability, is the normal way of life and therefore provides motivating opportunities for personal development rather than threats to their own security.

The combination of these traits gives a recipe to prosper when times are difficult.

To counter this, if individuals were put into long term stress positions without the demonstrable commitment to activities, little or no control over their environment and were nt comfortable with change, then the results showed that these individuals were more likely to suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, cardiovascular issues, less susceptible to infection and disease and less weight control. All in all, not conducive to a long life.

The Covid-19 pandemic is putting us all into a stressful state. The worries and concerns over income, job security, working from home or no work at all, trapped at home with perceived shortages of food and supplies to say nothing of the concerns about catching the virus and the possibility of dying in an intensive care ward struggling for breath. How can we improve our hardiness to be able to cope with the above?

Look at your own Commitment, Control and Challenge. How strong are you in these areas? What can you change about how you look at events, the interaction you feel, the elements that you can take control over and enjoy getting out of your comfort zone. Small steps in any if these areas will help you, not destress, but increase your reliance to stress. 

Stress, generally, is a good thing. It helps get you out of bed in morning and provides the incentive to tackle new challenges and reap the rewards of a successful life, in whatever terms you measure that in and generally a positive outlook. Should you have a low hardiness score, it is likely that you will encounter a high volume of dis-stress, which should be avoided for your health and mental well-being. 

Holding a positive outlook will lead to continuous effort to obtain a goal, whereas negative expectations towards the future will lead to giving up.

When you can navigate professional and personal changes in a way that furthers your and your employer’s goals, strengthens your ability to turn adversity to advantage, and deepens professional and personal meaning, you succeed as an employee and as a person

Dr Maddi

As an example, have you ever felt burned out at work? There are worse situations to be sure, but anyone who has ever dealt with burnout before knows how stressful it can be to go through the motions of a job you no longer care for. People take different approaches in dealing with their job burnout. The less hardy ones stop caring about their work, do only what is required to not be fired, and end up numb or continuingly irritated. By contrast, emotionally hardy people react in a more active manner, searching for the causes of their burnout, and then taking action to remedy it either through a fresh approach towards the old work, or by seeking out new work.

Taking the hardy approach towards solving your problems means asking yourself the difficult questions, and having the courage to take risks. Why has the burnout occurred? Perhaps it is because you are working in a job that does not reflect your values. Reconstructing the purpose that lead you to choose your current position could help you figure out what went wrong. If you never had a sense of purpose before and simply drifted into your current job, perhaps exploring jobs that do inspire you could take you in a more productive direction. In any event, the emotionally hardy approach to job burnout involves redefining your goals so that they are more inspiring, identifying what you can do to accomplish them, and then pursuing those goals with determination until you get some results, or conclude that you need to readjust your goals again.

If you are interested in this subject and want to know more, or would like to understand more about methods you can deploy in increase your hardiness, then read Hardy Executive:- Health Under Stress 

ISBN-13: 978-0870943812