The most common complaint that is shared with us concerning the work environment is the amount of stress at the workplace. After sending out a survey to our union members asking what topics would they like for a workshop at our annual union conference, we were not surprised that stress related issues was #1 on the results. To address the issue, we invited Dr. LaRocque to present at our conference.
Dr. Rosalind LaRocque, AFT Associate Director of Educational Issues, presented a workshop entitled Managing Stress at our Annual Conference on Saturday. Dr. LaRocque stated, "Stress is imminent when job requirements and demands do not match resources or needs of workers." Many (if not all) of our members deal with stressors at the worksite daily. What was helpful in this workshop was the definition of stress and identifying stressors. When we know what we are up against, we can begin to eliminate and manage stress.
Definition of Stress: Stress can be defined as a physical, mental, and/or emotional reaction to the demands and changes to one's environment. Web MD has identified three levels of stress:
Motivating Stress - It can be positive, and challenge people to react in creative and resourceful ways.
Low Stress - It can go unnoticed.
High Stress - It can be very harmful, causing physical, mental and emotional health problems that lead to chronic diseases.
Several experiences in one's life can result in acute stress or chronic stress. Acute stress is situational. Chronic stress is persistent and is a little harder to control. Acute stress is episodic and not long lasting (e.g., running late for the bus or looking for something you lost). Chronic stress lasts for an extended period of time.
The most common sources of stress at work can be placed into tow categories: demanding workloads and relationships with parents, co-workers and supervisors. The demanding workload was the most cited stressor.
The Effects of Stress
Stress effects us physically. The four areas most affected by stress are:
Our Diet - When we are stressed, we usually consume food that is comforting, easily attained, and generally high in calories and sugar. Consuming these foods leads to increased risks of obesity and obesity-related illnesses.
Our Immune System - Workers who report more job-related stress are two to three times more likely to get sick from a communicable disease. The more stress they reported, the more likely they were to be infected by the virus and made sick.
Our Cardiovascular System - Prolonged exposure to cortisol is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
The Brain - Cortisol continues to bathe the brain in chronic stress. As a result, the hippocampus can actually shrink. The result is short-term memory loss and the risk of depression. Many researchers suspect that there may also be a cognitive impact-making it more difficult to learn new material.
Now before we get all gloom-and-doom about the amount of stress at work, realize that there are mechanisms for managing stress.
Getting the required amount of sleep: Even as adults, our bodies require a minimum of eight hours of sleep in order to regenerate and to process daily activities. Anything less than that will create stress directly related to the lack of sleep.
Healthy diet: Reducing the amount of processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup in your daily diet and increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meat will prevent the body from storing carbohydrates and causing wight gain that can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other "killer" diseases.
Exercise: A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day helps to relieve stress. It doesn't have to be done all at one time, but can be broken up throughout the day. Exercise can be a stress reliever as well as a social outlet.
Social support: Isolation puts people at risk! It is beneficial to make connections with both the professional and personal environment. There are many types of social support, including family, school and community. In a school setting, this may take the form of grade-level team collaboration, administrative support, professional learning communities, or guidance from a union building representative.
Knowing your triggers: Identifying the situations, people and/or demands that generate stress is the first step toward implementing the preventive or coping strategies that help reduce stress. For example, if procrastination causes stress, make plans to complete assignments or fulfill responsibilities in a realistic timeframe.
We are committed as a union to protecting our members and their colleagues. Policies need to be in place and resources allocated to ensure that employees have what they need to work in a stress reduced environment. Please encourage your co-workers to join AFT and together we will improve our working conditions. Join the Union!