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Facing the stress factor (12/02)

Stress in the workplace can have serious consequences if not dealt with properly. Sharon Chayka, a psychologist and the director of Perspectives Inc.

Stress in the workplace can have serious consequences if not dealt with properly.

Sharon Chayka, a psychologist and the director of Perspectives Inc. says when you look at stress and anxiety it is basically having a sense that everything is out of control.

“What we as humans do when we see something that is chaotic and out of control, we just work harder to try and get more control,” Chayka says. “It is like the preverbal fly on the window, it knows it wants to get outside and there is a barrier, so it just beats its wings faster until it dies.”

Stress is experienced from three prime sources: your environment, your body and your thoughts.

Chayka says there are serious drawbacks to the employee and the employer if stress is not relieved.

“If you are under a high amount of stress I will guarantee you will get physically sick.”

There are numerous problems such as panic attacks, ulcers and digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea that could effect someone under a lot of stress.

“The worst case scenario is the person goes to their doctor and the doctor prescribes medication and says take three months off work,” Chayka says. “Now an employee is lost and has to be replaced.

Another prominent area stress effects people is their sleep patterns and disrupted sleep.

“If you are not able to get enough sleep or you are waking up in the middle of the night because you are thinking and worrying about what you have to do it immediately affects the way you think and is also a precursor for depression.”

Stress can also effect a person’s eating habits.

“A person can end up with a poor appetite or end up eating a lot,” says Chayka.

All of these factors can seriously affect a person’s ability to think.

“Your thinking becomes very dysfunctional and you can have difficulty with your memory.”

Chayka says both the employee and employer have a responsibility to relieve stress in the workplace.

“The employees have to get a handle on themselves.”

Three important areas for employees to focus on are exercise, nutrition and social life.

Chayka says even moderate exercise is beneficial to combatting stress.

“I do not expect people to run a marathon or join a gym, but on lunch hour or breaks go for a walk. Go outside and take a break. It gives your brain a break. It is really important”

Chayka also stresses it can not be all work and no play.

“Do something like go to a play or a hockey game. There has to be a balance. You as an employee have to get that balance, the employer can not do that for you.”

Nutrition is a key and fastf oods should not be consumed on a constant basis no matter how face-paced one’s life is.

For the employer, it is important to have an effective and open line of communication with the employees, where they feel comfortable with bringing their concerns to the attention of the employer.

Effective communication between the employer and the employee and the proper atmosphere in place is critical to relieving stress in the workplace.

“Effective two-way communication and development of an atmosphere where people feel like they are appreciated and respected is essential,” says Chayka.

Having that kind of communication with an employer can benefit a worker when it comes to prioritizing tasks, focusing on the most important task and seeing what can be done to relieve their workload.

In the working environment it is important to have a sense of calmness and there are a number of ways the employer could do to achieve it.

“Have some music or incorporate some fish tanks. Minimizing the noise levels will help. You should have a place where employees could go that is quiet. Sometimes the most important factor is your frontline secretary. If they make you feel comfortable, your stress levels are going to be reduced,” says Chayka.

Another area, which is critical to relieve stress, is time management.

“If you have effective time management, you will have balance in your life. Look at all the areas in your life. Prioritizing the work you have to do in all areas and not being unrealistic in your goals is critical,” says Chayka.

Perspectives Inc. offers a number of workshops ranging from wellness in the workplace, stress, adjusting to change, conflict, building morale and team work.

The workshops can range from lunch hour talks to mornings to full days to three days.

“It depends on the budget of the employer and what is the biggest bang for the buck.”

The workshops are fully interactive and provide everybody involved with the opportunity to give feedback about what they liked and disliked about the workshop.

“We ask what people would like to see in the workplace.”

When the workshop is completed Chayka will take the feedback information and compile an evaluation and conduct a follow-up call with the employer.

Chayka believes it is important to have a relatively stress-free work environment.

“You are never going to have a stress-free environment. We all need a little stress. It is optimum for both the health of the employees and the growth of the company. Your company cannot be effective with sick employees.”

Chayka is a psychotherapist and has an honour BA in psychology and a masters of education from the University of Toronto. She started her private practice back in 1983. Perspectives Inc. in North Bay was established in 1996. The company does employee family assistance programs (EFAP), counseling and education related to time and stress management.