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Stress Management

by Duke Duyck

Duke Duyck is the principal of Quali-Tech,
Management Consultants,
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.


Stress is a major factor in heart disease. People with aggressive type A personalities have 7x the chance to die of heart disease than do the easy-going type B's. Heart disease is serious: It claims annually some 80,000 Canadians, among who are 20,000 Ontarians; while 50% of the death of all males between ages 35 and 64 are caused by heart disease (Compare cancer only 19%).

Stress does not only cause heart disease but many other illnesses have been found to be stress related or psychosomatic. This is so because a body under stress will divert the blood to the extremities, thus starving the internal organs, while the blood pressure and the heart rate go up. It is like the body preparing for physical action. The action does not follow however and the stress is not dissipated.

Physically, initially the fists and the teeth are clenched and other muscles tensed, eventually a headache may follow while some people develop asthma, others may get ulcers or heart attacks or any of a long list of internal illnesses.

Psychologically, the mind first gets alarmed, then ready for fight and finally depressed (or flight).

This article shows you that stress management is important, no matter what your job is. It is also feasible and even economical. Stress Management is possible by learning to cope, to reduce stress levels and to improve your life style.


Hans Selye , one of the foremost stress scientists, found that stress uses "adaptation energy" that depletes us of our resources. He also found that, in general, stress is good but that it turns against us when it is uninterrupted.

Alvin Toffler , a sociologist, found that in our present society many suffer from over-stimulation, too many changes, cognitive overload and decision overload, while our classical means of coping are not adequate for these conditions.

Rosenmann & Friedman , MD's, studied their patients personality and the incidence of their heart attacks and found that an ambitious (type A) personality had seven times the chance to have a heart attack than the more easygoing (type B). (The only problem with the B's is that they may be disaster prone). It can be said that stress is caused by poor timing of external changes in combination with an exaggerated internal perception.

Holmes, a psychologist, related illnesses to changes that took place in his patients before the illness. From this he developed his "Stress scale", which lists changes in order of resulting stress. Then he concluded that change is not random, but a combination of fate and choice; therefore, change mangement is possible.


Our Social environment may cause stress by change and by criticism.

Work can be a major source of stress. This is especially apparent when work becomes dominant and begins to take over our whole life. Work stress is experienced at all levels of management and workers. The highest stress is found in computer programmers, machine controlled operators and service workers. Factors causing stress may be reward restrictions, technological change, obsolescence, new methods, layoffs, evaluations (= performance appraisals, promotions and demotions), telephone interruptions, deadlines and overload conditions.

The Boss is the major source of stress at work, especially when he has lack of consideration. This becomes evident from a low morale of his staff. Other sources are office politics and poor communication.

Responsibility stress may include responsibility for people (safety), capital, expense, but also lack of authority, fear of threats or criticism.

Conflict stress may arise from needless work, wrong information, role ambiguities, poor task definition, different orders from different bosses, having to do things against own judgement or to do service work without adequate backing.


However, stressors by themselves do NOT cause stress, but how we FEEL about them. Our vulnerability consists of 3 factors:

1. The uncertainty of the item, whether perceived or factual.

2. The importance of the item, in accordance with Holmes' Stress Scale.

3. Our perception.
The latter depends on our physical lifestyle, our psychological make-up and most importantly whether our tolerance level is exceeded, our coping mechanism is adequate or our time/energy spent are consistent with our goals. Psychological make-up includes: fear of failure (type A), lack of confidence (type B), anger, worry, frustration, and resisting change.

Why Stress Reduction for Business?

Reducing stress in the workplace by the Company (and Engineering):
NIOSH has stated that "Business has an economical interest in stress reduction".
Stressed out people make more mistakes, and are less effective than happy people. Fatigue reduces the efficiency of the workers, as well as their judgement.

Though not generally acknowledged yet, more industries are including stress management in their Occupational Health and Safety Program or provide stress counselling or seminars on stress management and time management.

Provisions should include: Good working conditions, adequate facilities, good ventilation, temperature and humidity control, good fresh air supply, good lighting and low noise levels.

The company should be promoting maximum organization, effectiveness, and efficiency. Allowing for work breaks, leaving of the work area, temporary change of task or scheduled breaks in machine controlled jobs. Allowing brief conversations, designing operations with ergonomics in mind. Allowing for leisurely lunches (no meetings during lunch hour).

Shift work is stressful. The switch over causes a sort of "jet-lag". If the shift lasts only one week, one is barely adjusted when the new changeover comes. Some companies switch over in two or even four weeks, which is less stressful.

Overtime is stressful. Traditionally workers have asked for compensation with money rather than with time. The latter would however, be much more relaxing. An option should be available to the worker.

However difficult in a free enterprise society, companies should try to prevent overload, layoffs and vacuums by improving their staff planning.


Reducing stress in the workplace by the manager :
"The manager is the main source of stress of the subordinate".

The manager should promote understanding of his objectives and be realistic about his goals. He should keep his plans and priorities up-to-date, control the workload and have flexible deadlines. He should take a course in time management and in leadership. He also must assure proper placement and good utilization of his people and plan replacements. He should be a leader, building his team by making use of their strengths rather than by fighting their weaknesses and by assisting them where needed.

He should try to reduce anxieties and defensiveness by avoiding fear at work, authoritarian management, pressuring to work harder instead of better and continuous stressing.

He should promote a positive attitude, concentration on the job and quality of work, instilling pride.

He should consider the subordinate's ability to cope with stress and the relationship between his stress level, his feelings, his abilities, his conditions, etc. He should allow for work breaks and recovery from stress.

A good boss is always available, he is inclusive (treats his people as his team), humorous, fair, objective, yet tough, decisive, patient and humble, yet effective. In short, a leader capable of motivating his team.


Since the traditional means of coping with stress, such as defence (fight), as in the case of type A, and avoidance (flight), as in the case of type B, are inadequate, we must now look for new coping techniques. Though less stressful, the type B personality is still crisis prone. There is a type C however, which may be a good model to emulate. Type C people are broadminded, flexible, active problem solvers, who know themselves, they are not constant, accepting others values, they are active, productive, rationalists who employ time-management.

Our coping strategy falls into two levels of endeavour:

1. Reactive coping.

2. Preventive coping.


Reactive coping is used when being under stress. We suggest two distinct methodologies simultaneously.

1. Perception Modification.

2. Build Self-Control

Relaxation Techniques.

These are applied to break the continuity of stress:

Take a deep breath (stressed people are shallow breathers), smile, laugh, cry, shout, sing, take a break, change your routine, look energetic, improve your posture, interrupt workpace, get up, stretch, take a walk. (Break at least 5 min every hour, or 15 min every 2 hours).

Other techniques involve play, imagery, art, music, behavioural modification (e.g. perception modification mentioned above), yoga, TM (trancendental meditation), biofeedback, psychotherapy, exercise, sex and progressive relaxation.

Some of these are less suitable for an office environment while others can be readily adapted.

Progressive Relaxation is one of the best techniques used to relax or to get to sleep when blocked by stress (not drug induced). It forces the mind to relax by relaxing the body muscles first:

Start with tensing the muscles of the toes and letting them consciously relax. Follow with the muscles of the feet, then of the ankles, then the calves, the thighs, the lower body, the upper body, the fingers, the hands, the wrists, the lower arms, the upper arms, the neck, the jaw, the scalp, the eyelids.

It is most effective when laying down, with the arms loose beside the body, a pose used in an effort to fall asleep. In that case it is followed by staring loosely at a comfortable point at the ceiling and closing and opening the eyelids (about 20x) until they remain closed and the body is ready to sleep. Progressive Relaxation is also used in sitting position, just to relax and dissipate stress, or to initiate meditation.


As in Quality Control one ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds in reaction.

Selye said: Be in conscious control of your life: Participate actively, imaginatively and flexibly. Stress is not bad, but you must manage it. The pursuit of happiness takes on a new shape:

Optimizing coping with change within your adaptive range. (Don't try to catch two frogs with one hand).

Toffler recommends destimulation tactics to simplify your life. Shield yourself from the sensory bombardment of every day stimuli. Shield yourself from excess information input, gaze, avoid memorizing. Reduce decision making by postponing when possible and delegating to get better info to base decisions on.

Holmes recommends change control, not to avoid change, but to budget major changes, to avoid too much change in too short a time span. Anticipate change. Apply Murphy's Law (When it can go wrong it will). Plan for change: Not only time and money, but also emotional energy. Control your job/leisure ratio. Control your commitments. Set up stability zones elsewhere: If your home life is hectic, find a relaxing job; if your work is hectic, relax at home; if both are upsetting find a club or a church where you can relax.

Evaluate your work to see if it suits your likes and abilities. Keep overtime down. Avoid shiftwork if you can't take it. DON'T take work home, neither physically nor mentally (it may keep you awake). Have leisurely meals.

Work is a major source of stress, but:

Time Management is a major tool for reducing this kind of stress. There are several books and courses available on this subject.

In brief, it deals with scheduling and planning, organizing your time while avoiding time-wasters.
The key is:

At home, planning is also important.

Try to keep a good recreation/maintenance ratio and control your job/leisure ratio.


You can improve your strength by a healthy lifestyle. Heart spasms are not primarily caused by bloodclots, but by a combination of stress, poor physical fitness, and poor nutrition (deficiency of magnesium, excess of sugar, fat, protein, or salt).

You cannot change your personality, but regardless whether you are a workaholic type A or a careless type B, you can learn from type C to apply Time Management, to exercise Change Control and to change your attitude to be more positive, rational and flexible.

Nutrition: Your diet is more important than most people think. Have balanced meals, to include: Fresh fruit and vegetables (for vitamins, minerals and roughage), carbohydrates (for energy), proteins (for cell replacement) and a little oil (no fat). Have a good breakfast, a good lunch to provide you with energy, but a light dinner. Vitamins B, C, and E give you resistance, while a good balance between vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus is needed for your heartbeat and your bones.

Drink enough water to wash away salt and breakdown products from the proteins. Control your weight. Too much weight is an added load on your heart, too little weight may cause lack of energy. Take time to enjoy your meals, that improves your digestion.

Avoid at all cost: sugar, fat (oil is OK), tobacco and stimulants. These increase the blood pressure and may cause bloodclotting eventually. Also avoid sleeping pills and tranquilizers. These lower your resistance by affecting your REM sleep.

Excess alcohol must also be avoided as it not only affects your REM sleep but also destroys your liver and eventually your brains. A little alcohol, however, may help you to relax, but watch out for becoming dependent on it.

Sleep is needed for recovery. The more stress the more rest one needs. Have enough for your stress level, reduction affects your effectiveness. Taking catnaps helps, or at least a 15 minute break every 2 hrs or a 5 minute break every hour.

When suffering from insomnia DO NOT worry about "not sleeping". Do not get up before it is time, your body still gets its rest. Avoid all drugs and sleeping pills that may affect your REM sleep and make things worse in time. Avoid mental work, heavy exercise and any stimulants (e.g. cafeine, nicotine, some over the counter drugs) at least 1/2 hour before retiring. Then lie down on you back with your arms resting beside the body, breathing deeply and slowly ...then applying progressive relaxation.

Physical Fitness: . A good program should include exercises to improve health, to promote circulation that was impaired by stress, to bring up the heart rate, to build up the heart strength and to improve oxygenation.

Any physical activity is good. Find out what suits you best and get a variety: walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, squash, badminton, dancing, roller-skating, skiing, dinghy sailing. Avoid sports that hurt your knees, especially if you have not exercised for a long time. Get into it slowly, live actively, but don't overdo it. Use only good equipment or you can hurt yourslef, get advice from the experts before buying.

Avoid conveniences, use the stairs. Have active hobbies, do not sit in front of TV for too long, especially if you have a sitting job.

Learn to relax and to keep breathing, deeply that is, stressed people are shallow breathers.

Learn to enjoy and to play. Live to be happy, live and let live.


In order for your stress management to be effective it is necessary to assess your situation from time to time. This can be done by keeping a diary and observing your body, breathing and feelings. You must become aware of your physical, emotional and mental limitations and consciously look for signs of being keyed up too much and to see if you are operating within your adaptive range.


You can summarize your stress management in any way that is of help to you. Find key issues and highlight them. Change them from time to time as you learn.

John Howard (a professor at the University of Western Ontario) gained popularity by his innovative summary:

He recommends that you learn to enjoy yourself since happiness is the key to stress relief.


We like to summarize the foregoing as follows:


If you are tense, overloaded, hurried, frustrated or depressed.....

In other words: