[Homestead] Stress, copers and non-copers
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sat Sep 11 00:17:13 EDT 2004
It is good to learn to cope with stress at a very early age---setbacks
in middle age are apt to be a crushing experience from which the crushee
Other factors enter in, stress coupled with fulfillment seems to
inactivate the stress-reaction----no fulfillment if you have to choose
between paying the rent and putting food on the table.
In the Air Force we always looked for Squadron Commanders who got
icy-cold in emergency situations, completely focused on a solution, not
tentative, indecisive or dithering around. These we taught not just how
to fly, but how to craxh and walk away from it.
The New York Times
September 10, 2004
*SICK OF WORK*
Cracking Under the Pressure? It's Just the Opposite, for Some
*By ANAHAD O'CONNOR*
For Michael Jones, an architect at a top-tier firm in New York, juggling
multiple projects and running on four hours of sleep is business as
usual. Mr. Jones has adjusted, he says, to a rapid pace and the constant
pressure that leads his colleagues to "blow up" from time to time.
A design project can drag on for more than a year, often requiring
six-day workweeks and painstaking effort. At the moment, he said, he is
working on four.
But for Mr. Jones, the stress is worth it, if only because every now and
then he can gaze at the Manhattan skyline and spot a product of his
labor: the soaring profile of the Chatham apartment building on East
65th Street, one of many structures he has helped design in his 14 years
at Robert A. M. Stern Architects.
"If I didn't feel like I was part of something important, I wouldn't be
able to do this," he said.
Mr. Jones belongs to a rare breed of worker that psychologists have
struggled to understand for decades, not for the sheer amount of stress
they grapple with day to day, but for the way they flourish under it.
They are a familiar but puzzling force in the workplace, perpetually
functioning in overdrive to meet a punishing schedule or a demanding boss.
To colleagues, these men and women may seem simply like workaholics. But
psychologists who study them call them resilient, or hardy, and say they
share certain backgrounds and qualities that enable them to thrive under
"People who are high in hardiness enjoy ongoing changes and
difficulties," said Dr. Salvatore R. Maddi, a professor of psychology at
the University of California, Irvine, and the author of a forthcoming
book, "Resilience at Work." "They find themselves more involved in their
work when it gets tougher and more complicated. They tend to think of
stress as a normal part of life, rather than as something that's unfair.''
Chronic stress has been linked to an array of illnesses, including heart
disease and depression. But people who cope successfully, studies have
found, punch in at work with normal levels of stress hormones that climb
during the day and drop sharply at night. Their coworkers who complain
of being too stressed have consistently higher levels of hormones that
rarely dip very far, trapping them in a constant state of anxiety.
At the same time, resilient people seem to avoid stress-related health
and psychological problems, even as colleagues are falling to pieces,
say researchers who have studied strenuous work environments.
"Some of it is genetic, some of it is how you were raised, and some it
is just your personality," Dr. Bruce McEwen, director of the
neuroendocrinology laboratory at Rockefeller University, said.
People who thrive under pressure do not necessarily seek out particular
professions, researchers say. But whether they are on the trading floor
or the campaign trail, they all appear to have had early experiences in
difficult environments that taught them how to regulate their stress
levels. They can sense when they are reaching their breaking point, and
they know when to take a walk or turn off the ringer.
In some cases, these people subject themselves to stresses of their own
making, driven by an unconscious urge to conquer pressures that dogged
them as children or young adults, said Steven Kuchuck, a psychotherapist
in New York who treats many patients who seek out demanding jobs and
"There's this strong desire to go back to similar sources of stress that
they grew up with in an effort to master it," Mr. Kuchuck said. "Some
people will say 'No, I don't like a lot of stress,' but they find
themselves in one stressful job after another, so there must be
something that's pulling them."
Mr. Kuchuck has also seen the opposite: people who crave a frenzied
career because they feel their childhoods were not stimulating at all.
But regardless of what propels people to push themselves, what allows
them to prosper, psychologists say, is a strong commitment to their
career, a feeling of being in control, and a tendency to view stress as
a challenge rather than as a burden.
People's attitudes toward their jobs and the degree to which they feel
they make a difference by showing up each day have long been considered
powerful indicators of how well they will do. Being just another cog in
a machine with no say over what happens is almost guaranteed to cause
burnout. But even in the most grueling work environment, people can cope
if they feel they have some control.
Studies of professional musicians show that people in orchestras are
often less satisfied and more stressed than those in small chamber
groups because they lack autonomy, according to Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky,
a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford and the author of "Why
Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." Orchestra musicians are at the mercy of their
maestro's every whim. For years, they had no power even to take regular
"The people who are under someone's thumb, who are low-ranking and don't
have any decision-making,'' Dr. McEwen said, "these are the people who
always experience more anxiety."
People who exhibit hardiness are reluctant to cede control. They are
also less likely to feel victimized by their bosses or by unpredictable
life circumstances. When there is a crisis at work, they can tough it
out because they accept a harsh workload or the occasional pink slip as
an unsavory but inevitable part of life, psychologists say.
"They know there'll be different challenges, some you can't even
anticipate, yet they train their minds to say these things are
expected," said Dr. Robert Brooks, a clinical psychologist at Harvard
Medical School and the author of "The Power of Resilience."
Anticipating troubled waters can decrease vulnerability to
stress-induced diseases. In the early 1980's, Dr. Maddi of U.C. Irvine
followed hundreds of employees at Illinois Bell when its parent company,
AT&T, was facing federal deregulation. More than 10,000 people
eventually lost their jobs.
"There was suicide, depression, anxiety disorders, divorces, heart
attacks, strokes - all the things that could be attributed to massive
stress," Dr. Maddi said.
But while about two-thirds of the workers in Dr. Maddi's sample
unraveled, the other third thrived. They survived the incident with
their health intact and hung onto their jobs or moved to another company
where they quickly climbed up the ranks.
When the researchers went back and reviewed their first set of
interviews, they found that many of the people who made it through
unscathed had stressful family backgrounds - constant moving, their
parents getting divorced - and were more likely to describe change as
"Some of the people who cracked had initially taken a job with Bell
rather than I.B.M. because they believed it was safe and didn't want any
disruption," Dr. Maddi said.
Stress is unavoidable, so bracing for it every now and then is the best
way to cope. But people who are on constant alert may be suffering from
an anxiety disorder, psychologists say.
Those who collapse under the pressures of the workplace are prone to
envision every worst-case scenario, while resilient people think of how
a greater workload, for example, might lead to a promotion. In studies,
researchers have found that perhaps the only time pessimists thrive is
when they become lawyers.
"If you're drawing up a contract, the ability to see every foreseeable
danger is something that goes along with pessimism, but it's also what
makes a good lawyer," Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at
the University of Pennsylvania, said. "The problem is, not only are they
good at seeing that the roof might collapse on you, they're also good at
seeing that their mate might be having an affair, that they're never
going to make partner."
But one way to overcome cynicism and exhaustion, said Dr. Andy Morgan,
an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale, is with a sense of
An architect who toils six days a week, regularly burning the midnight
oil, like Mr. Jones, can be happy if a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline
illustrates the value of his efforts.
"When you feel that you're accomplishing something, it's akin to a sense
of control," Dr. Morgan said. "When people start feeling that what
they're doing is not meaningful, then they take more sick days, begin
looking for another job, and complain of health problems."
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