[Homestead] Stress, copers and non-copers

Tvoivozhd 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 
never recovers.

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


    Cracking Under the Pressure? It's Just the Opposite, for Some


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 
enormous pressure.

"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 
bathroom breaks.

"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 
personal accomplishment.

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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