Stress and Emotional Intelligence at the Workplace

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Everyone in today’s workplace is under pressure. We are living in an era of

uncertainty, with widely fluctuating markets and fiercely competitive business

conditions. Organizations are determined to get more and better work out of fewer

people, and most employees are routinely told they must work smarter, faster, better,

longer and harder. It is no wonder that study after study shows that stress is a growing


In general, we tend to think of stress as something negative; but in fact, it does have

tangible benefits. Stress generates action. It creates a psychological boost that gives

you increased energy and clarity with which to perform well. If channeled correctly,

stress can enhance your performance and the performance of those you manage. Of

course, if channeled incorrectly, stress can be overwhelming and performance will

rapidly decline.

Stress is derived from the Latin word stringere, meaning to draw tight, and was used

in the 17th century to describe hardships or affliction. During the late 18th century,

stress denoted “force, pressure, strain, or strong effort”, referring primarly to an

individual or to an individual’s organs or mental powers ( Hinkle, 1973 ).

Early definitions of strain and load used in physics and engineering eventually came

to influence one concept of how stress affects individuals. Under the meaning of this

concept, external forces are seen as exerting pressure on an individual, producing

strain. Proponents of this view claim that we can measure physical strain on a

machine or bridge or any physical object.

Although this first concept looked at stress as an outside stimulus, a second concept

defines stress as a person’s response to a disturbance. In 1910, Sir William Osler

explored the idea of stress and strain causing disease when he saw a relationship

between angina pectoris and a hectic pace of life. The idea that environmental forces

could actually cause disease rather than just short-term ill effects, and that people

have a natural tendency to resist such forces, was seen in the work of Walter B.

Cannon in the 1930s ( Hinkle, 1973 ). Cannon studied the “fight-or-flight”

reaction. Because of this reaction , people and animals will choose to stay and fight or

attempt to escape when confronted by extreme danger. Cannon observed that when

his subjects experienced situations of cold, lack of oxygen, or excitement, he could

detect psychological changes such as emergency adrenaline secretions. He described

these individuals as being “under stress”.

One of the first scientific attempts to explain the process of stress-related illness was

made by Horns Selye in 1946, who described three stages an individual experiences in

stressful situations. The first stage is called “alarm reaction”, in which an initial phase

of lowered resistance is followed by countershock, during which the individual’s

defense mechanisms become active. The second stage is called “resistance”, and it is

a stage of maximum adaptation and, ideally, successful return to equilibrium for the

individual. If however, the stress continues or the defense mechanism does not work,

one will move on to a third stage. The third and last stage is called “exhaustion”, and

this stage tripped when adaptive mechanisms collapse.

Newer and more comprehensive theories of stress emphasize the interaction

between a person and his or her environment. Stress was described by researchers in

the 1950s as a “response to internal or external” processes.

It is well-known that if an individual cannot face his or her stress this is very

dangerous and it is possible to develop a disorder. Disorder which is related with

stress, is Generalized Neurotic Disorder. Also, people with stress can suffer from

panic attacks.

It is...
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