The stress epidemic

Stress is epidemic in the western world. Over two-thirds of office visits to physicians are for stress related illness. Stress is a major contributing factor either directly or indirectly, to coronary artery disease, cancer, respiratory disorders, accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide; the six leading causes of death in the United States. Stress aggravates other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, herpes, mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and family discord and violence.

The stress epidemic is an extremely costly one. The medical costs alone have been estimated in the United States at well over 1 Billion dollars per year. Stress costs industry approximately 150 billion dollars per year in increased health insurance outlays, burn-out, absenteeism, reduced productivity, costly mistakes in the office and on the shop floor, poor morale, high employee turnover, as well as family, alcohol and drug related problems.

Stress: the silent killer

Stress is a state of tension that is created when a person responds to the demands and pressures that come from work, family and other external sources, as well as those that are internally generated from self imposed demands, obligations and self-criticism.

Stress is both additive and cumulative. It adds up over time until a state of crisis is reached and symptoms appear. These symptoms may manifest themselves psychologically as irritability, anxiety, impaired concentration, mental confusion, poor judgment, frustration and anger. They may appear as physical symptoms. Common physical symptoms of stress include: muscle tension, headaches, low back pain, insomnia and high blood pressure. Untreated, these symptoms may lead to physical illness and sometimes death.

Model of stress

Stress busters:

Thoughts to reduce your work stress

Stress and worry on the job can be harmful! They cause physical and emotional problems that may damage both your health and your performance. Furthermore, stress grows! Excessive worry is a major element in the vicious cycle of tension: the physical sensations of stress--tense muscles, headaches, insomnia and so forth--lead to catastrophic; stress-building thoughts, which in turn aggravate unpleasant physical feelings, and so on up the tension cycle. Soon, just the thought of preparing an assignment or meeting a deadline triggers all the symptoms of stress, along with an overwhelming wish to avoid tasks.

But you can learn to avoid your "stress-building" thoughts, and to replace them with alternative "stress-busting" thoughts!

When you are under stress, what messages are you sending yourself? Are they alarming or reassuring? You can decrease your stress by learning to talk to yourself in a reassuring way. This is what "stress-busting" is about--getting your thoughts back on a reassuring track.

Stress-busting thoughts come from what we call the "Rational You." The Rational You thinks its way through life's events, evaluating the degree of safety versus danger involved. What happens to the Rational You in a stressful situation? It gets pushed aside by stress building thoughts which disrupt concentration and productivity at work.

Stress-building beliefs


  • Do you feel a constant pressure to achieve?
  • Do you criticize yourself when you're not perfect?
  • Do you feel you haven't done enough no matter how hard you try?
  • Do you give up pleasure in order to be the best in everything you do?


  • Do you have to be perfectly in control at all times?
  • Do you worry about how you appear to others when you are nervous?
  • Do you feel that any lack of control is a sign of weakness or failure?
  • Are you uncomfortable delegating projects to others?

People pleasing

  • Does your self-esteem depend on everyone else's opinion of you?
  • Do you sometimes avoid assignments because you're afraid of disappointing your boss?
  • Are you better at caring for others than caring for yourself?
  • Do you keep most negative feelings inside to avoid displeasing others?


  • Do you feel you can never do as good a job as other people?
  • Do you feel your judgment is poor?
  • Do you feel you lack common sense?
  • Do you feel like an impostor when told your work is good?

Yes answers indicate potential road blocks to a stress-free work life. Challenge these beliefs. Experiment. Try acting in a way that is opposite to your usual behavior. Then, evaluate the results. For example, if you feel overburdened because of a need to control, delegate a task and observe the consequences.

Become aware of how your stress-building beliefs affect your behavior. Replace them with more realistic and less stressful thoughts.

Helpful techniques

Keep a record of stressful situations and rate the actual level of stress from O (most relaxed) to 10 (most stressed). Start to monitor your stress on a "Practice Journal" worksheet before, during and after stressful events or situations. As you begin to observe your levels of stress, you will notice that these levels are not constant. You will find that stress levels increase when you are concentrating on your most alarming thoughts and bodily reactions, but stress levels fall when your attention turns away from these areas. This will show you that one way to reduce the level of stress in your life is to actively turn away from negative "stress building" thoughts and to concentrate on positive stress busting ways of thinking.

Combating negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones takes practice, but the results are worth it. Review the facts. What is your evidence? Is there another way to view the situation? If not, what is the worst thing that could happen? You may have been concentrating on the worst possible, but by no means the most likely, outcome.

Stress builders and stress busters

1. Stress builder:

"I'll never get this project in on time."

Stress buster:

"If I stay focused and take it one step at a time, I'll make steady progress."

2. Stress builder:

"My supervisor didn't say good morning. He's probably displeased with my work, and I'll get a bad evaluation."

Stress buster:

"I'm jumping to conclusions. My supervisor may have been in a bad mood. So far all my evaluations have been positive, so unless I get some negative feedback, I'll assume my supervisor is pleased with my work."

3. Stress builder:

"I can't get my mistake on page 53 out of my mind. The paper is ruined. I have disappointed everyone."

Stress buster

"No one is perfect. I did my best. I'm overreacting to one mistake when the overall report is fine."

Add Stress Busters to your work life. Your ability to handle difficult challenges in the workplace will improve. And the benefits will transfer over into other areas of your life as well.

-Shirley Babior, LCSW and Carol Goldman, LICSW.
Portions of this article are taken from "Overcoming Panic Attacks".

Recommended readings

We recommend the following books as tools to help cope with stress. Some of these books are available to be checked out at the Cole Library or the Counseling Resource Library.

  • "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Stress." By Jeff Davidson. Alpha Books, 1997. Information about stress and strategies for coping with stress in several different life areas.
  • "The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook." By Martha Davis, Ph.D., Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, M.S.W., and Matthew McKay, Ph.D. New Harbinger Publications, 1995. Useful chapters to help you manage stress using a variety of strategies.