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Stress class names symptoms, suggests solutions

By Becki Dobyns HQUSACE News Briefs

A castle imploding on itself, a sinking lifeboat, and a spinning compass were some of the stress-related images drawn by groups of headquarters employees at a recent stress workshop. The drawing exercise helped attendees express their frustration in a controlled environment. "You need to create a safe haven for yourself," said psychologist Mark Gorkin, who conducted the class, "you need to be able to vent your frustration in a place where you won't suffer repercussions."

Gorkin, who calls himself the "Stress Doc," uses humor often in the form of rap songs he calls "shrink rap," to spread his message. He is currently publishing two stress-related books which are compilations of former articles and radio shows.

If you feel you work for what Gorkin calls "The Institute of the Compassion-Impaired, " you should be paying attention to your stress barometer. Gorkin says brain, body and behavior constitute the 3-B barometer for stress. For instance, if your brain is getting confused and forgetful, if your body is suffering headaches, backaches and stomach knots, and if your behavior shows too much or too little sleep, you may be suffering from stress. Burnout is the eventual result of too much stress without relief. It comes from not saying no -- from bravely shouldering too many problems and responsibilities. "Burnout is not for wimps," said Gorkin. "It is the strong, determined people who keep taking on problems until they reach burnout. Other people walk away. Burnout is less a sign of failure than that you gave yourself away."

Gorkin said there are four phases to burnout.

The first is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

The second phase is shame and doubt. People approach new projects with trepidation and self-doubt. 'they feel like an incapable imposter - that they're simply not adequate to do the job.

The third phase is cynicism and callousness. People grow hard, protective armor because they feel used up. Unfortunately, when they harden their attitudes they also harden their arteries and suffer a range of cardiovascular problems, Gorkin said.

The last burnout phase is the feeling of failure, helplessness and crisis. It's a total wear-down of emotional defenses, accompanied by confusion and disorientation and is often characterized by flashbacks of traumatic events from the past.

A stress study conducted by AT&T during a time of tremendous upheaval showed that some people held up well during the turmoil, while others fell apart, Gorkin said. The study found four factors -- the four "C's" -- which contributed to psychological hardiness:

1. A sense of Commitment. In other words, have a life apart from work, a balanced life with commitments elsewhere.

2. A realistic sense of Control. Realize what you can control and what you can't -- traffic, for instance.

3. A sense of the Change process. Have the ability to let go and accept new ways of doing business.

4. Conditioning. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, bicycling or dance, 3-5 times a week.

Gorkin said the signs of stress seemed to be increasing in the headquarters judging solely by the significant rise in attendance compared to a stress class held a year ago. Health Nurse Tracy Marcalus said she started noticing an increase in the physical manifestations of stress about nine months ago. A similar stress workshop for the headquarters' senior leaders may be offered soon, according to Ann Marie Chapman, chief of Labor and Employee Relations Division in Human Resources.