Monitoring stress levels


Niki Scott is taking a break this week. This column originally appeared July 4, 1991. She will be back next week.

A Chicago executive wrote to confess, "Although I seem to be able to spot a too-high stress level in one of my employees, when my boss called me in this week and said he was worried about my stress level, I was flabbergasted!

"I seem to know the questions to ask other people about the stress-causers in their lives, but I'm clearly missing some of the clues in my own life. What should I be asking myself?"

Here are some of the basic questions all of us need to ask ourselves regularly in order to monitor our own stress levels:

* Do I have the training, experience, education and skills I need to do my job well? People who constantly feel as if they have to run harder than the rest of the pack just to stay even almost always suffer from a high level of stress.

* Do I work in an atmosphere that's usually friendly, cooperative, organized and productive? Do I trust my boss even if I don't always like her? What about my co-workers? Are they mature, trustworthy, willing to pull their share of the load?

* Do I often feel as if I'm under the gun, that I have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it -- or do it right?

* Do I often worry that I'll be replaced by someone who's younger, more talented, better educated, harder-working, of a different race or sex?

* Do I often feel as if I have no say in decisions that affect my work? Remember: High-level executives with enormous decision-making responsibilities aren't nearly as likely to suffer from high levels of stress as people who feel as if they have little or no decision-making powers.

* Does my company treat its employees fairly and compassionately? Do I feel as if my boss(es) would be on my side if I ran into personal or professional difficulties?

* Do I have some control over my environment at work -- furniture, temperature, smoking policies, decor, etc.? We all have to adapt to less-than-perfect environments, but if our surroundings feel hostile or unhealthy most of the time, our stress levels are bound to go up.

* Am I unsure about how I'm doing at work? Lack of positive feedback -- or any feedback at all -- is the No. 1 complaint I receive from employees on every level of the corporate ladder.

If the answers to these questions haven't given you good clues about how high your own stress level is, you might ask yourself these 12 questions, as well. If you answer "yes" to more than three, chances are your stress level is higher than it should be.

Do I have trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep? Is it harder and harder for me to get up in the morning? Do I sometimes want to spend whole days in bed even though there's no physical reason?

Have I recently gained or lost more than five pounds -- without trying? Am I drinking too much alcohol? Smoking more cigarettes than usual? Taking mood-altering drugs of any kind? Watching hours of television or VCR movies each evening?

Do I often suffer from indigestion, heartburn, unexplained headaches, backaches, stiff necks or other aches and pains that may be psychosomatic?

Finally, do I often feel irritable, moody, depressed or emotionally unpredictable? Have my relationships with family, friends, neighbors, bosses and/or co-workers seemed strained lately? Do I often find myself apologizing for my words and/or behavior toward the people in my life?

Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.

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