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Why is everyone under so much stress?
Stress and stress-related problems were considered epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, and the start of the 21st Century has only seen the trend accelerate.  The statistics beg the question: Why has modern life become so stressful? 

Of course, stress is a natural response that helped our ancestors survive and prosper. For most of out history, the fight-or-flight responses triggered by stress were essential. When confronted by danger, the stress mechanism boosted blood pressure as well as blood sugar, and sent an increased blood flow to the brain to enhance our decision-making powers. Our muscle strength was boosted by an outpouring of adrenaline to give us more strength to fight off enemies. And under stress, blood coaulated more quickly to prevent us from hemorrhaging after an injury.

The problem is that today, almost all of our stress stems from psychological threats, not physical ones. As a result, the body's natural responses do us more harm than good. That's why, if repeated on a daily basis, stress can lead to high blood pressure, fatigue, muscle soreness and even depression.

How bad has stress become? A 1996 survey by Prevention Magazine found that 75 percent of Americans felt they were under "great stress" one day a week, and more that 30 percent said they were under stress twice a week.

And here's a startling statistic: An estimated 75 to 90 percent of all visits to a primary care physician are thought to be stress related. This is obviously a problem that must be dealt with if Americans are to live more comfortable, satisfying lives in the coming decades.


Job stress: problems and solutions
The workplace is the major source of stress today, a fact that is backed up by survey after survey. A Gallop Poll taken in 2000 found that 80 percent of workers feel at least some stress on the job, and a quarter of them have felt so stressed that they've felt like screaming. Ten percent said they felt threatened by a potentially violent co-worker.

Almost one out of five workers (18 percent) reported that they had been threatened or experienced verbal intimidation at some point during the past year.

One of the main reasons for workplace stress is an increasing workload.  According to government statistics, the average workweek has jumped to 47 hours, and one out of five people work 49 hours. That's more hours than any other industrialized country. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Japanese were winning the world title as hardest workers, but that distinction has since shifted to the United States.

Americans put in the equivalent of an extra 40-hour workweek in 2000 compared with 1990. To put it into perspective, a survey taken in 2001 revealed that 40 percent of workers agreed with the statement that their job was "most like a real Survivor program."

Stress, of course, impacts the bottom line for businesses as well as individuals and families. The number of workers who called in sick because of stress reportedly increased 300 percent from 1996 to 2000. And with the economic downturn that began in 2001, and the uncertain job market, the problem of stress was poised to increase.

What kinds of physical problems has this trend unleashed? Things like back pain (30 percent), headaches (13 percent), muscle pain (17 percent) and fatigue (20 percent). But for business owners, the repercussions are equally unsettling. Experts say stress has a direct effect on absenteeism, accident
rates, productivity declines, turnover and workers' compensation payouts.

It's important to note that stress means different things to different people. Some workers, for example, thrive under deadline pressure and the demand of juggling multiple projects. The ability to be creative and make decisions is more important that the amount of work they are required to produce. While they may shun what they consider to be boring, routine tasks, others relish the comfort of repitition, such as assembly line work. Isolation can also be a problem: Many people crave human contact on the job.

Eliminating stress is not possible for most people. Changing jobs and engaging in more stimulating work may help, but the real key is learning how to manage your stress. Remember that it's not so much what goes on around you, but how you react to events. Avoid being a perfectionist, or feeling that you have to be in control at all times. If you have multiple projects to complete, focus on one at a time rather than jumping from one to another, which can create a feeling of being overwhelmed.

If the load seems overwhelming, consider seeing a mental health professional to help you learn how to better deal with your stress. Either way, getting a handle on it should be a top priority and away to make your life more fulfilling.


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