Much debate is taking place as to why so many in the Obama administration are leaving their jobs. If reports of 15 to 16 hour working days, seven days a week, are to be believed, then stress must be playing a large part.

It is virtually impossible to live without some stress but that isn’t necessarilty a bad thing. Stress is an important mechansim for encouraging productivity, creative thinking and a competitve edge. It encourages the body to activate resources to protect it from possible threat, known as the fight or flight response.

Unfortuneatly, today very few of us need to either fight or flee in response to stressors. These days stressors are usually work-related. Chronic work stress can produce increases in adrenaline levels, which up the risk of heart disease by causing a constriction of the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. Stress is also associated with behaviours that increase coronary artery disease – stressed out workers are far more likely to smoke and drink to much.

For any stressor, we need to be able to identify the stimulus, initiate a response, respond to an appropriate level, and then terminate the response. Failure of any of these components risks the development of stress-related pathology.

There are three broad methods used to treat stress; self-help, stress management and medication. How you percieve a stressful event is far more important than the event itself, and so altering the way a stressful event is viewed can significanlty lower the impact of stress on the body.

Stress affects every aspect of life. Harnessing these important survival mechanisms can call up potent resources that hugely improve productivity and achievements. Letting them overpower us will soon result in burnout and early death. If the Obama team members quit because of the pressures they were under, then they may well have made a very wise health-conserving move.

By Dr Christian Jessen. Published in the London Evening Standard, October 13th, 2010.

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