How Stress Impacts Our Life And Productivity
In order to gain a better picture of my future career path, I have participated in the internship program organized by my Department last year and worked as an Intern at a renowned accounting firm for one semester. During that internship, I was fortunate enough to have experienced firsthand information, various sides of what goes into a project as well as methodologies for developing a well-designed project. However, it was definitely a shock for a newcomer to deal with numerous tasks at the same time. Therefore, stress came one after another in succession. In this essay, sources of stress, reasons beyond the existence of stress as well as ways to cope with stress will be explained and illustrated with my own experience. Most of the stress is generally arisen from environmental sources and psychological sources respectively.
Firstly, environmental stressors refer to something that causes stress that arose from an individual’s daily life and surroundings. During my internship, stress caused by a heavy workload and constant work-life imbalance have weighted me down. Reflecting back to the first month of work, I was overwhelmed by the work and responsibilities that were placed on me. As everything was completely new and I have never learnt in classes, I took the time to get familiar with the working techniques and procedures. Additionally, in order to facilitate the working process, I was asked to get familiarized with specific software and programs that used by certified professionals within a short period, which was also one of the challenges faced by me. Furthermore, during the peak season, which started in February, my work was heavier loaded and eventually led to an increase in occupational stress. Besides, with the objective to meet the tight deadlines and achieve profound outcomes, it was not uncommon to work on holidays, let alone working overtime on weekdays.
Second, psychological stressors represent factors that cause stress due to an individual’s thoughts and feelings. During my internship, I often suffered from pressure, because I had a high self-expectation which I hope to behave as a helpful and supportive member of the team. Hence, I often felt frustrated especially when I made mistakes or failed to finish the task given by the due date. For instance, I have underestimated the amount of time required for me to finish a whole set of tax report, because I did not realize the complexity of the project. Eventually, I asked my colleagues for help to finish it within a limited time. Reasons beyond stress existence of an individual can differentiate from one another, yet it can be briefly explained by Locus of Control as well as Type A and Type B personalities.
Refer to Seaward (2012), Locus of Control is a sense of who or what is in control of one’s life, and people can fall along the continuum of external and internal Locus of Control. For stress caused by the heavy workload and constant work-life imbalance, I was more likely to fall on the side of external Locus of Control. As it was known that accountants are busy especially during peak seasons, and thus working for long hours are the norm. With a rising number and complexity of projects, I tended to acquiesce rather than seeking alternatives. On the other hand, Type A and Type B behavior have influenced my stress level as well. According to Smith and Bryant (2012), Type A and Type B personality theory describes two contrasting personality types. As a typical Type A person, I thought that a capable intern should get every task done effectively and efficiently. Consequently, I used to suffer from a sense of time urgency, hence always working rapidly and tried to do things simultaneously, so as to fulfill the expectations of my supervisor. As a result, stress started to build and accumulate gradually. High stress would sometimes lead to a lack of interest and motivation, these have affected my behavior and resulted in a poor performance at work. This phenomenon is justified by The Yerkes-Dodson Curve.
Refer to Yerkes and Dodson (1908), a moderate level of stress can lead to optimal performance while both low and high stress can negatively affect one’s performance. In the first week of my internship, I spent most of my time on doing the grunt work, which was relatively simple and repetitive. I still had much spare time and only a low level of stress was produced. In the subsequent months, my workload increased and stress raised as well, I was energetic and motivated to face new challenges every day. Consequently, I have achieved the optimal performance. Nevertheless, my stress level kept rising afterwards and eventually led to a high level of stress. Owing to the heightened distress, I lost enthusiasm and my body finally burnt out, that resulted in poor performance. Apart from affecting one’s performance, stress influences people physically and mentally. Throughout the internship, I often suffered from headache during the daytime, and found it difficult to fall asleep at night. As a result, my work performance worsened because of insufficient rest and lastly trapped in a vicious cycle.
When people perceive under threats, a fight-or-flight response would occur automatically due to the release of hormones. Refer to Cannon (1932), a series of reactions happening in the body helps us to deal with frightening situations. When I encountered stress, I felt an increase in my heartbeat as well as the respiration rate. Also, my face turned flushed when I felt nervous. Although stress is unavoidable, there are still methods to minimize them. For me, I relieved my stress in two ways. First, I sought social support from my coworkers and family. For example, I told my job coach, Karie, who is a senior staff in my team about my thoughts and stress caused by the heavy workload. In addition, I expressed the difficulties in maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle to her, the above have created a significant influence on my stress level. Correspondingly, Karie gave me a pep talk as well as offered me with informational support, such as personal advice and suggestions for dealing with the heavy workload. For instance, Karie shared her experience and methods of handling various tasks simultaneously. Consequently, I have learnt to be multi-tasking and set up a detailed work schedule before starting any projects. These have enhanced my time management skills, and later I could better allocate my time to different jobs. Second, my family provided an emotional support to me, they showed their understanding and caring to me. For example, when I had a grumble about my work, my parents would listen to me and encouraged me once I felt frustrated. In addition, my mum would prepare a “fruit box” for me every morning, so I could have sufficient nutrients at work. From their actions, I knew that I was valued and motivated to face new challenges again.
Third, I have adjusted my vision in order to alleviate my stress as well. I used to observe matters with tunnel vision, I focused on the mistakes that I have made rather than the whole picture of the task. However, I realized that when I zoomed out to a larger view, mistakes not only indicated a stain on my work, but also provided me with a room for improvement. Take an aforementioned case as an example, in which I could not finish the tax report on time due to my poor time management skills. On the other side, it was a valuable lesson which enabled me to better prioritize and map out my schedule. More important point is to make sure that I will not make the same fault again. By switching my vision, I get improved and did better in the later period. Going through the internship have taught me so much regarding stress management, different abilities have grown stronger when I complete each project.
All in all, there is no doubt that people are constantly surrounded by stress, which may bring influential impacts to our daily life, some individuals may even worse off by suffering from both physical and mental illness. Nonetheless, stress could undeniably make people more productive in certain extent. Therefore, what I have learnt was, instead of avoiding stress, we should indeed seek a balance in our stress level in order to obtain an optimal outcome. When we are able to manage our stress in a correct way, it could indeed be one of the pivotal element of success.
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