Stress is unhealthy in the long term and can’t be avoided – but we can control how we deal with it because it starts in the brain. Do you know your own stress intensifiers? The stress test will help you.
You miss your train, make a mistake at work, your boss springs a new duty on you – do such situations or similar ones stress you out? Why does your colleague remain calm, whereas you would prefer to make yourself scarce? Stress starts in the brain. The way in which you and I assess a situation in our minds is very subjective and depends on our own attitudes, experiences and motives. We subconsciously assess the importance of daily occurrences and requirements based on our inner target values and standards. If you are familiar with your negative thought patterns, you can do something about them. Test yourself now to identify your personal stress intensifiers.
Stress intensifiers are normal human motives which drive all of us. They are based on individually learnt life strategies. They only become unhealthy if they occur in excessive form. The recommended stress test is based on Prof. Dr. Gert Kaluza’s model of the five stress intensifiers. The German psychotherapist identified the following areas:
If one or even several of these motives becomes a compulsive mindset, we are harming ourselves. This is because anyone who is always stressed is under a lot of pressure and loses a healthy work-life balance. This damages our health in the long term: cardiovascular disease, tension, reduced brain capacity, gastrointestinal problems, a weak immune system and a tendency for an unhealthy lifestyle.
Our health consultation advisors are on hand to give you recommendations on dealing with stress in a healthy way that are tailored to your situation.
Did you get more than five points for any stress intensifier in the stress test? These values require your attention. Read the explanations and tips on them.
Do you always want to do everything correctly? Perfectionism is based on an excessive need for achievement and the desire for success and recognition. It is associated with a great fear of failure, non-success and criticism. Striving for achievement is in principle a positive thing. Maximum precision and perfection are decisive for certain areas of responsibility – but watch out if the perfectionistic striving for achievement is transferred to all professional duties or private activities. This leads to placing excessive demands on yourself and can even result in total exhaustion.
Tip: set yourself realistic standards. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Beneficial attitude: I am allowed to make mistakes too.
Are you one of those people who want to be liked by everyone, meet their requests and never say no? Behind this stress intensifier lies the need for attachment: the desire to be accepted and belong. Disapproval, criticism and rejection weigh heavily on the mind. The person affected wants to please everyone and sacrifices themselves. However, anyone who permanently puts their own needs last will have a burnout.
Tip: your own interests and opinions are important. Don’t bend over backwards to please others. Learn to say no.
“It won’t work without me!” is a typical indication of this stress intensifier which is characterised by the desire for personal independence and self-determination. Situations in which a dependence on others and your own neediness and weaknesses are experienced feel threatening to people who have a great need for independence. They prefer to work alone and keep their worries and fears to themselves. They try to maintain an image of being strong and independent under any circumstances. Such behaviour leads to them placing excessive demands on themselves and can even result in exhaustion. Striving for independence, which in itself is a healthy thing, does not increase stress levels but rather overdoing it does.
Tip: be open and authentic. Accepting help and showing your feelings are not weaknesses.
This inner motivation is based on the desire for certainty and control over your own life. This results in a fear of losing control and making wrong decisions as well as risk aversion. These people have trouble delegating. They tend to constantly worry about possible risks and dangers; it takes them a lot of time and energy to make decisions – for fear of missing potential risks. This results in them placing excessive demands on themselves and suffering a burnout.
Tip: accept that there is no such thing as absolute certainty. A balance is needed by having the courage to take calculated risks by letting go and trusting others. Beneficial attitude: I am allowed to let go.
Behind this stress intensifier lies the desire for personal well-being and an easy life. People affected are prone to stress in situations which could result in unpleasant duties, effort or frustration. They therefore avoid such situations by putting them off and telling themselves they are helpless. People with this stress intensifier learnt from an early age that they cannot trust their own skills and that it is better if they protect themselves against effort and difficulties. They develop an excessively protective attitude. However, since nobody can shirk all requirements, chronic stress reactions with the negative health consequences are unavoidable.
Tip: focus on your strengths, successes and resources. Work on developing beneficial thought patterns.
(from: Kaluza, G.: Stressbewältigung, 2009, publisher: Springer-Verlag)
Dr Robert C. Keller is the Managing Director of the Berne-based Swiss Heart Foundation. He has long-standing experience in the field of cardiovascular diseases and heads up the areas of research and prevention at the foundation. Dr Keller provided the editorial team with advice.