Work/Life Connections
September 27, 2011

It is natural for organisms in nature to gravitate toward homeostasis or equilibrium. Change, whether positive or negative, requires us to adapt, adopt, alter or accept. Change is inevitable. In a healthcare environment, change represents responses to changes in the marketplace, to economic pressures and to external forces. It is not a choice. It is necessary for survival.

In the 1967 work on stress management by researchers Holmes and Rahe, "change" (as a life stressor) was identified as a major contributor to physical illness. Stress is not an external force that is done to us. It is our response to a given stressor (a person, situation or circumstance). It is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Our bodies (and minds) are like a fine-stringed instrument. If there is too much stress on the strings they snap. If there is too little stress, all you hear is a thud. It is the right amount of stress that allows us to be our most productive and to make the instrument play its best musical tones.

Overall there are several categories of stressors that can cause us mental stress.

  1. Unique Stressors: Those that require adaptations, whether it is positive (eu-stress) or negative (dis-stress). Moving, marriage, a new job, the birth of a child, divorce, and other changes are stressful. Illness, loss of a job, and relationship problems stimulate our biochemical reactions.
  2. Developmental Stressors: Learning new things and personal growth are positive, yet they may serve as stressors. Threats to our values, beliefs, well-being, or personal and financial security, evoke a stress response. Unrealized expectations cause us to feel tense, anxious, and pressured.
  3. Daily Routine Stressors: Our lives are filled with deadlines, expectations and the daily stressors of just getting up and getting to work. Parenting, family obligations and maintaining our daily life routine provide regular stressors as well.

Change can represent opportunity. It can stimulate us to consider different ways of dealing with our challenges. Learning to approach change as an exhilarating and invigorating experience requires us to adopt a different attitude. On the other hand, feeling a of loss of control makes us feel helpless and vulnerable. Although facing the unknown can precipitate anxiety and fear, we need to recognize change as the "passage from potentiality to actuality" (Aristotle). It is normal to grieve for the old ways and to miss the familiar. As with many things in life, new adventures may yield even better possibilities.

The stress management techniques that help us deal with change have to do with adjusting our attitudes to be willing to consider change as a potential for growth; if not to embrace the change itself, at least not to oppose it. The process of change can be one of adventure for those who can handle the uncertainty that goes with it.

Keywords: Change, Stress, Coping