17 September 2021
In a workshop themed, ” Stress management at the workplace”, staff of the Africa University Jokomo Yamada Library were taught about stress, the different forms that it comes in and how to deal with the negative side effects that can come with it when left ignored. Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.
Led by university counsellor Mr. Chiuswa, this is the first in a series of workshops that shall be delivered to all units and departments of the university as the semester progresses . Attended by Librarian Dr. Rosemary Maturure and all the members of her staff along with facilitators from the Dean of Students Department , the event was a concerted effort to teach members of the unit about mental health at the workplace.
One of the main objectives of the initiative was to give an appreciation and understanding of stress which is often overlooked or internalized especially among male workers where it is deemed a right of passage or a normal part of masculinity which must therefore not be a cause of concern or urge one suffering from it to seek help. Why this is a concerning trend not only among men but many Africans both young and old, is that unresolved or untreated stress can manifest in medical conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Socially, mood swings, irritability and emotional outbursts that can be a side effect of stress in persons not naturally predisposed to such traits can fracture and strain work, spousal and family relationships.
Among younger age groups, harmful mechanisms for dealing with stress can magnify the problem with some resorting to alcohol and drug abuse. Incidences of suicide are also higher among young adults who can fall into deep depression and feel trapped in their situations. In some Asian countries for instance where the 996 work culture (9 am – 9 pm, 6 days a week) is pervasive, death from overwork and suicidal ideation from not feeling good enough or working hard enough crushes individuals mentally and emotionally.
Counsellor Chiuswa said,
” Our ambition in hosting these workshops is to make our workplaces spaces of happiness, productivity, emotional well- being and where people feel a sense of self worth and accomplishment. Our workplaces are where we spend the majority of our time as adults so if these become places that we dread and where we are miserable, the whole life is put under strain.”
With the purpose of getting staff to open up and discuss their feelings freely and readily, staff shared what their perceptions of stress were with the overarching consensus being that its is a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope whether stemming from over work, financial concerns, workplace conflict, fear of redundancy or inadequacy.
Mr. Chiuswa went on to highlight that stress has become a silent pandemic in Zimbabwe and Africa emphasizing that staff need to empower themselves to be able to identify those forms of stress that are harmful and what they can do about it.
” Not all stress is bad. There is actually such a thing as good stress that can motivate you to work harder and to meet deadlines. That is essentially the fight or flight response that has naturally been ingrained in us since early man where that instinct ensured survival from wild animals and starvation. It now becomes bad when you feel you are in the fight or flight mode constantly and this is caused by chronic stress which is the kind of bad stress that we are talking about today. Chronic stress then grows on to become debilitating stress where you are incapable of functioning, or sleeping, of performing daily tasks and you become incapacitated.”
Solutions to managing stress effectively and preventing it from becoming chronic or debilitating were proffered which included developing and nurturing networks where one feels emotionally safe to share their problems , hopes and fears. Engaging in activities and exercise which can uplift and and enhance self esteem in some people. Learn techniques on how to resolve or de- escalate conflict. Challenging negative thoughts and emotions with approaching problems from a different perspective that is solution- oriented to feel empowered. And to finally seek professional help if trying to cope with stress becomes too much and one feels alone and isolated.