April is Stress Awareness Month

Relax. Stress Awareness Day is Still a Week Away

For the 18th consecutive year, April 2010 has been designated Stress Awareness Month. During this thirty-day period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country are joining forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. April 16 -- not coincidentally, the day after income taxes are due in the United States -- is National Stress Awareness Day.

Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (http://www.stresscure.com), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month is a national, cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions about stress that are prevalent in society.

It's probably no surprise (not to readers of OH&S, anyway), but one of the major causes of stress in human life is work/job related. In fact, according to Northwestern National Life, one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, contributing to such unpopular side effects as headaches, sleep disturbance, difficulty in concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, low morale, and general life dissatisfaction. The St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. has found that problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other life stressor -- more even than financial or family problems.

Because this is so, and in the interest of alleviating this sad and damaging aspect of American life, NIOSH years ago put together a free booklet called "STRESS . . . At Work," and now seems a good time to remind people of its existence.

"Fortunately, research on job stress has greatly expanded in recent years," the NIOSH authors say. "But in spite of this attention, confusion remains about the causes, effects, and prevention of job stress. This booklet summarizes what is known about job stress and what can be done about it." In its examination of the causes and scope of stress in the American workplace, the agency delineates its approach to the problem and throughout offers tips from expert sources such as American Psychologist, which offers the following suggestions for employers on "How to Change the Organization to Prevent Job Stress":

  • Ensure that the workload is in line with workers' capabilities and resources.
  • Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  • Clearly define workers' roles and responsibilities.
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications-reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

"Although it is not possible to give a universal prescription for preventing stress at work, it is possible to offer guidelines on the process of stress prevention in organizations," NIOSH says. "In all situations, the process for stress prevention programs involves three distinct steps: problem identification, intervention, and evaluation." The booklet outlines these steps and notes that workplaces interested in instituting a stress prevention program should, at a minimum, include the following:

  • Build general awareness about job stress (causes, costs, and control)
  • Secure top management commitment and support for the program
  • Incorporate employee input and involvement in all phases of the program
  • Establish the technical capacity to conduct the program (e.g., specialized training for in-house staff or use of job stress consultants)

To read or download the booklet (NIOSH Publication No. 99-101), go to www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/.

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