Stress is as much a part of the modern work world as the federal tax deductions that come out of every paycheck. • Stress and taxes. Neither one of them is going to go away, and there's nothing you can do about that fact. • But when stress becomes overwhelming, something has to give. That's what University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer realized this season when his own stress level peaked and a heart condition flared up. • Initially, Meyer, 45, was ready to quit the $4-million-a-year job and walk away. After a day's reflection, he decided on an indefinite leave of absence. • Although the job of a big-time college football coach is highly specialized, the stress that comes with it is something almost any professional can identify with. • "Numerous studies confirm that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults," said Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress. • "With respect to Urban Meyer's initial decision to resign because of his cardiac condition, there is abundant evidence linking stress to heart disease."
WHAT IS STRESS?
"Stress is a physiologic challenge on the body," said Dr. Steven Masley, president of the Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg. "It can be emotionally invoked, it can be from lack of sleep, it can be a mugger chasing you. It's a response to external stimuli."
Stress generated in the work place has its roots in our primitive "fight or flight" response, said cardiologist Dr. Vanessa Lucarella, who works with the American Heart Association.
"When you're in a situation where a boss is belittling you, the old primitive caveman would either fight that boss or flee that boss," Lucarella said.
"You become stressed when you have to sit there and take it. You don't have the mechanics to handle this hostility factor."
Also contributing to a worker's stress level are the specific demands of a particular job. "Most stressful jobs" lists are generally unreliable, said Rosch of the American Institute of Stress.
But a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Health magazine provides a fairly accurate picture of the most stressful jobs in America:
1. Inner-city high school teacher2. Police officer3. Miner4.. Air-traffic controller5. Medical intern6. Stockbroker7. Journalist8. Customer service worker9. Secretary10. Waiter
Other high-stress jobs often mentioned on other lists include surgeon, airline pilot, real estate agent and advertising account executive.
As for college football coach? With the pressures of recruiting, managing and, of course, winning, that one would no doubt make the list if only there were more of them.
good stress vs. bad stress
But without stress — or you might call it "drive'' — it wouldn't be possible to perform at a high level in a demanding profession.
"As far as drive goes, it needs to be internal," said Dr. Asher Gorelik, medical director at BayCare Behavioral Health Services.
"People who are successful and do the best with these kinds of jobs and enjoy them the most are those who are motivated to tackle the challenge. They find the job invigorating."
If the stress is rewarding — imagine the adrenaline rush of meeting a big deadline or closing a complex deal — it can be a positive part of the work experience. But if the stress begins to cause physical symptoms — Gator fans will not soon forget Coach Meyer's trip to the hospital for chest pains — it's a problem.
"Increased stress increases productivity up to a point, after which things go downhill rapidly," Rosch said. "That point differs for each of us and you have to find the level that allows you to function optimally."
Experts agree that the best remedy for someone who is overstressed is simple lifestyle modifications.
"I don't think there's just one thing that works by itself," said Masley, who also is medical director of the Ten Years Younger program he developed. His book of the same title provides a full description of the lifestyle program he recommends.
"There are four or five things that work well together," Masley said.
• Adequate sleep
• Regular exercise
• Avoiding or cutting back on caffeine and alcohol
• Adding a calming or relaxing element to your daily routine
"It could be meditation, fishing, reading," said Masley, who blows off steam with daily workouts at the St. Anthony's fitness center at Carillon, where his program is based.
"You need something where you can take a deep breath, sigh and say . . . 'Okay.' It has to be something that makes you feel peaceful at least 20 minutes a day.''
Because stress affects people in different ways, Rosch agrees there's no one-size-fits-all stress-reduction strategy.
"Jogging, yoga, listening to music, etc., are fine for some but prove dull, boring and stressful when arbitrarily imposed on others," he said.
In other words, finding your bliss is an entirely personal quest.
For Gorelik, it's camping with friends at a state park. For Lucarella, it's swimming. "I don't feel anything" as the laps add up, she said. "I just count.''
Whether you're a physician, an inner-city high school teacher, a police officer — or a college football coach — it's essential to identify when you're getting stressed, and find a constructive way to deal with it.
Because few of us can afford to walk away from the game — even temporarily.
Logan D. Mabe is a St. Petersburg teacher (at an inner-city middle school) and writer who likes to go fishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.