"Emotions play a powerful, central role in our lives and shape how we perceive the world, bias our beliefs, influence our decisions and in large measure guide how we adapt our behaviour to the physical and social environment. Studies have revealed clear changes in the patterns of activity of the autonomic nervous system, immune system, hormonal system, brain, and heart when we experience emotions such as appreciation, love, care, and compassion. Such physiological changes may help explain the observed connection between positive emotions, improved health, and increased longevity. Research also provides evidence that the heart plays a particularly important role in the generation and perception of emotion, and has contributed to the development of a new, systems-oriented model of emotion that includes the heart, together with the brain, nervous, and hormonal systems, as fundamental components of a dynamic, interactive network from which emotional experience emerges.
The heart and brain maintain a continuous two-way dialogue, with each influencing the other's functioning. It is now known that the signals the heart sends the brain can influence perception, emotional processing, and higher cognitive functions. Researchers are exploring the influence of the heart's input on brain activity, emotional perception and experience, and cognitive performance. They have shown that emotion-related changes in the heart's rhythmic activity are correlated with distinct changes in these variables. The findings also point to a link between positive emotions and improved cognitive functioning.
The study of human kinetics has also found links between positive team emotion and overall team performance in athletic activities. Studies are underway to test the transfer of this team-based emotional link to the workplace. So, our emotions affect our senses, our physiology, our teamwork and our perceptions. We can therefore conclude that emotions can affect human performance in a variety of ways with positive emotions yielding higher performance and negative emotions degrading performance. We will next look at how emotions can be managed or channeled.
Emotional coping determines how one responds to the appraised significance of events. Coping strategies are proposed maintain desirable or overturn undesirable in-focus emotion instances. Coping strategies essentially work in the reverse direction of appraisal, identifying the precursors of emotion in the causal interpretation that should be maintained or altered (i.e. beliefs, desires, intentions, and expectations).
Recognizing emotions and their effects in oneself and in others is another critical skill. We can usually tell when a coworker is distracted or emotionally disturbed for some reason. Everyone has short periods of this occasionally. We should, however, consider the issue if someone feels down frequently or for long periods. The solution is still not an easy one. Of course, a work-based discussion about performance in a sympathetic tone may also provide insight into the real problem. Managers should note that most work performance degradations by workers who are normally good performers are the result of something outside the workplace, a sick relative, marital issues, financial problems, etc. Once we accept this, we can be more open and non-judgmental in working to rectify the situation for the employee and the department.
Effect of Various Conditions on Human Behavior and Performance
Life events are times of significant emotion, distraction and drain on our minds and bodies. Marriages, house moves, births of children, deaths of loved ones, job changes, etc. are all examples of major life events. Research has shown that such events greatly increase the level of acute stress felt by the body. There are often physiological and psychological symptoms of stress in those experiencing major life events. We know that these symptoms will generally degrade human performance, so it is clear that times of major life events are also times when we should take extra care in regard to our actions and decisions. Cognitive processes comprise our mental activities. Decision-making, judgment, paying attention, complacency, certain emotional issues and learning are all cognitive processes. Complex jobs are often broken down into a task analysis, which outlines every task that is required by the job. Similarly, a cognitive task analysis can be used to examine the mental aspects of a job to include every possible mental requirement. Motor control is a combination of musculoskeletal and cognitive actions. We need our muscles and limbs to control most items, but we cannot move our limbs correctly without input from the brain. For new tasks, our motor control is quite conscious. We have to think about every move. For tasks that we are experienced, the cognitive portion of motor control becomes more autonomic. For example, when one learns to drive a car, it is necessary to think about turning the steering wheel, applying the brake, etc. Experienced drivers do this automatically by thinking about the outcome: turning, stopping, etc.
Recognizing and Managing Stress
Stress comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute stress occurs during short periods of task saturation, excitement, conflict, etc. Chronic stress is the result of longer periods of too much work, long term life changes, personal problems, etc. Acute stress is the body’s means of preparing for the fight or flight option and is perfectly normal. It is the body’s way of adjusting to its surroundings. An in-flight emergency causes acute stress. Acute stress is also called positive stress, unless it becomes debilitating. Chronic stress causes strain on various parts of the body: the brain, the heart and the nervous system. Blood pressure increases, resting heart rate increases, cholesterol increases, the stress byproduct cortisol increases, and cognitive functions suffer. In the workplace we are most concerned with chronic stress. Chronic stress and debilitating acute stress are also called negative stress. This section will concentrate on the symptoms of, and management tactics for negative stress.
Physical symptoms of stress can be caused by other illnesses, so it is important to have a medical doctor treat conditions such as ulcers, compressed disks, or other physical disorders. Remember, however, that the body and mind are not separate entities. The physical problems outlined below may result from or be exacerbated by stress:
• Sleep disturbances
• Irregular heartbeat,
• Back, shoulder or neck pain
• Asthma or shortness of breath
• Tension or migraine headaches
• Chest pain
• Upset or acid stomach, cramps
• Sweaty palms or hands
• Heartburn, gas
• irritable bowel syndrome
• Cold hands or feet
• Constipation, diarrhea
• Weight gain or loss,
• Eating disorders
• Hair loss
• Muscle tension
• High blood pressure
Like physical signs, emotional symptoms of stress such as anxiety or depression can mask conditions other than stress. It is important to find out whether they are stress-related or not. In either case, the following emotional symptoms are uncomfortable and can affect your performance at work or play, physical health, or relationships with others:
• Substance abuse
• Feeling out of control
• Memory problems
• Trouble thinking clearly
• Lack of concentration
The relational symptoms of stress and associated antisocial behavior displayed in stressful situations can cause the rapid deterioration of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers. A person under stress may manifest signs such as:
• Increased arguments
• Isolation from social activities
• Conflict with co-workers or employers
• Frequent job changes
• Road rage
• Domestic or work place violence
The causes of stress will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Stress may be linked to external factors such as:
• The state of the world, the country, or any community to which you belong
• Unpredictable events
• The environment in which you live or work
• Work itself
Stress can also come from our own:
• Irresponsible behavior
• Poor health habits
• Negative attitudes and feelings
• Unrealistic expectations
Common causes of chronic stress include:
• Poverty and financial worries
• Dysfunctional families
• Caring for a chronically-ill family member
• Feeling trapped in unhealthy relationships or career choices
• Long-term unemployment
• Personal belief systems (i.e., believing that the world is a threatening place or you that must be perfect at all times)
• Traumatic experiences
The damage to the body, mind and quality of life of stress are significant. Research tells us that 90% of illnesses are linked to stress. Studies show that long-term activation of stress symptoms can have a hazardous, even lethal effect on the body. When the signs of stress persist, one is at risk for many health problems that people often do not realize are, in large part, attributable to stress, such as:
• Substance abuse
• Heart disease
• Sexual abuse
• Hair loss
• Anorexia nervosa or malnutrition
• Tooth and gum disease
• Obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder
As if this weren't enough, stress adversely affects reproduction, sexual behavior, and growth. Stress inhibits the immune system, making one more vulnerable to colds, flu, fatigue and infections. It causes digestive problems and can even lead to suicide. For all these reasons, it is important to recognize the symptoms of stress and learn what to do about them. Recognizing stress and its causes is the first step in managing the damaging effects.
Stress management has been in the public forum extensively over recent decades. Once recognized, stress can be managed by reducing the impact of the cause of the stress. Hence stress management can be very personalized. In addition to working on the causes of stress, there are generic stress reducers which affect the physical and biochemical symptoms of stress:
1. Exercise: exercise reduces stress by helping the body to regain its balance. Use caution, however, too much exercise can increase stress levels. One should start slowly.
2. Sleep: the average person needs 8 hours of sleep per night. Few get that much. Sleep is like a bank account, in that we can make up for acute losses of sleep or sleep more if we expect longer nights in the future. Sleep also helps the body to regain its balance.
3. Meditation: several meditation techniques exist. They tend to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and, again, help the body to regain its balance.
4. Good nutrition: nutrition is often overlooked area that greatly affects health, well-being and stress. The body needs proper nutrients during times of stress, because it uses more nutrients during this period a function of the fight or flight response. Good nutrition may require supplementation with vitamins and minerals.
5. Avoid alcohol and drugs: this is good advice anyway, but particularly during times of stress. Alcohol and drugs increase free radicals in the body which increase the physical symptoms of stress.
6. Take some time off: if possible, remove yourself from the daily stresses of life. Take a vacation. Take a few days off at home, etc. Use the time to rest and relax.
7. Think optimistically: pessimists have more stress than optimists. Maybe this is why almost all people who reach the age of 100 years of more are optimists. Studies indicate a link between optimism and stress reduction.
8. Breathing exercises: deep breathing is an easy stress reliever that has numerous benefits for the body, including oxygenating the blood, which the brain, relaxing muscles and quieting the mind.
9. Visualization: imagine you achieving goals like becoming healthier and more relaxed, doing well at tasks, and handling conflict in better ways. Also, visualizing yourself doing well on tasks you’re trying to master actually functions like physical practice, so you can improve your performance as well.
10. Hypnosis or self-hypnosis: these processes have helped some to reduce stress by reducing the causes of stress. Self-hypnosis is a combination of visualization, deep breathing and meditation.
11. Massage: The sense of touch is closely linked to your state of mind and is vital to your sense of well-being.
12. Progressive muscle relaxation: By tensing and relaxing all the muscle groups in your body, you can relieve tension and feel much more relaxed in minutes, with no special training or equipment. Start by tensing all the muscles in your face, holding a tight grimace ten seconds, then completely relaxing for ten seconds. Repeat this with your neck, followed by your shoulders, etc. You can do this anywhere, and as you practice, you will find you can relax more quickly and easily, reducing tension as quickly as it starts.
13. Sex: The physical benefits of sex are numerous, and most of them work very well toward relieving stress. Sadly, many people have less sex when their stress levels are high.
14. Music: music is closely linked to memory. Bad memories are often repressed, so music will often bring out the happy feelings from prior years, provide self-confidence and improve the mood. When dealing with stress, the right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body and calm your mind."
Courtesy: Studies at ERAU
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