The executive's office is peppered with dots - bright green on the appointment calendar, a larger blue one under the phone cradle and a hot-orange dot on the face of the clock.
"The dots serve as triggers," explains Lynn Brallier, director of the Stress Management Center of Washington. "Whenever the person sees a dot it reminds them to take a deep breath and relax their shoulders, to guard against a build-up of stress."
A tall, comfortable woman with a warm, almost hypnotic voice, Brallier is a nurse, teacher and psychotherapist who specializes in stress and pain-management methods. "Connecting with dots" is one of the relation techniques she uses to teach people how to regulate their bodies against stress.
Stress results when the body's natural "fight or flight" reacion is activated, she says. Emotions such as worry, anger or fright pump adrenalin into the blood, increase the heart beat and cause muscles to tense. Wonderful if you have to run from a mugger, but not so great if you're plowing through a desk piled with work.
The first signs of stress are often physical problems such as low back pain, teeth-grinding, headaches, colds or stomach trouble, said Brallier. Severe stress has been linked to ulcers, heart attacks and cancer.
Certain professions are particularly stress-prone. "People whose work involves a lot of deadlines, like TV news people, or who have a life and death responsibility, like air-traffic controllers or hospital intensive-care personnel, are high stree candidates," she says. "So are people whose works shifts change often from days to night.
"Learning a relaxating response is the best way to counter the sress response," she says. "Although stress manifests itself in the body, 99 percent of it is caused by what happens in the mind."
Brallier uses biofeedback and relaxation tapes to teach deep muscle relaxation. Like a mental message, relaxation tapes can help a person learn to unlock tight muscles. The soothing, taped voice examines each tension-prone area of the body, from the scalp to each toe, giving suggestions along the way on how to relax that muscle. She also recommends yoga as another technique that teaches the mind to control the body.
When mastered, the relaxation response can be recalled during stressful moments. "I tell commuters to use red lights are relaxation-triggers," says Brallier, who also distributes her dots to affix to stress-provokers like the telephone. "But of course you can't go around putting dots on your boss' forehead."
Often stress is associated with work to the extent that some people's stomachs knot the minute they walk in the office door. Among Fortune 500 companies, meditation periods and exercise rooms are common. Some businesses even allow employes to take "stress-day" leave.
Heavy workloads and co-workers are the most common stress-provokers on the job, says Brallier. She offers these tips on dealing with stress in the work-place:
Organize your day before you start. Take 15 minutes to sit down, relax and map out the day as you want it to go.
Avoid starting prjects you will be unable to finish. Break down a large task into sections, and try to complete at least a unit of work during the day.
Talk to your boss if you feel your workload is overwhelming.A supervisor who gives you an additional task may not be aware that you're already working on a dozen others. You may be able to set priorities, putting some work aside.
Express your feeling if you are frustrated. Rather than waiting until a work situation is untenable, trying to work out a problem early on.
Learn to detach yourself from a stressful situation. Take two minutes to put the task in perspective by asking yourself, "How important is this really? Will I get fired if I don't get this done?" If the answer is yes, you have two basic choices. Either rivet all your attention on that task, relax and get the work done or cahnge jobs to a less high-pressure position.
Be assertive if a co-worker's habits bother you. Tell the person why that behavior makes the work environment unpleasant for you, and suggest talking together with your supervisor if you can't work it out together.
Concentrate on keeping your body relaxed if you are unable to change your environment, particularly if the distraction is a temporary one. Tell yourself, "this is not worth getting upset about."
For a Stress Attack
Breathe deeply, if you feel the stress is taking control. Fin your pulse and breathe out for six.
Get to a private place if you are about to scream or your heart is beating wildly. Sit or lie down with you eye closed and concentrate on taking deep abdominal breaths. If possible, bring a good friend along to help you talk out your frustrations.
Take a fantasy trip. Shut your eyes and think o a beautiful place you have visited. Recreate every color, sound and detail. Imagine yourself alone there, totally relaxed. Attitude
"People who have some kind of philosophy in which they value their ability to love other people and themselves suffer less stress attacks," says Brallier. "This quality is one of the biggest things I've noticed about people who handle stress well."
"An event in itself isn't stressful," adds Dr. Nicola Tauraso, who teaches a course on Coping With Stress at the GoTaCh Center in Fredrick, Md. "It's the way you look at it that makes something stressful. If you go to work hating your job, you're going to have a stressful day." He suggestions:
Get in front of a mirror in the morning and tell yourself the way you want to feel. You can talk yourself into feeling good.
Change the way you think about stress. Consider a potentially stressful event as a challenge, dig in and do your best. CAPTION: Picture, no caption