Val Leveson speaks to three experts with different ways of helping people to deal with work-related stress

Key Points:

Stress is a word bandied about the workplace so often it becomes meaningless.

What is stress? And when is it a problem?

Stress is not all bad, says Dr Kathryn Owler of Joyworkz. "It's something that has had a bad rap and is seen as quite negative. In reality it's a normal part of the human condition.

"Everyone needs stress to be healthy and alert and to perform well."

Owler says stress is good for the short term. "We need stress and we need to rest and play. If we get to relax, then stress is not a problem."

She explains that things happen physiologically when adrenalin pumps through the body. "This is fine in the short term but the body needs to return to the relaxed state. If it does not, and the stress is continuous, it can lead to serious health problems."

The body needs to recover from extensive stimulation, even if that stimulation is positive. Processing time is needed.

Owler says you know that stress is a problem when you're suffering from indigestion, headaches and feeling unable to cope. Her advice is to take positive action.

"Do something to take back your sense of control. Have a sense of balance. Do something creative."

Joyworkz supplies workshops for companies. "We're about enhancing the quality of life and work. We often talk to our clients about resting and digesting.

"Taking breaks is important. We talk about what happens physically if you don't. Eating at your desk can be very bad for digestion."

Another method for relaxation is laughter. "We encourage laughter. It's an amazing process and amazing things happen. When you laugh you release endorphins and that improves alertness, reduces blood pressure and can help strengthen immunity."

The Joyworkz workshops average six to 20 people. "We talk about the issues in a particular workshop and each company can pick from various modules.

"Our core modules deal with humour and optimism. We want to help create a more fun environment."

On the company's website Joyworkz.co.nz says its approach is about:

* Prevention: We intend to be part of the fence at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance at the bottom.

* Incremental change: A series of small changes can have a significant impact in the longer term.

* Varied range of solutions: Research supports a multiple modification intervention approach to DPI (discomfort pain and injury), OOS (occupational overuse syndrome) and stress prevention.

Auckland's Dr Stress John McEwan, who does one-to-one consultations with people, consults with companies on the HSE Act on stress-related problems and conducts seminars-workshops on stress and associated topics in workplaces, says you know extreme stress is affecting you when you're having trouble sleeping, you feel directionless and have lost confidence in your ability.

This is when stress may have turned to burnout. And burnout can lead to serious depression, which can be difficult to treat.

His advice to people under stress is that they take time off in an active rather than passive way.

"Everyone now and then one needs a significant break. This involves running or a workout, long walks, sun exposure, creative writing or art, laughter and tears or worship. Things that charge you up."

McEwan says in a 13-week cycle, you should take the 13th week to recharge. On his website www.drstress.co.nz , McEwan suggests:

* Deal with any unresolved griefs.

* Dump frustrations daily.

* Put time aside for positive relationships.

* Take breaks.

* Your environment may be toxic if there are no tricks that can keep you safe - run for your life.

* Recharge your natural chemistry. Do this through love shown, laughter, visiting awesome places, worship; these activities build resilience.

Someone who deals with stress on an individual basis is Darin Segidin, director of the Stress Institute and a classical homeopath.

His approach is "based on scientific discoveries in neuroscience and biophysics proving how the human stress response being a tool for bodily protection has become our main precursor to stress, ill-health, unhappiness and impeded performance in life and work."

He says these discoveries are revolutionary because they prove how past stressors remain not only in our memories but stored physiologically in receptor cells body-wide instituting the process of acute and chronic stress formation in line with acute and chronic illness.

Segidin believes that it's not always obvious to us what's the cause behind our stress reaction. He says a subconscious memory can be affected by our situation in life, and cause a reaction.

Often we don't know why we react in a stressed manner to certain things and not to others because the reason can be deep-seated.

Segidin teaches people how to lessen the intensity by bringing issues into consciousness.

"My programme focuses on past filters that impede the objective view of reality. I help people look at the stressors in their lives and how to process them. It's about gaining understanding of where a person is losing energy/getting blocked. And getting them to understand why they feel that way.

"It's about teaching them independence, finding out what's making them unwell."

Segidin runs courses for individuals over six months (one session a month) and charges $2000. Companies send employees on his courses mainly, but individuals can go to him directly.

"I do it by understanding a person's mood set and make them aware of how their thinking causes their stress."

He provides homeopathic medicine when he thinks the client requires it.

Segidin believes that everything begins with thought, and awareness of how our thoughts affect us holds the power to change.

He explains: "Life is our teacher. We develop filters - blocks - which are instituted by memory. That's what I work with."

An example of someone he worked with was a man with chronic fatigue syndrome and migraines.

"For him it came down to his approach to work. He was rushing. His intensity was high. With help he became more relaxed and could achieve more. His chronic fatigue symptoms decreased and his energy increased."

Segidin says his work is about unleashing human potential with ease and optimising people's experience of life and work.

"Stress causing damage at the intra-cellular level not only remains but gradually grows in intensity due to the natural adaptability function of the human body, much the same as a person drinking one cup of coffee a day then needs two coffees to feel the same effect; and so the process continues.

"The stress process is very insidious in that steroid release is not felt usually until it is too late, that is when illness develops."

He says the Stress Institute empowers people to understand the biological dynamics and subconscious cues so as to re-balance before illness and stress are too large and difficult to change. The Stress Institute can be found at www.thestressinstitute.co.nz/

The website reachout.com.au has this advice for stressed people: * Go for a walk or run, exercising can be a good way to relieve stress.

* Hang out with friends you may need to take your mind off things for a while.

* Take deep breaths. Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down.

* Set realistic goals, becoming over-stressed may make it harder to keep things in perspective.

* Have multiple options to achieve your goals.

* Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine.

* Watch what you're thinking - your outlook, attitude and thoughts influence the way you see things.

* It may be helpful to talk to someone about why you're feeling stressed.