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Stress, chooks (or hens) and your emotional wine barrel
Stress, chooks, and your emotional wine barrel

Abstract of a talk presented by David Brown, Psychologist, Sydney Australia at the "Weathering the Storm" conference, Waikato University, New Zealand, October 2001  

If the human brain hasn’t changed in the last 50,000 years, then we are facing much the same psychological problems as our ancestors, and we can learn from the clues they left behind. So we’re off to Ancient Rome and the wine traders. 

The word “exhausted” comes from the Latin exhaurire “to draw out” or “drain”. If your energy of feeling is like wine, and assuming your inner barrel gets refilled at night, then the rate at which you become emotionally tired (or drained, or exhausted, or empty) will depend on  

  • How far you turn on the tap, and 
  • How long you leave it running. 

So the “emotional wine barrel” theory of stress is simply: 

     Emotional drain = emotion x time 

Here’s what turns on the tap -       

Sustained attention – being ready to act for too long without a rest is the same as an emotion. Causes include a job without an agreed clear end point (eg your boss keeps moving the goalposts), or that requires a fast reaction time for hours on end, or with serious consequences of error (eg city bus drivers). This is a seriously overlooked problem, and it might explain half of the “control” factor.

Fear & avoidance – eg after a traumatic event - we avoid the situation in which the event occurred. We probably keep thinking about it as well. 

Treatment is easy and fast - exposure to the thing or place or event you fear. Forget about “PTSD”, treat fear and avoidance instead! 

Bad feelings – this is the most visible stress problem in the workplace. People have status struggles and when they lose, they get sick and lodge a stress claim. This might explain the other half of the “control” factor (low status in the pecking order = low control). 

The approach you take depends on the problem. For excess attention demands, redesign the job. For fear and avoidance, use exposure. Bad feelings require reconciliation of the warring parties – a trip out of the barnyard and into status-free human relations. 

There are good workplaces. There are low-stress jobs. If we want more of them, we need to stop talking about the “fight or flight syndrome” and speak in words that make sense.

Can I fill your glass?