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close this bookManaging Stress in the Field (IFRC; 2001; 20 pages) [FR] [ES]
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentWhat is stress?
View the documentCumulative stress
View the documentCoping with traumatic experiences
View the documentThe psychological support programme for delegates
View the documentShort questionnaire on stress*
View the documentBibliography
View the documentBack cover

What is stress?

Stress is normal. It is the body's natural reaction in response to a physical and/or emotional challenge.

Stress can be positive in activating a person's body, mind and energy. It can be defined as an individual's capacity to mobilize every resource the body has to react promptly and adequately to any given situation. However, if stress lasts too long, the body's resources will be exhausted and the person will develop harmful or negative forms of stress reactions.

Basic stress

This is "baseline" or underlying stress. Basic stress may be caused by various sources of tensions at the individual, emotional, family or social levels. It may be increased by changes in the day-to-day environment (being away from family without adequate communication, working with new people from different cultures, uncertainty about work, new information to assimilate, etc.). Delegates need to be prepared for this and learn how to develop strategies to cope with it. Basic stress normally decreases after the first few weeks of a new assignment.

Cumulative stress

This follows prolonged exposure to work and non-work stress factors and may develop into professional exhaustion known as "burn out".

Burn out

Burn out is an exhaustion of normal stress coping mechanisms.

Howard DAVIES / Federation

Traumatic stress or critical incident stress

This is caused by situations outside the range of everyday experience, where the delegate's life is perceived to be under immediate threat, or if he/she witnesses or is subject to violence or a natural disaster.

In a certain number of cases, traumatic stress may further develop into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a pathological condition which will require referral to a mental health specialist.

Commonly reported causes of stress in the field

Difficult living conditions

Heavy workload or inactivity

Relationships and communication
Cultural differences
Lack of space and privacy / personality conflicts

Lack of leisure activities, social or cultural life

War / security incidents
Target for attack or robbery

Threat to well-being / health risks
Living under security constraints
Threat of after-effects or reoccurrence of disaster
Risk of accidents and illnesses
Lack of medical infrastructure

Challenges to a person's values, ideals and beliefs
Exposure to acute consequences of war, disasters or human carnage
Exposure to the ongoing suffering and trauma of victims
Corruption, ambiguous situations or motivations
Hostility of beneficiaries / unmet needs of beneficiaries

Stress related to the delegate's family
Stress of accompanying partner
Lack of communication with family back home

Coming home
Communication with family, friends, colleagues
Going back to "ordinary" life

Financial instability
Worry about future job opportunities

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