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.
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.
This follows prolonged exposure to work and non-work stress factors and may develop into professional exhaustion known as "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
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
Communication with family, friends, colleagues
Going back to "ordinary" life
Worry about future job opportunities