Looking Over Your Shoulder?

By Meghan Harper, on 13 June 2010

Today’s lecture on paranoia actually left me feeling a lot less worried about what’s going on in the world. Psychologist Daniel Freeman really put my mind at ease, discussing how paranoid we have become as a society, and some of the societal causes of paranoia. Previously in history, paranoia had occurred only in those where were severely mentally disturbed and now it is incredibly common across society. High anxiety, worry, mistrust, past incidents, and according to some new research, insomnia all put us at a higher risk of developing paranoid thoughts.

However, the way the media reports stories to the public also is a huge contributor to the problem. For example, each year  approximately 140,000 people die of cancer, while about 700 people are murdered. The comparatively smaller statistic on murder receivers twice as many mentions as cancer, leading society to misinterpret what the more probable threat to our lives may be. Paranoia itself may be a a threat to our health; a study from the States indicates that when mistrust is up 10% there is also an 8% rise in mortality.

People who live in urban areas are twice as likely to be paranoid, and our chair mentioned that in the last century people had retreated to spa towns like Cheltenham in order to ‘get away from it all’ and relax. I can definitely vouch that although the Science Festival has kept me plenty busy this week, just being out of London has been relaxing. Looks like the Cheltenham Science Festival is doing my brain good in more ways than one!

I’m stressed. What about you?

By Ann Fenech, on 12 June 2010

Performance CurveDelving into the world of stress was…how shall I put it?…Stressful!

Cary Cooper and Douglas Carroll helped us understand why people are stressed at work during Performance under Pressure: Stressed Out? I must admit I found this event one of the most informative, if somewhat sinister in tone.

Apparently, since 2004 stress has become the leading cause of sickness at work. What is the cause of this though?

Even worse I thought was the fact that in 2007 presenteeism – which is the act of coming to work whilst ill and the person’s decreased level of productivity this causes – had resulted in greater costs than absenteeism. And this was before the economic crisis!

There was also a lot of discussion about how work causes illness. Cary Cooper quoted Studs Terkel as saying

Work is by its very nature about violence – to the spirit.

I found this very thought provoking, if somewhat scary, and it seemed to do the same to others. Another stand-out phrase was that “If you continuously work long yours you will get ill. Do you think that would stand as an excuse with most bosses? I’m not really sure!

This is so even in today’s service-based world when most of us could probably work from home if need be. However, work provides us with the social contact we often crave.

Another ominous phrase came, particularly for today and England’s first World Cup game for 2010, from Douglas Carroll. Apparently when the UK lost to Argentina on penalties there was a 25 % increase in admissions to hospitals due to heart attacks. So I urge you one thing: please be careful in the coming weeks!

The seriousness of work stress also extended quite significantly into the question time, when Mark Lythgoe who was chairing the session had quite a bit of a problem getting the two professors to keep their answers short and sweet.

But is there any hope? The only sliver of hope seemed to be that ”the more you perceive to have autonomy and control over your job the less ill you get”. So if you have a problem identify it, see what options you have, and tackle it with the option giving you most benefits for least cost.

By the end most of us were probably feeling even more stressed than when we came in! So Mark Lythgoe asked both presenters to end on one positive take home message. At last, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to grow significantly brighter! The answers?

Douglas Carroll: Laughter boosts the immune system. So when things seem to be going badly – take the piss!

Cary Cooper then resorted to the all-time pantomime favourite: be nice to each other!

And that’s what I urge you.