There are two sources of stress I consider important, one a bit more personal than the other.
Half an hour after a seminar presentation - not perhaps one of my best - my head of department came to my office and suggested that, given the nature of my performance (not badly thought of by all who attended) I consider taking early retirement. I was not interested at that time, but on at least two occasions subsequently he raised the issue again, linking this particularly to my low level of publication.
He did have to admit that my teaching and administrative record is beyond challenge. I teach two of the most popular courses in the department and carry out several administrative tasks.
This leads to the more general point - the down-grading of undergraduate teaching. While I enjoy research (though do not publish extensively) it is teaching that provides the major satisfaction in my job. I find the lack of interest in teaching stressful on a personal level but also, more broadly, because undergraduates are getting what I consider a raw deal. With emphasis on learning rather than teaching, we have less direct contact with them, cannot get to know them as well and cannot share our knowledge, awareness and experience to anything like the extent previously possible.
More succinctly, I feel very stressed by the way in which the nature of my profession has changed. I have nothing against change, but I cannot accept change for the worse.
"I developed very suddenly a repetitive strain injury, specifically to my thumb and arm. It was very painful and very debilitating. I couldn't wait for an NHS referral - my fingers are my fortune for work as a university administrator - so I paid several hundred pounds for physiotherapy, which helped but didn't cure the problem. Coincidentally (it seemed at the time) I developed other symptoms and found I had astronomically high blood pressure and cholesterol.
On looking back, I realised that over the last couple of years I had been suffering from an unusual amount of stress (at home with personal problems and at work with a very high work load) and I had not been dealing with this at all well. I immediately took action - dieted and lost 10 kg, went on a low fat diet and got my cholesterol down to normal, took medication for the blood pressure and cut down my working hours so that I had more time at home to deal with the problems I had there. I tried to relax more and to get less uptight generally.
As well as my general health improving, my RSI cleared up completely.
I was one of those people who truly believed that all RSI injuries are caused by too much keyboarding and I am sure that that is still the case for many people. I used to think that people who said that RSI was in the mind were insulting people who had a real physical problem with an outside cause. I am however now fully convinced that mine at least was a direct result of handling stress badly and that once I found the cause of the stresses and dealt with them, that it cleared up. I am equally sure that the high blood pressure, high cholesterol and poor immune responses I had (I got the worst chest infection I have ever had when previously nothing had struck me for more than 1-2 days, this had me off work for 2 weeks) were totally caused by my dealing with stress by ignoring it and coping - or so I thought and later paying a very high price for the so-called coping.
I am now much better, but my blood pressure is still high, I will have to be on a low fat diet for the rest of my life and I still have some way to go to deal with stress in a more appropriate way. However, I do feel the need to warn that stress debilitates, causes physical illness that is difficult to cure and can ultimately kill."
"The results of the AUT stress survey seem yet again to confirm the futility of these exercises and their role in trivialising the problems faced by many staff in higher education and other institutions.
Why is it useful or interesting to know, for example, that most of those surveyed think that there have been too many changes in higher education and that these changes have been a bad thing? Exactly how can the fact that almost a quarter of respondents report they have taken time off in the last year because of what they believed was a stress-related illness contribute to any sensible debate about policy? Why should anyone be in the least bit interested in the finding that most respondents felt that the pressure to publish has increased?
Such surveys are not only poor social science - there is also little evidence they achieve their aim of persuading employers to improve working conditions. Rather, it seems to be the case that trade unions which use the stress rhetoric in this way are more likely to be met with the offer of stress counselling or relaxation classes."
Rob B Briner, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London
"I have first hand knowledge of two colleagues at my university whose health has been seriously threatened by stress caused by the non-stop introduction of new systems and reorganisation of the academic structure of the university. One has taken early retirement - not on health grounds as she felt unable to face the extra stress of being vetted. The other is negotiating for early retirement on health grounds after quite literally being driven to the point of suicide. I know also at first hand of a colleague in another institution not very far away whose health has been ruined by the strain of working in a failing institution undergoing a drastic restructuring which went badly wrong and who is also taking retirement in her forties on health grounds.A strong, confident woman is now a nervous wreck."