Doctor Pilar Iglesias, psychologist at the Hospital Quirónsalud A Coruña, speaks on the jupsin.comThis link opens in a popup window platform against bullying about work related stress, bullying and harassment. An in-depth talk with the journalist Jesús LaneraThis link opens in a popup window about some of the main aspects that affect our psyche in the work environment.

in’. Your career is extensive and of great value... we start with a look at your training, your experience and daily activity.

PI. I am 57 years old I studied for my degree at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca and took doctorate courses at the Universidad de Lovaina. Then, I specialised in Clinical Psychology, although at that time the speciality did not exist as such. There was the PIR (like the MIR for doctors) and in my case, due to my clinical experience, I obtained the title of Health Specialist (general practitioner).

I worked with patients with dependency problems (drug addiction) for four years. Subsequently, I left this part of psychology and since then I have been devoted to General Clinical Psychology for adults (psychosomatic disorders, depression etc.) at the Mental Health Unit of the Hospital Quirónsalud A Coruña.

In my daily work, I care for patients with chronic or acute diseases or that suffer from anxiety problems. The work of informing and reassuring patients is essential. We offer them action guidelines so that they can tackle these situations more naturally. The important thing is to help them to adapt to new situations which they face.

in’. You mention the word stress that we all use today, "What stress!" "I'm under stress!" But, do we know what stress is?

PI. No, no, No doubt there is a lack of knowledge about stress. When we talk about stress, we are basically referring to an accumulation of tasks that we do not know how to prioritise. It is as if we have lost the capability to plan our daily life. If we didn't constantly improvise and tackle our day-to-day life in a certain order, we would not have this sensation of not going anywhere.

Stress is an emotional state in which it appears to you that you're not capable of acting in a certain order. You mix physical and work activities with sensations and emotions.

Stress is a state in which you start to become agitated and you become paralysed, and in which you begin to think: "All that I have to do this morning!", "I don't know where I'm going to start!".

Stress occurs when you're not capable of setting your expectations against what you finally achieve, with your objectives. But we must bear in mind that stress can be positive, like a certain tension that allows you or helps you to progress, to overcome obstacles. It is like a challenge that keeps us alert. What happens is that we end up confusing stress with anxiety. And they are not synonyms.

in.’ Obvious question, doctor. What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

PI. Anxiety is a negative experience that occurs with physical symptoms, such as tachycardia for example. However, these symptoms are not productive, but feedback negatively. They do not allow us to find solutions.

On the other hand, stress is a life experience that does allow us to find solutions. Anxiety is almost like the self-pity and victimhood of "I'm not capable". Stress is a more constructive experience.

What I propose to my patients at the moment at which the uneasiness starts, is to prioritise.

Stop for a few minutes, or half an hour if necessary and try to organise and transform this uneasiness into a positive.

For this reason, we say that stress helps if we are capable of disciplining our day-to-day lives, and we have the sensation of having completed the task that confronted us.

There are many people who are not capable of finishing what they started, but it is a question of planning. It happens, for example, that they spend an hour and a half on their mobile on social networks, when they should be carrying out their tasks, and then comes the regret and the guilt, "I haven't been able to finish my work, what do I do now?"

in’. The fault lies with mobiles and social networks?

PI. No, of course not. The mobile phone is a neutral object. The need to resort to it and the social networks comes from within us. And the motivation by which we cannot stop using the mobile and the social networks is provided by us.

The case is, mostly, the motivation does not correspond with the quality. Usually, when we pick up the mobile and go onto the social networks, we waste the time, we simply browse. It is a time that is little or not at all constructive, it is like having leisure without having the sensation of leisure.

Part of my work is to cover, from the psychological point of view, sexual relationships. In this regard, I meet young people (between 30 and 40) that say to me "I don't have time for sex". Then I ask them, what you do in your day-to-day life? "I work hard and arrive home at 8 o'clock". And what you do indoors? Are you with your partner? For an hour and a half I look at social networks, I don't have time during the day due to work, and I have to answer WhatsApp messages. Then I have my dinner, a little telly another look at the social networks and then to bed.

It is not that this person has problems with their partner, it is because they really do not want to prioritise what they want to do. We use up time and the only people responsible are ourselves. We do not have the sensation of wasting time, but we pass the day and we say to ourselves "I haven't had time for anything". This is not true.

in’. Are we that bad, doctor?

PI. It's not that we are bad, is that we don't have any willpower. And the environmental stressors start to be important in our life, like that urgency to answer no matter what, because if you're not like everybody else it appears that you don't exist, you are not "connected".

However, we have to take into consideration that we are in a bad socio-economic time. People don't have great satisfaction and seek escape routes to console themselves. This particularly affects people of between 30 and 40 years old. It is the time of examining what is most productive and to see how you can become happier.

We think there is a general state of disillusion as we face the future. And it is a state we did not cause ourselves.

This despondency, this inability to set objectives affects 30% of the Spanish population. In many cases, it is people that are not "trained" to confront adversity.

We came from a "marvellous" socio-economic time, with a very protective and very comfortable education, but with little capacity for confronting negative situations. Now is the time to reinvent ourselves.

The question is do professional means help us? Sometimes they don't help much, because we nearly create the problem (pseudo-pathological condition names) so that people are identified with it. For example, we all feel excited when we go on holiday and this produces anxiety, that we are living positively. We do not think that this requires special treatment. Today we have created post-holiday syndrome, it is something real.

And conversely, we have all returned from holiday and we have felt disappointed, and a bit down. We have created the post holiday syndrome. It is if we have created the need to generate syndromes and problems. The person identifies them, exacerbates them and dramatises them, because in these syndromes the person seeks an explanation to the uneasiness that they are feeling at that time.

in’. Can you list the symptoms of stress? And the treatment?

PI. Yes, of course. They are symptoms that appear quickly. The symptoms of stress are many and varied:

  • Headaches
  • Gastric problems
  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Little sleep time
  • Waking startled
  • Dermatological problems
  • Skin reactions
  • Allergy symptoms, and so on.

We propose a behavioural cognitive therapy during which patients must prepare new valid strategies for tackling stress, or in other words, learn to prioritise during day-to-day life. As regards anxiety, we emphasise avoiding catastrophic thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.

Behavioural cognitive therapy is based on verbal communication through which we attempt to find out how each person tackles their day-to-day life, how they establish personal or work affective relationships, etc. We try, based on their personality, to enable the person to establish new situations that act as enhancers. You cannot ask the same of a shy person as an extrovert person.

You have to find out. And within the nature of each person, you teach them to develop a behaviour, the behaviour that will allow them to live a better day-to-day life.

And above all, for the person to be capable of differentiating between feelings, emotions and affects, and that they learn to put each thing in its place.

This is not a therapy like psychoanalysis based on the unconscious behaviour of the individual, it is a therapy based on problem-solving. It is not so much about what caused the conflict, but in how we can solve it.

60% of the patients in our consulting room are healthy people with specific difficulties. Therapies such as behavioural cognitive are easier to understand by patients because they are adapted to the reality of the individual.

in’. However, stress can become a serious health problem

PI. A patient told me that he had been in a very stressful situation and that he felt terrible at night and that he thought he was going to have a heart attack and die.

What appears certain is that stress, that we turn into anxiety, causes physical symptoms similar to and as significant as those of a heart attack, and especially the sensation of loss of life, that your life is going, you're going to die and there is nothing you can do about it.

High blood pressure is normal at this time, but the emotional experience is destructive, with a dramatic impact on behaviour due to the fear that it is going to be repeated. There is another problem, stress can lead to complex psychiatric conditions, including patients that have episodes of depersonalisation, and people that have dissociative fugues.

This is the case of a patient, a senior executive, who disappeared from his house for 15 minutes and appeared in the house of a neighbour, which he entered by the window. He didn't know how he got there. This is a complex psychiatric condition, and the cause may be stress at very high levels.

in’. Another complex situation and with psychological consequences is bullying

PI. Bullying is a stress generating situation due to the helplessness created in the bullied individual. The victim feels helpless against the aggression, first because they do not understand what is happening and second because it personalises the situation.

Irrespective of whether the aggression is physical or psychological, the helplessness, the impotence that not being able to resolve the situation creates, generates significant stress. Furthermore, when this happens in very young people, it can result in after effects that, if not resolved, can have a negative impact on their life in the medium and long term.

Now, with the visibility that is being given to bullying, for example at school, children know that they can go to someone to ask for help. But, in many cases, the bullying occurs and the victim does not dare to tell anyone. When the bullying is psychological violence, it can be a long time before it is discovered.

The victim tends to hide the bullying, because they believe that if they make it public, the aggression may get worse. Meanwhile, this sensation of impotence, of humiliation, of "I'm worthless", has already done a lot of damage and has caused a lot of suffering. For all these reasons, it is essential to give visibility to bullying.

in’. Do stress and workplace bullying go hand-in-hand?

PI. There is a lot of workplace bullying, this is a reality. And workplace bullying creates a lot of stress. On many occasions it remains hidden, because the victim of workplace bullying doesn't dare to report it because it is difficult to prove.

Workplace bullying causes a sensation of helplessness, of anger, of fear and so on, and may lead to the loss of work, an important consideration we must add to the negative psychological sensations. No doubt, the victim of workplace bullying suffers a true hell. And society is not aware of the suffering of the victim of this type of bullying.

When we see a mobbing situation against somebody nearby, we tend to look the other way and immediately justify our position with the typical and unfortunate phrase "they must have done something" which blames the victim.

We think that a behaviour is motivated by a stimulus. That is, that a person suffering bullying has brought it on themselves. It is untrue, but it is easier to believe that there is a prior provocation and that the situation was the fault of the victim.

In general, the human being has a very poor opinion of the "neighbour". And we are very cowardly in situations as terrible as workplace bullying, because for a long time we have been taught that this is "not your problem, don't get involved". We tend, therefore, to blame the victim.

in’. And this leads to re-victimisation...

PI. The first thing the bullied person asks themselves is what have I done to cause this? They look for situations that justify in some way the aggression that they are suffering. When they do not find and there is no way out, the victim takes responsibility again for what has happened. And if they raise the alarm, they feel still more responsible in the eyes of others, who, moreover, will demonise them directly.

In the case of sexual aggression, this can be seen very clearly. It is not easy to find anyone who is capable of defending that the aggression was in no way provoked and there is no justification for it.

The dominance of one human being over another is a complex subject due to dependency situations and due to the frustration that it generates in the dominated person. Sometimes, the victim even feels protected by the bully. Furthermore, we identify the bully as a despicable individual in all areas of their life, but this is not necessarily true.

Unfortunately, bullying is very widespread.

in’. Are we dying for success?

PI. The search for success is, without doubt, a modern stressor. Achieving success is important to people, and the problem is that we identify it with money and fame. This is an inappropriate model which is instilled into us from an early age. It is not true, because success is something much more personal.

We are all geared towards succeeding in some way, this is undoubted. However, instead of looking for more varied and more solid reference models, we search for models of success that are completely superficial and nearly always impossible to reach. These models make us identify with behaviour that has nothing to do with our reality, and the frustration at not being able to achieve it is dreadful.

Further information: link opens in a popup window