NOW SOME GOOD NEWS ABOUT STRESS You're too busy, the bod hurts, and you suspect you're a Type A. Heart attack city? Not necessarily.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Corporate America worries a lot about stress. Studies portentously estimate that it costs U.S. industry maybe $150 billion a year. Hundreds of companies offer programs to help employees manage it. Experts warn that stress-related claims threaten to bankrupt workers' compensation systems in many states. For all this concern, however, a few conceptual difficulties remain: even the experts can't agree on what stress is, how it works, or what can be done about it. Recent findings on the subject suggest some reasons for optimism. The notion that stress and life in business are inextricably intertwined is so seductive, so downright American, that one shouldn't be surprised to find everybody trying to sneak the social evil he or she is concerned with into the tent. Beaucoup bad stuff happening out there, goes the siren song of the Big S, what with competition from abroad, wide-ranging social change, and the hurly-burly pace of modern existence. The individual, and his health, can't help but be affected. Ah, but with a simple technique or two you can learn to cope. Note what's missing: any suggestion that the problem may be rooted in the psychology of the individual. To get at just how complicated stress is, one need only look at some of the ideas on the subject currently popular among business people. New research shows how simplistic many of these ideas are, when they're not plain wrong. The late Dr. Hans Selye, a native of Vienna who was director of the University of Montreal's Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, developed the concept of the causes and treatment of stress most often taught in corporate programs. Packaged for a business audience, it goes something like this: Like all animals, man comes equipped with bodily systems superbly adapted to coping with threats. Confronted with, say, a saber-toothed tiger, Pleistocene man's nervous system would trigger a flood of adrenaline and other hormones, tensing his muscles and sending his heart racing. All this to enable him to fight or flee. Civilized man has inherited the physiology, but usually can't lash out or run away. Without an outlet, the body must absorb the energies churning around within it. Such stresses, repeated over time, wear the old bod down, leaving it increasingly vulnerable to disease or accident. Selye's prescription: man must learn to relax, if necessary using methods such as self-hypnosis or biofeedback. Critics point out that Selye based his conclusions on experiments with laboratory animals; he did not treat any humans. They fault him for his view of stress as a standardized, universal response, regardless of the threatening stimulus or the makeup of the person experiencing the threat. ''The nature of stress for modern man is not a life-threatening situation,'' observes Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, a nonprofit information center in Yonkers, New York. Different stresses beget different < responses, research done during the last decade suggests, and individuals vary in their response to the same threat. ''It has become obvious that there is a whole repertoire of responses to stress,'' says Rosch. People are not easily categorized in terms of their response, as the folks who would divide humankind into the familiar Type A and Type B personalities should have realized by now. Type A's, you may recall, are perpetually in a hurry. Competitive and obsessed with racking up achievements, they tend to be proudest of the quantity of work they can turn out. Type B's constitute the more easygoing remainder of the population. According to cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Raymond Rosenman, who came up with the typology, Type A's run a considerably higher risk of heart attack than Type B's. When presented with the theory, many managers think back to how they behaved during the most recent crisis at work and immediately conclude that they're unalloyed Type A's. They may be wrong. ''You should think instead about how you acted on your last vacation,'' counsels Dennis W. Organ, an Indiana University professor of behavior who gives seminars on stress to business audiences. ''Type A's always rush; Type B's rush only if they have to.'' Other experts maintain that there's no way anyone can ascertain by himself whether he's Type A or B; that can only be done by an interviewer using special, stressful techniques. EVEN IF you do qualify as a bona fide Type A, don't despair. The big news about Type A's: according to research done by Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University, among others, not all of them are prime candidates for a heart attack. As you may have suspected from watching your whirlwind boss remain disgustingly healthy, some A's thrive on the fast pace. Stress experts now talk about the importance of distinguishing so-called coronary-prone Type A's -- also known as hot Type A's -- from the healthier sort. What sets the hot ones apart appears to be a surfeit of hostility, sometimes harbored subconsciously. Stress-management programs commonly tout the link between the events in one's life and the incidence of you-know-what. The most familiar heuristic device in this regard is the Holmes-Rahe life event-stress scale, created by Drs. Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe. Based on their research, they assigned a stress value, measured in points, to each of 43 life events. Death of a spouse ranks highest, with 100 points, being fired counts for 47, % vacation comes in at 13. Supposedly, the higher your stress score for a given year, the worse off you will be the following year. Holmes and Rahe concluded, for example, that anyone who accumulates 300 points in a single year stands a 90% chance of becoming ill or having an accident. It ain't necessarily so. Subsequent research has shown that, as with the supposed fight/flight response, individuals vary enormously in how they respond to life's ups and downs. Some studies also suggest that big events don't stress people as much as the constant petty annoyances of everyday life. A survey of some 1,400 top managers and 1,200 middle managers done for the American Management Association found that a majority believed that the four main causes of on-the-job stress for them were time pressures caused by a heavy workload, the disparity between what they had to do and what they'd like to accomplish, the political climate of their organization, and the lack of feedback on performance. The executives surveyed seemed to be coping with stress pretty well; they didn't feel that their health had been damaged by their work. The fact that myths abound on the subject does not mean, of course, that stress can't kill you. At least entertain the possibility that stress may be affecting you. Use this working hypothesis as a jumping-off spot from which to reflect on your physical and psychological health. Physical symptoms commonly associated with stress include headache, backache, painfully tense muscles, digestive disorders, and pains in the chest, which middle-aged men frequently take as evidence that they're having -- or are about to have -- a heart attack. As the label on the medicine bottle says, if symptoms persist, consult your physician. Psychological symptoms include chronic anger, anxiety, depression, and perhaps most often mentioned by the experts and often at work in the other three, a feeling of helplessness. Here too, if the pain seems worse than you've had before, or if it won't go away, think about consulting a psychotherapist. If you conclude that your stress doesn't warrant heavy-duty treatment, try the old chicken soup kind. Think over what may be getting to you, with an eye particularly to what you can change. Bounce your conclusions up against your list of personal goals or priorities. Do you really have to take on all those projects, or attend all those meetings? Can you build a little slack into your schedule, allotting 15 minutes or so between appointments to push your chair | back and relax a bit, or even think of longer-term corporate strategy? If, as is the case with many managers, the principal source of your stress is how your organization does things, can you change anything there? As psychologist Harry Levinson, of the Levinson Institute in Boston, points out, ''Companies that put on stress-management programs should look at what it is about the way the company is managed that may be causing stress.'' STRESS RESEARCHERS have become increasingly interested in what some of them term antistressors or uplifts, beneficial events or forces that seem to counteract, or at least mediate, the effects of all the bad things coming our way. The message is simple and familiar but easy to overlook: be good to yourself. Type A's trying to change are counseled to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings, to notice what's going on and, if possible, find something pleasant in what they see. Exercise can help, and in a way you might not have thought of -- one study indicated that a source of stress for most of the population was concern about appearance, and exercise can improve the way you look. Even meditating may help, by providing a bit of quiet time. Don't expect too much: these practices won't necessarily cure stress, but they probably will make your life more enjoyable, which just might be considerably more than half the battle. Psychologist Robert L. Kahn, an authority on stress at the University of Michigan, says that there is only one antistressor the experts are sure about so far. They call it a strong system of social support. Most of us would call it a set of loved ones and friends we can talk problems over with.