What Stress is doing to your body: Research Papers
Stress damages the body. It is bio-accumulative and unless resolved causes havoc, right down to the cellular level.
Following are some supportive Blog articles from www.stresstostrength.com/blog
Can Too Much Choice Be Stressful?
Initially, when we have lots of choices the mind moves to a state of positive emotion. The greater the choices, then there is a move to a negative emotional state. Some people can move to a state of mental paralysis and become less satisfied because there are just too many to choices to make. Researchers have found that for perfectionists, the greater the number of choices means the less likely they are to make a decision at all, for the fear they may make the wrong decision. Professor Barry Schwartz from Swarthmore College says… “the worship over the ‘God of Choice’ has gone too far.” Schwartz says, 1 in 10 people are ‘extreme maximisers’ who feel they always have to make the perfect decision and this creates stress initially, then anxiety and finally for some, depression can set in. He goes onto say that the happiest and healthiest people are ‘satisficers’ who are interested in making a ‘good’ choice.
Emerging Lifestyle Risk Behaviours
Dr Melody Ding from Sydney University’s School of Public Health commenting on stressors in peoples’ lives. She was reporting on the findings of a long term 3 year study of middle-aged and older adult Australians. Then, over 6 years researchers followed up 231,048 participants. Stress has many causative agents and such risk factors as smoking, high alcohol intake, poor diet and physical inactivity were measured. In this study, two new emerging novel risk factors were also measured. For the first time, sedentary behaviour (long term sitting) and sleep duration were also measured. Long term sitting now with many people spending a great deal of their time in front of a computer screen of some type has been tagged, “the new smoking”. Some researchers are even saying that the outcomes of this are more dangerous than the long term effects of smoking. The key the researchers found in this study is that a combination of factors escalates the poor health of a person physically, mentally and emotionally.
Sleeping only 4 hours a night contributes to 7% increase in an early death Sleeping more than 9 hours a night contributes to 44% increase in an early death Longer sleeping time means that the persons possible exercise time is greatly decreased Long term sitting means that the persons possible exercise time is greatly decreased You need more than the base level of 150 minutes per week of exercise time However, 300 minutes per week of exercise time is good in supporting a good state of health.
Stress and Your Brain Activity
Feeling overwhelmed, sleeping poorly and recognising you are isolating yourself is a recipe for becoming stressed out. Being over worked can cause chronic stress and this can affect your brain size, how it works and how it functions.
When you are stressed your brain reacts by activating the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal (HPA) Axis which is the endocrine pathway from your brain to the adrenal glands which are located at the top of each kidney. The hormones secreted control your body’s reaction to stress. The hormone cortisol is released which primes your body for quick action. Chronic stress creates a constant production of cortisol which then affects another part of your brain, the Amygdala, increased which is your brains fear and anxiety centre. It increases neural connections here, which in turn fires activity in the Hippocampus which is related to learning, memory and stress control. This activity furthers sets off increased activity of the HPA axis. The result of this constant relentless activity in individuals who operate in overstress can cause your brain to shrink in size. This results in the reduction of synaptic connections in your brain. The frontal lobe is affected and your decision making, judgement and concentration are adversely affected. This can then lead to depression and Alzheimer’s disease and affects your DNA make up. To turn this downward spiral around it is as simple as adding daily exercise to your schedule, add some meditation or quiet time and focus on your breathing. Being outside helps also so you can take in the joys of nature around you and give all of your senses a good work out also.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) consists of evolutionarily ancient areas of the brain, which are crucial to survival and protected during adverse periods. It is composed of several neuronal circuits connecting the brainstem to the cortex. It also helps mediate transitions from relaxed wakefulness to periods of high attention. It also actions fight or flight responses and is hence linked to the motor system.
The Reticular Activating System consists of evolutionarily ancient areas of the brain, which are crucial to survival and it assists in protecting us during adverse periods.It modulates fight or flight responses and is linked to the motor system. It filters information coming into your brain.
The effects of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve function on the bodies organs and glands and the location of these structures in the human body.
Figure: How to Release the Stress Stored in Our Bodies, Jacob Devaney, Upliftconnect.com, January 2016
Our students and clients often ask, where does chronic stress cause breakdowns in our bodies? As you can see in the diagram, key body areas and organs are identified and the effects of stress are listed.
- The brain for fatigue, decreased concentration and decreased mood
- The face for changes in skin texture, loss of skin tone, loss of moisture
- The heart for narrowing of the arteries and increased blood glucose
- The intestines or gut for decreased nutrient absorption, alterations in gut motility, leaky gut
- The adrenal glands for hormonal imbalances and increased cortisol production
- The Peyer’s patches in the wall of the small intestine for decreased immunity
- The muscles where muscle protein breakdown occurs
- These are the key areas you need to be aware of and work to continually de-stress yourself.
‘A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner’
There’s ‘bad’ stress which can leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained, burnt-out and unproductive. If you do not perceive your life’s activities to be stressful, you are less likely to be negatively affected by stress whether it’s at work or in your private time according to research by Mark & Smith in 2008.
There’s also good stress which pumps up our adrenalin and cortisol levels and makes us more focused and productive. These increased hormonal levels can only support us if we use them in short bursts. They actually charge us to be productive and live a better and healthier life.
Here are 5 key strategies to help you cope, especially with your work stress where you may have little or no influence over the primary stressors.
- Check in with others in your work environment
If you feel stress is getting too much for you, ask others if they are having similar experiences. Sharing your thoughts and feelings about the situation can produce some useful coping strategies and help build a supportive network around you.
- Avoid the ‘perfectionism’ habit
This habit puts pressure on you as well as those who work with you. Replace perfect with excellent and decide which things fall into this category. Most things only need to be “done well”. Let go of your high expectations of being “perfect”. It’s healthier to enjoy what you’re doing with excellence and well rather than playing the perfection game.
- Allow yourself ‘time out’ sessions to re-energise during the day
As stress levels build up slowly we often miss the warning signals. Create regular break times each day when you can stop for a few minutes, stretch your body, breathe low and slow and have something healthy to eat/drink and go for a walk. Taking time out helps lower stress build-up, allows time for mental clean up, and improves your physical and emotional well-being. Regularly check how relaxed your body feels so that you are aware of when you are holding tension in your body – that’s the signal to take a break and let go of the stress.
- Decide what’s really important to YOU, in your life
At the end of each day, do you have enough energy and enthusiasm left for your spouse, partner, children, friends, family or yourself, or have you given it all to your work? Establish a “cooling off time” at the end of the day to wrap up the day’s activities, organise yourself for the next day, and re-focus your energy on your personal life. Leave work at work. Home time is for re-energising, rest, relaxation and nurturing yourself.
- Maintain a positive mindset.
Notice when you’re slipping into only seeing faults or what could go wrong. As the late Zig Zigler said, “avoid stinking thinking” as it is demoralising and kills enthusiasm (yours and those around you). Learn to be the master of your mindset and create more good things and recognise your achievements each day.
Corporate ‘Burn Out’… the ‘Working Wounded’
Four weeks ago on Friday September 18 the ABC PM Program aired an interesting segment on corporate ‘burn out’. “There’s evidence to suggest that close to half of the corporate workers in Australia score highly on questions related to tiredness and fatigue. As many as a quarter exhibit symptoms of stress”, the reporter stated. “It’s known as corporate burnout.” Stewart Taylor the Managing Director of the Resilience Institute reported… “that over a third of workers in this segment were regularly burning the midnight oil and stress in the form of confusion, disengagement and even distress in some cases, was being reported.” “They’re called the ‘working wounded’ “, he said. They are pushing too hard for what they are trying to achieve and on the job and their productivity is reduced as well as their morale and the result is that they get sick. We have found in our research that this scenario is not isolated to the corporate sector. Many people in small and medium size business are experiencing the same dilemma.
The best action someone can take if they feel they are in this group, is to first create some boundaries in their life to CARE FOR THEMSELVES FIRST. Set in motion… Some short breaks throughout the day… walk and stretch Have some brief funny videos on your phone, tablet, computer you can spend a minute or two getting a good laugh from as well as a dose of ‘happy hormones’ Set up lots of early nights Ban you electronic device from your bedroom Buy a travel alarm clock, not your mobile Drink lots of WATER Ban caffeine and soft drinks from your diet BOTTOM LINE… BREATH, low and slow whenever the stress feeling comes up.
The Stress – Happiness Equation
Action for Happiness is a tiny organization in the UK aiming to have a big impact. They have produced this wonderful graphic. http://www.actionforhappiness.org
“Everyone’s path to happiness is different. But our review of the latest research has found 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make people’s lives happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell ‘GREAT DREAM’ which most people are seeking.”
At Stress to Strength we also know that these 10 scientifically proven action steps are keys to living a life where stress starts to become a support system in your life and works at enhancing your personal wellbeing.
One fast way to change your state in ‘a heart- beat’, when you’re stressed, is to SMILE!! We call this the ‘STRESS – HAPPINESS EQUATION’.
Whenever you SMILE your body changes state physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Try smiling as soon as you feel you are experiencing stress.
Remember, SMILING is…
- Ecologically sound
- Energy efficient
- Completely portable
- Requires no special equipment
- Reduces Stress
- Increases “Happy Hormones”
- Decreases Cortisol levels
- Decreases Blood Pressure
- Decreases Heart Rate
**Hormones released last for 1 to 2 hours
Stress is so Commonplace it Has Become a Way of Life
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can become an everyday part of your life. It is so easy to get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, then it seems to become even normal. Stress and anxiety can create misery in your life, if you allow it to. Modern life is full of confronting issues, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. It’s important to learn how to recognize when your stress levels are out of control and know what to do, so you become the stress master, and not the stress victim. The signs and symptoms of stress are many and not all of them are well known. Stress affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Some common symptoms can include moodiness, depression, memory problems, poor judgment, irritability, inability to concentrate, and constant worrying. The physical symptoms of stress may manifest as aches and pains in the neck, shoulders and upper back, nausea, rapid heartbeat, chest pain and even dizziness. The stress cycle can also cause irregular sleep patterns, nervous habits like nail biting or twitching or pacing, and weight gain can be a major problem for some people.
Awareness is the key to changing your state. As soon as any of these symptoms above manifest themselves, stop and take note. First thing to do is… TAKE A DEEP BREATH! and then write down what the STRESSORS were that caused you to enter your STRESSED STATE. The next thing is to reward yourself with something that will have a calming effect on your nervous system. Chamomile tea or Peppermint tea are safe and natural supplements that you can take every day. There are many unsafe and unnatural drugs that people take on a daily basis. These have become the only relief some people with stress and anxiety have found. They quickly find themselves dependent on these drugs. There are natural and safe ways to deal with the every-day anxiety and stress that life throws your way and herbal teas provide a safe and natural way of dealing with the struggles of everyday life. All natural proprietary blend of ingredients.
Formulated to help you deal with stress and anxiety. No addictive ingredients or dangerous drugs. Safe and non-habit forming. Stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a perception and highly subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us. Things that are stressful for some individuals may not be for others.
Are You Stressed at the Start of Your Day?
A good friend from Canada Dr Tom Preston sent me his weekly newsletter last night on the topic of taking control of procrastination in your life. He started his article by stating…
“It’s so easy to sleep with a smartphone next to my bed. I can set 5 alarms to go off anytime between 4AM and 6AM just in case my body really feels like it needs more rest. Ever said that to yourself?
If I don’t feel like getting up at 5AM, but the 3rd alarm has my eyes open I can check my email, the news or a Facebook feed until I warm up a bit. After all, it is just SO COMFY in my warm bed.
OK just a quick retweet to the practice twitter page and then I am out of bed… then an Instagram favourite…
Next thing you know you are sprinting – feverishly looking for your keys and, if you are lucky, you nab a bagel as you dash through the door with different coloured socks on.
Ever been your reality?
Or something that sounds similar?”
This life style can be quite stressful for many people. They live this way as they believe that they ‘have to live like this, as most people do’.
Starting your morning on waking with more time than you need, allows you to start your day in a calm and relaxed state. A five minute meditation or sharing with your partner, or with yourself, about what you are grateful for today, allows you to experience eustress or good stress even before you get out of bed. This is a very life enhancing practice. Maybe morning exercise every day or on some days is your preferred way to start the day, a longer meditation or some other relaxing morning ritual you have created for yourself. A great place to park your Smartphone for the evening is in another room to let it recharge for the next day, and let yourself recharge also, in a quiet and relaxed space.
Forget about the alarm feature on your Smartphone, buy a small travel clock if you need an alarm in the morning. Make your bedroom a place of fun, play, joy, peace, relaxation where you can disconnect from the world for a part of every 24 hour cycle.
Coping With Stress
Recently a presentation that came across my desk by Sharla Wells-Di Gregorio PhD from Ohio State University summarized very well that we need to understand that coping with stress has both problem focused and emotional focused aspects that supports stressed individuals in moving out of the stress and into the calm.
The author points out that two alternatives in coping come into play whenever a stressful situation confronts us in our lives. We can either work on solving the problem if we can change it, or alternatively emotionally focus on ways to manage the stressor if we cannot change it.
Often it is not possible for you to remove a stressor from your life in the moment, in the short term or even the medium term, however, you can put into place some emotion focused activities to support you.
As you can see in the photograph at the top of the blog, this guy is having a pleasurable distraction from his life and/or work stress.
The diagram below by Wells-Di Gregorio provides a summary of the paths forward in problem focused and emotion focused coping.
What Stress Does to Your Body… and How to Reduce Your Cortisol Levels
Stress is a hard-wired physical response that is designed to support us and give us quick bursts of heightened energy and create alertness that is needed so we can perform at our best when we are challenged. When activated for too long or too often, stress can damage virtually every part of our body.
The extended activation of a stressed state can act like a bomb that is ready to ignite at any time, if we are challenged beyond our limits and we have no reserve left in the tank.
What goes on inside our body when we are stressed? Our adrenal glands release the chemicals cortisol, epinephrine which is also known as adrenalin and norepinephrine which run through our blood stream to reach the heart so we can take the necessary action to charge our bodies to respond in the best manner possible to the threat.
The amygdala part of your brain reacts to threats by tripping off the “fight-or-flight” stress response, signals the warning alarm, your body focuses all its attention on fighting and fleeing. Blood flow is shunted to your large muscle groups, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, and your body is on red alert. When your amygdala thinks you’re about to get eaten by a crocodile, the body isn’t worried about preventive maintenance and the body’s self-repair operations halt until the threat is over.
However in our current day life, our warning alarms are ringing at least 50 t0 60 times per day, flooding our bodies with cortisol and putting us at risk of illness. Your amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real threat to your life, like getting chased by a crocodile, and a perceived threat, like fear of losing your job, worry that your daughter will become addicted to drugs, or even anger that someone ‘stole’ the car space you were patiently waiting for at the Mall.
If you feel you are at risk, there’s good news that it’s easy to shift the body into the opposite of the stress response into the calm. Once you make this shift your cortisol levels drop and your body’s self-repair mechanisms get back to work doing what they do best – healing you.
10 Fun Ways To Reduce Cortisol Levels
Below are Lissa Rankin MD’s list of her top 10 ways to reduce your stress. She is the author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She says that all of the following techniques have been scientifically proven to activate relaxation responses and return your self-repair mechanisms back to optimal operation.
Harvard physician Herbert Benson extensively studied a form of Transcendental Meditation proven to activate the relaxation response and improve dozens of health conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes to obesity to cancer. All forms of meditation activate the relaxation response, but if you find it hard to sit in silence, try downloading the free Self-Healing Kit I created, which comes equipped with a self-healing guided meditation known to activate the relaxation response at MindOverMedicineBook.com.
- Laugh more!
In his bestselling book The Anatomy Of An Illness, Norman Cousins tells the story of how he cured himself from the debilitating condition ankylosing spondylitis by laughing along with Marx Brothers movies. He wrote, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
- Play with animals.
Snuggling with our pets fills us with oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones that support the body’s self-healing mechanisms. This is why pet therapy can be so effective, both mentally and physically. So go cuddle Fido, rub Fifi’s belly, and let them cut your cortisol levels while ramping up your body’s capacity to self-repair.
- Give generously.
When Cami Walker was diagnosed with debilitating multiple sclerosis, conventional medicine had very little to offer. Then a South African medicine woman suggested that, instead of focusing on herself, she needed to shift towards thinking more about others. The medicine woman wrote Cami a prescription – Give 29 gifts in 29 days. So she did. And as if by magic, her MS symptoms started to diminish. How? Because giving activates relaxation responses, which bolster the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms.
Andy Mackey enjoyed similar health benefits from giving generously. After 9 heart surgeries, Andy’s doctors had him on 15 medications, but the side effects made him miserable.So he decided to stop all his medications and spend his remaining days feeling as good as he could. His doctors said he would die within a year, so Andy decided to do something he had always wanted to do. He decided to use the money he would have spent on his heart medicines to buy 300 harmonicas for children, with lessons. And when he didn’t die the next month, he bought a few hundred more. It’s now 11 years and 16,000 harmonicas later and Andy Mackey is still giving generously.
- Express yourself creatively.
Creative expression releases endorphins and other feel-good neurotransmitters, reduces depression and anxiety, improves your immune function, relieves physical pain ,and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby lowering your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, slowing down your breathing, and lowering cortisol.
- Practice yoga, tai chi, Qigong, or dance forms like Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms – or get a massage.
All of these modalities, which combine the benefits of exercise and meditation, steep you in healing hormones and have been proven to effectively drop cortisol levels and improve your body’s ability to heal itself.
Or get a massage, the ultimate relaxation response activator. A nurturing massage not only relaxes your muscles, it relaxes your nervous system and kicks those self-healing mechanisms into high gear.
- Get it on.
Those with healthy sex lives live longer, have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, get less breast cancer, enjoy the benefits of stronger immune systems, sleep better, appear more youthful, enjoy improved fitness, have enhanced fertility, get relief from chronic pain, experience fewer migraines, suffer from less depression, and enjoy an improved quality of life. Oh – and their cortisol levels are lower!
- Pray or attend services as part of a spiritual community.
Those who attend religious services live up to 14 years longer than those who don’t, but don’t go to church if it’s not in alignment with your authentic beliefs. Find – or create – your own spiritual tribe, and enjoy the hormonal benefits of gathering together with the intention of loving, healing, and lifting the vibration of each other and the planet. Your nervous system – and your body – will thank you.
- Alleviate your loneliness.
Lonely people have twice the rate of heart disease as people who aren’t lonely. In fact, loneliness researchers suggest that alleviating your loneliness is more important to a healthy lifestyle than quitting smoking or starting to exercise. (Read more in How To Stay Healthy Even If You Eat Junk, Smoke Ciggies, Skip Exercise & Booze It Up. As Robert Putnam put it in Bowling Alone, “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half. If you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining. These findings are in some way heartening. It’s easier to join a group than to lose weight, exercise regularly, or quit smoking.”
- Be brave enough to take radical action in order to reduce your stress responses.
Ask yourself, “What does my body need in order to heal?” If your intuition says, “You have to quit that soul-sucking job” or “You’ve got to get out of that abusive relationship,” listen up. You’ve just written The Prescription for yourself. (To learn more about how to write The Prescription for yourself, read Mind Over Medicine.)
A Stressaholic… What’s That?
A new book, Stressaholic by Heidi Hanna presents some interesting thoughts. Stress rewires how our brains are functioning, then its effects in our bodies can be dangerous.
It is accepted that the most undesirable effects come when stress becomes chronic. Then, the importance of managing stress in order to get some relief and to create optimal balance is huge. It is not about escaping from stress – which is actually unrealistic- but to create a healthy relationship with it.
As Dr Hanna says that we can’t control what causes or contributes to trigger our stress response, but we can strengthen our whole system to operate in a more resilient way. How we face everyday stress and transform our co-dependent relationship with it is so important.
She also refers to the human energy crisis. This is something that others are aware of but only a few have attempted to work with it.
Her belief that our lack of energy has made us neuro-chemically dependent on sources of stress to provide us with the stimulation we need to manoeuvre through life. Stress is addictive; it acts on the same brain regions as other addictive substances and behaviours, such as sugar, gambling, shopping and sex.
As with many other addictions, the first step in the recovery process is to be aware of our dependency, and or course, to desire change.
Chronic stress can cause how our brains are functioning and its effects on our bodies can be dangerous, as it actually can be an agent of change that can see the rewiring of brain pathways, says Hanna.
There are some types of addiction that are socially accepted as normal behaviour by many. Some experts are saying that stress has now joined alcoholism as an accepted addiction.
The Stress to Strength Wellbeing Model
We were unsure prior to meeting with a major national player in the business and corporate training world eighteen months ago, if our personal Wellbeing Stress to Strength Solution Model would cut it. Our other three models are highly business and process focused.
Much to our surprise, the sales and marketing group we met with commented that out of our four very different stress management models, this model was amazingly simple and made total sense. Since that first meeting, we have received very similar feedback in the course of many meetings.
To move your life from stress to strength, YOU have to be the proactive solution.
Trauma, toxins and thoughts are the stressors that cause your stressed state, and once you decide to take a proactive position everything starts to change.
Trauma can be a physical accident, losing your internet connection, having 300 texts to answer or a myriad of other things.
Toxins can be contaminated food or water, excess alcohol and drugs, pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals.
Thoughts are real forces and a negative feedback loop can be devastating to your health as can toxic relationships at home and/or at work.
Remember… choosing not to choose, is choosing. (Annon.)
Stress is a perception and you can choose how much or how little stress you have in your life.
Workplace Stress—What’s Your Level?
Can a 100-year-old experiment in stress teach us about today’s workplace productivity? In 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson described an experiment in which they were able to motivate rats through a maze using mild electrical shocks. They found that if the shocks were too strong, the rats would lose their motivation to complete the maze and instead move about randomly trying to escape. Yerkes and Dodson concluded that increasing stress and arousal levels could help to focus motivation and attention onto a particular task, but only up to a certain point—then it became ineffective. In modern psychology, this is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
Research from the 1950s to 1980s has largely confirmed that the correlation between heightened stress levels and improved motivation/focus exists, though an exact cause for the correlation has not been established. More recently in 2007, researchers have suggested that the correlation is related to the brain’s production of stress hormones, glucocorticoids (GCs), which, when measured during tests of memory performance, demonstrated a similar curve to the Yerkes-Dodson experiment. Also, it showed a positive correlation with good memory performance, suggesting that such hormones also may be responsible for the Yerkes-Dodson effect.
More recently, companies have noticed a relationship between stress and productivity in the workplace. Science Times’ recent study links constant email notification to stress, while several sites have released several studies regarding stress in the workplace. “Constant stress” at Amazon centers are making workers sick, according to the U.K. Union, while Amazon’s “brutal workplace” is an indicator of an “inhumane economy,” according to the L.A. Times. The Nationreports that it’s not just Amazon, stress is a factor of the modern workplace. On the other hand,Google’s perks have been shown to alleviate stress and boost employees’ morale, andFastCompany.com reports that happy employees are 12 percent more productive.
Stress has been known to sneak up on us, so how do we know if we’re stressed? The International Stress Management Association says that psychological signs can include worrying; depression and anxiety; memory lapses; or being easily distracted. Emotionally we can be tearful, irritable, have mood swings or feel generally out of control. Stress can even affect us physically, with weight loss or gain; aches, pains and muscle tension; frequent colds or infections; and even dizziness and palpitations. These signs can start to affect our behavior, with no time for relaxation or pleasurable activities, becoming a workaholic, being prone to accidents/forgetfulness, insomnia, or an increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, and/or recreational/illegal drugs.
Obviously some signs are more severe than others, with 75 percent of Americans reportingexperiencing at least one of the following symptoms of stress in the past month:
- irritable/angry: 37 percent
- nervous/anxious: 35 percent
- lack of interest/motivation: 34 percent
- fatigued: 32 percent
- overwhelmed: 32 percent
- depressed/sad: 32 percent
The Mayo Clinic has identified two types of stress triggers: acute and chronic. Acute is the basic human “fight or flight” response, the immediate reaction to a perceived threat, challenge or scare. It typically is immediate and intense, and in certain instances (skydiving, roller coasters, etc.) it can be a positive and even thrilling thing. Chronic stress is a more long-term variety of stress that, while it can be beneficial as a motivator, can pile up and become negative if left unchecked. Persistent stress can lead to health problems, and while it generally is more subtle than acute stress responses, its effects can be longer lasting and more problematic.
Signs of workplace stress can include a change in the employee’s normal behavior, such as irritability, withdrawing, unpredictability or generally uncharacteristic behaviors, a sudden change in appearance, a sudden lack of concentration/commitment, lateness or even absenteeism. Healthy amounts of stress are difficult to aim for, as stress is an individual issue, but there are some management methods that could lead to too much stress in the workplace. Helpguide.comsays that unequal delegation of work; giving out unrealistic deadlines; listening to employee concerns, but not taking action; inconsistency/indecisiveness in approach to employees; panicking and not forward planning; and not being aware of pressures on the team can all lead to a high amount of stress in the workplace. Additionally, job insecurity can lead to a 50 percent increase in the odds that someone reports poor health; high work-related demands increase the odds of having an illness diagnosed by a doctor by 35 percent; and long work hours have been shown to increase mortality by 20 percent, all according to FastCompany.com.
Companies, however, are trying to find ways to combat workplace stress. Appster regularly funds employee outings and even has a workplace dog to help relieve stress, but the company realizes that perks alone often don’t do enough to effectively relieve stress. The company has instituted a “weekly vent report,” an online board where employees can anonymously, but publicly, post complaints and concerns. These are followed up by monthly town hall style meetings where issues raised on the vent boards are addressed openly. There also are monthly one-on-one check-in meetings for all employees so that they have a chance to talk about themselves on an individual basis.
Google also recognizes that perks are not the be-all-end-all of stress management. To further combat stress, the company offers classes to employees such as Meditation 101, Search Inside Yourself and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Google also has created a combination virtual and in-person community called gPause to help support and encourage the practice of mediation through methods such as daily in-person meditation sits at more than 35 offices, “mindful eating meals,” and occasional day meditation retreats.
FastCompany.com reports that stress relief is about more than offering employees an increasing number of perks; there must be active efforts specifically targeting stress, rather than avoiding the issue and hoping employees remain happy. In fact, people who reported having emotional support during times of stress, according to APA.org, reported an average stress level of 4.8/10, and only one-third reported being depressed or sad due to stress in the past month, compared to those who report not having emotional support. They report an average level of 6.2, with one-half reporting that they have felt sad or depressed in the last month.
If your employee has eustress, then he or she could potentially be showing signs of being at their most productive state. Eustress means “good stress,” as opposed to distress, which is negative stress. Signs to look out for in the eustress state include focusing on the task at hand, using time most efficiently, self-managing his or her work and increased motivation. Positive personal stressors could include receiving a promotion or raise at work, marriage, moving, taking a vacation or learning a new skill. However, sometimes it can be difficult to differ between eustress and distress. Here are some key characteristics to distinguish between the two:
- short-term vs. long-term
- perceived to be within our own coping vs. perceived to be outside our own coping
- motivates and focuses energy vs. demotivates and focuses energy
- feels exciting vs. feels unpleasant
- improves performance vs. decreases performance
Distress doesn’t necessarily have to stem from the workplace; it also could be the result of multiple life factors. Ask if there is anything you can do to help alleviate the stressors, such as simple modifications to the employees’ workflow for a short period of time. Perhaps Appster Co-Founder Mark McDonald said it best: “The cheapest, most effective way to help stress is simply listening to staff.”
A version of this post was first published on bryan.edu