It's been called 'the silent killer.' Stress has become the by-word to describe the psychological impact of modern-day living and it's effect on physical, emotional and mental functioning. The expression 'I'm stressed out,' is a commonly heard expression in offices, homes and commuter journeys around the world.
The global economic burden of stress-related mental illness is expected to rise in the coming decade. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Survey estimates that by the year 2020, depression and anxiety disorders, including stress-related mental health conditions, will be highly prevalent and will be second only to ischemic heart disease in the scope of disabilities experienced by sufferers.
In the United Kingdom, a report in 2015 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stated that work related stress, depression and anxiety continue to represent a significant ill health condition in the workforce of Great Britain. Work related stress accounts for 35% of work related ill health and 43% of days lost, in 2014/15. The occupations and industries reporting the highest rates of work related stress remain consistently in the health and public sectors of the economy. The reasons cited as causes of work related stress are workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change as the primary causative factors. It's ironic that the industry with a high stress rate is the health sector, which promotes and works toward a healthy population and yet something is off balance if staff in the health sector are reporting high stress rates!
Stress is a natural and physical reaction to positive and negative experiences in everyday life. The body responds to stressful situations by releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals increase your heart and breathing rates and the brain gets more oxygen, thus aiding your ability in responding to a problem. In the short term, stress helps you cope with tough situations by assisting with additional energy and helping you focus.
Chronic stress may occur when we are exposed to a situation, number of situations or recurrent situations that we struggle to deal with. These can be anything from relationship problems, bereavement, work projects or family scenarios. When there is prolonged exposure to a highly stressful situation or multiple situations, the body and brain will then struggle to contain these.
The impact of chronic stress on the body is problematic and compromises much of its functioning. Cortisol as previously mentioned, compromises the immune system and increases risk of opportunistic diseases and infections upon the body. It can also increase the time it takes to recover from illness or injury. Under stress, the muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury. With chronic stress the muscles don’t get the chance to relax and as a result tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body ache.
Dealing with stress is not about eradication, as it would be impossible to control what life may throw at us. Stress management rather is about trying to manage the stressful situations we all face in life and how we respond and deal with them. Regular exercise can help to offset the stressful energy that we accumulate during the day and aids better sleep, which chronic stress may rob us of. 'A problem shared is a problem halved,' talking to a friend, colleague or mental health profession can help you talk through what is making you stressed and can help offer a different perspective on the situation at hand. Making time for fun and relaxation should be seen as vital and not squeezed into the moments of the day or week when we're not working, so that the body gets some reprieve from stress.
Learning to manage stress is vital not only for a healthy mind and body, but in business terms it makes economic sense! By learning to manage stress, your body, brain and also company will thank you for it!
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About Mark Rackley
I'm a chartered psychologist specialising in working with adults, adolescents and couples. If you find this article helpful, please feel free to forward it to others whom you think may find it helpful.
Dr Mark Rackley