Stress Awareness Month
April is Stress Awareness Month and has been since it first launched in 1992. During this month, teams of experts aim to increase public stress awareness around stress, a debilitating feeling which affects thousands of people across the UK. Harmful misconceptions about stress which are prevalent in today’s society prevent people from speaking out and seeking help. Therefore, highlighting the cause of stress, the negative effects it has on the mind and body and how to relieve stress can help others. Known as the “silent killer”, stress left unchecked can be deadly. ‘The World Health Organisation has dubbed stress the health epidemic of the 21st century’ with ‘526,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17’.
What is stress and its causes?
Stress is a feeling all of us will experience at some point in our lives. It is a response to a threat which we feel we have not got the resources to deal with.
Biologically, when your body detects stress, a small region in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus stimulates the body to produce hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure to provide extra energy whilst cortisol increases energy by releasing glucose into the bloodstream. This is a response to (acute) short-term stress known as fight or flight. However, when dealing with long-term stress (chronic) the adrenal cortex releases corticosteroids such as cortisol. This maintains energy but suppresses the immune system, increasing your likelihood of developing viral infections.
Social and environmental factors such as life events and daily hassles can also be causes of stress. For example, exam pressure, issues at home, money problems, relationship issues e.g. divorce, illness and death and traumatic events. Also positive events such as a new partner, marriage, a new job or a holiday. In the workplace common causes of stress relate to;
- Organisation culture,
- Bad management practices
- Job content and demands
- Physical work environment
- Relationships at work
- Change of management
- Lack of support
- Role conflict
- Long hours
- Workload (too much or too little) and lack of control
- Lack of autonomy and boring work
- Harassment and discrimination
What are the effects of stress?
There are many effects of stress: physical, emotional and behavioural. This can include;
- Irritation and mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Socially withdrawn and low self-esteem
- Finding it hard to manage responsibilities.
- Stomach upsets
- Aches, pains and muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Change in eating habits
- A drop in work performance
Stress has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, a weaker immune system, a stroke and a heart attack. Additionally, research has found that ‘people who suffered from chronic stress at work were at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.’ Furthermore, stress can feed into existing mental health problems and encourage the development of anxiety and depression.
How to relieve stress?
There are many ways you can relieve stress. This includes;
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in relation to food and exercise. Eating high fibre carbohydrate rich foods increase serotonin which helps us relax, whilst fruit and vegetables boost our immune system. Moreover, exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of endorphins which are chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that act as the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Also, avoid smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine as this is only avoidance behaviour and the stress will not be resolved
- Dedicate time to yourself. For example, you could try breathing techniques or take part in sports and hobbies which are calming such as yoga and meditation.
- Seek advice from a medical professional. They may recommend biological therapies such as benzodiazepines (lithium and valium) or beta blockers which both reduce or eliminate symptoms of stress and produce calm and relaxation. However, they may also recommend psychological therapies such as counselling. For example, Stress Inoculation Therapy is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which aims to replace irrational and negative thoughts with more positive ways of thinking about a problem.
- Talking about your feelings helps you recognise situations that cause you stress and enables you to learn coping strategies.
- Empower yourself to take control and speak up (to your manager.) Also, think actively and remember that there is a solution to every problem.
- Connect with family and friends who act as a valuable source of support.
- Help others daily in the workplace or through volunteering or community work which helps put your situation into perspective.
- Work smarter by prioritising and concentrating on tasks which need to be done.
- Finally, try to be positive and optimistic and accept the things you can’t change.
How we can help
Are you suffering with work-related stress? Whether your stress is a direct impact of harassment, discrimination, employment tribunals or settlement agreements, our employment team can help you.
Send us your enquiry