Stress is defined by the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology as ‘the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave.’
The human body naturally and instinctively reacts to feelings of threat and pressure however the reaction is not always negative. Within the brain, the Hypothalamus Pituitary Axis (HPA) controls how your body reacts to stress. Faced with a stressful situation, your HPA releases the hormone cortisol, priming our body for action (fight or flight response). In some cases, the right amount of stress can be positive and motivating and can drive us to perform effectively to meet demands and achieve our goals. This is also known as ‘eustress’.
However, science reveals that prolonged chronic stress leads to overproduction of cortisol in your brain, inhibiting the HPA's ability to control the effects of stress in your body. This is both emotionally and physically challenging for the brain and the body and presents itself in several emotional and physical symptoms including:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty relaxing
- Easily frustrated
- Low self-esteem/feelings of loneliness
- Low mood
- Muscle aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Raised heartbeat
- High blood pressure
People who experience these symptoms chronically are often at a greater risk of developing anxiety, depression and burnout (emotional/mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.) In fact, research reveals that those who report a high level of stress have a 43% increased risk of premature death due to health complications. This therefore emphasises the importance of developing positive strategies for coping with stress.
Why is Stress Detrimental at Work?
Research by Mind UK suggests that work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives and insufficient management of worker stress and an inability to identify the root cause of the stress within the workplace can have critical health implications for the workforce, as well as proving extremely costly for the organisational bottom line. According to Yerks & Dodson there is an empirical relationship between stress and performance, whereby performance increases with physiological arousal, but only to a point. Past the optimal level of arousal, significant levels of stress can be detrimental to how we perform at work due to many of the mental and physical difficulties outlined in this blog. The way in which we respond to these stressors determines our success thus it is important to focus on how we can effectively deal with stress for a happier and healthier life at work.
1. Split up your to-do list
If you feel overwhelmed with your workload and your to-do list is never ending, try breaking this down into smaller, more workable tasks to give yourself greater satisfaction in completing them.
2. Reach out and talk to someone
Speaking to someone you trust and who will actively listen will allow you to share the mental load and help you feel more supported and connected with others.
3. Be more active
Regularly exercising and staying helps release endorphins and serotonin that suppresses the stress hormone as well as helping you stay physically and physiologically healthy. This may include taking ‘walking calls’ or changing your commute.
4. Plan ahead
Creating a plan for an upcoming stressful day/period can help you visualise the tasks that need completing and therefore allow you to have control which helps you feel efficacious in achieving the outcomes desired.
5. Create a positive mindset
Creating a positive mindset stimulates the brain to increase motivation and engagement, including several health benefits; lower levels of distress, depression and anxiety.
6. Spend more time outside
The power of fresh air is often underestimated as it encourages more oxygen into your brain to keep it active and energized. Being outside with nature has been shown to boost productivity and overall mood therefore try and squeeze some time outside into your day!