According to research nearly half a million people in the UK have work-related stress that is making them ill, resulting in sick leave and absenteeism. It is estimated that 12 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress-related illness. (HSE.gov.co.uk)
The dictionary defines stress as “ a forcibly exerted influence usually causing distress or strain.” In short stress is any factor, positive or negative that requires a response or change. Medical research recognizes that chronic ongoing stress can lead to illness, aggravate existing disease conditions and accelerate aging. Common stressors include most aspects of life in the Western world – work related, financial, emotional and environmental, as well as nutritional factors.
The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge. Clearly these concepts are not the same. Challenge, if at the appropriate level, energizes both psychologically and physically. It motivates to learn new skills and master new and more challenging job roles. When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied, proud and perhaps even excited about what has been achieved.
When does a challenge become stressful? Either when the goal cannot be achieved because it looks and feels overwhelming or when demands cannot be met, due to capability and or lack of necessary resources. Very quickly the situation can change from focused and motivated to exhaustion from trying, and the sense of ability to accomplish has turned into feelings of stress.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Early symptoms include tiredness and lack of energy, tension headaches, and poor sleep, and even dizziness, stomach tension and diarrhoea. When stress becomes more ingrained and bordering on or causing adrenal exhaustion, these symptoms are still evident, but stronger and more constant, and are often joined by other symptom including, sweaty hands and feet, insomnia, circulating thoughts, nightmares, inability to get back to sleep, mood swings, anxiety attacks, stomach pains, heart burn and palpitations, depression and if that’s not enough - a permanent feeling of being exhausted all the time.
Subjecting the body to constant stress means the fight and flight system is no longer able to turn off. In other words your body is in a constant state of alert, whether there is danger or not. Stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released which sends blood to the areas of the body that most need it including the heart and muscles in order to get you away from the immediate danger. When the perceived fear has gone, the hypothalamus should tell the system to go back to normal, but when constantly under stress this system becomes incapable of regulation resulting in cortisol flooding the system causing the many symptoms mentioned.
Some helpful tips for managing the body’s reaction in the early stages of stress:
- Practice good sleep hygiene - be in bed by 10.30pm
- Make your bedroom a “no zone” for electronic devices
- Stop using all electronic devices at least an hour before bed in order to calm the brain. Read, meditate, take a warm bath with calming essential oils or simply share time with your family instead
- Vigorous exercise to be completed a minimum of 2 hours before going to bed
- Allow two hours for digestion of your last meal before going to bed.
- Drink calming tea such as Lime Blossom, Chamomile, Lemon Melissa and or Lavender before retiring