Stressed at work? Of course you are, everyone is.


Stress is a natural phenomenon that helps us to get stuff done when we are under pressure. A certain amount of stress in our lives is actually essential to being sufficiently stimulated to meet the challenges of everyday life. But how much is too much? Stress that is not controlled and that continues for a long period of time can seriously compromise health.

Since stress is both natural and unavoidable, it is necessary to understand it and to learn how to deal with it, particularly how to reduce it.

One person’s experience of stress never going to be the same as the next. How we respond to it depends on a myriad of circumstances all of which build to create individuals resilience to stress.

What is stress?

Stress, very simply, is a built-in condition. Humans are hard-wired to have a physical and psychological “stress” reaction when facing a perceived threat, whether it is real or not.

Specifically, whether caveman or suit, when the “fight or flight” response kicks in the body reacts with the instant release of the cortisol and adrenaline hormones. These hormones keep the body and mind coiled, alert and ready for reaction to the threat. This reaction served as a useful, protective response when faced with primitive threats such as a lion attacking. However it is important to note that this response is outside of conscious control, the body will trigger this response automatically

Being stressed can serve as a useful motivator to perform, provided it is in the right context and does overwhelm or continue. As far back as 1908, researchers discovered that once stress reaches a mid to high level, productivity drops off remarkably. And when productivity drops off, the bottom line suffers.

The specific and immediate cause of stress is called the stressor. From a physical standpoint, everybody reacts in a standard and predictable manner – we enter the “fight or flight” response. This automatic physiological process is known to have evolved in humans and animals to enable them to cope with sudden life-threatening emergencies – not the train being delayed or a red light when you are rushing to a meeting.

While the automatic physiological response of “fight or flight” was crucial in the survival of the species, today’s at work we are fortunate that we rarely need to actually fight for our lives. However we may need to retreat from a metaphorical predator – yes they exist in the workplace. Our automatic response to stress has remained unchanged from way back when to today’s modern world.

Our psychological resilience is different to each of us. We all have different levels of resilience to stress; chronic stress will eventually wear down even the strongest of people. There is a physical process running the show inside us: continued stress can cause biochemical imbalances that will weaken the immune system. Overall, stress that persists – is known to interfere with digestion and, more seriously, alter brain chemistry, create hormonal imbalances, increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and negatively affect both metabolic and immune function. It is also important to recognise that although stress itself is not a disease, it can worsen any number of already serious physical conditions.


Stress at work

Stress in the workplace is still perceived by many to be an ‘issue’ with the individual. The phrase ‘issue’ is not helpful. If stress is a built-in condition the ‘issue’ becomes what surrounds it. ‘Stress’ is what it is and employers would do well to view the ‘issue’ within the context of support to reduce and refocus its effect. As I stated before, one person’s lion is another person’s pussycat. For employers making sure that the individual is in the right role with the right support could go along way to reducing ‘issues’.

However, how many of us know how stress affects us? “I am so stressed” is almost a ubiquitous remark, are you stressed over meeting a deadline or is stress preventing you meeting a deadline – there is a significant difference.

If individuals can learn to recognise the signs of stress and how it is manifesting in them personally, they can potentially proactively with employees are who at risk of being affected by stress, they can significantly reduce the negative impact of stress on employee performance and productivity.

I have developed a Stress Awareness concept for businesses interested in promoting workplace wellbeing. I aim to bring awareness of the physiological process of what stress is to individuals and then provide support to assist in helping the individual to find ways to improve their situation.

I present to small teams an hour-long talk on what stress is and how it might manifest in our lives. This is meant as an opening conversation with the intention of bringing awareness to how individuals might be experiencing the effects of stress.

Depending on how each group responds I then offer a series of options:

  1. Follow up team talks on specific issues such as insomnia and relaxation.
  2. One to one sessions working confidentially with individuals on personal issues.
  3. On-site massage, a recognised method to de stress, also useful for individuals who work in physical environments.

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