Whilst we all might claim to be ‘a bit stressed out’ from time to time, very few of us take the problem of stress seriously. Yet, stress is a serious condition and left untreated, it can have quite significant effects on our overall health and wellbeing. Whilst it might be seen as a psychological problem, it does in fact impact on many areas of our physical health, and most of us will experience high levels of stress at some stage in our lives.
Whether it is caused by a single major event in our lives, such as divorce or bereavement, or it’s the cumulative result of many smaller issues, such as workplace tension or fear of redundancy, stress has the potential to build up into something very serious.
Stress at work
HSE figures show that almost half a million cases of stress-related illnesses were reported in the workplace between 2015 and 2016. An astonishing 37% of all work-related illness in this country was linked to stress. Similar figures have been reported in the US, where 48% of survey respondents acknowledged that stress had had a significant impact on their lives, both personally and professionally. More than half of those questioned in the survey said that stress had caused arguments with loved ones.
Clearly, stress in the workplace is something that affects many of us. Leaving aside the financial impact that workplace stress has on the economy, the impact it has on our health is of paramount concern.
How stress affects overall health
If you have ever suffered from stress, you will know just how much it affects your ability to stay calm and focused. Apart from disrupting your effectiveness at work, though, stress can also trigger some major health issues, including migraines, panic attacks, chest pains, high blood pressure, extreme tiredness and loss of libido.
One of the most frightening symptoms of stress is a panic attack, especially the first time it happens. During a panic attack, the chest tightens and it becomes difficult to breathe, which makes the panic even worse. If this happens to you, try breathing slowly into a paper bag to restore your breathing to a regular level.
If you do experience symptoms of stress, it’s vital that you speak to your doctor about it, and that you are open about whatever you feel is causing your stress.
Left untreated, stress has the potential to do serious harm to your overall health. Once it reaches chronic levels, stress can compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to viruses and infections. It can also cause serious digestive issues and affect fertility.
Put simply, long-term stress can make your body unable to cope with everyday life. If left untreated, long-term stress could even put you at risk of major illnesses, such as coronary disease, diabetes and clinical depression. As well as these serious physical issues, stress can also make you extremely emotional, irrational and unable to cope with even the simplest of daily tasks and interactions.
In order to beat stress, it’s important that you recognise the fact that you are stressed, and seek help to tackle it. These simple steps will go a long way towards managing your stress effectively:
Speak to your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to work with you to identify the causes of stress and draw up an appropriate care plan.
Identify all of the physical and emotional symptoms of your stress, such as disturbed sleep, aggression, depression or even alcohol or substance abuse. Your doctor needs to be informed of all of these.
Try to exercise regularly, even if it is simply 30 minutes of brisk walking each day. Something as simple as this can have a positive impact on mood and stress levels.
Smoking is often assumed to be a way to relieve stress, but recent studies have revealed that long-term smoking can actually be a contributor to stress. If you are a smoker and cannot quit entirely, try using a patch, gum or e-cigarettes, in order to satisfy your nicotine cravings without the negative issues of smoking regular cigarettes.
Consider learning some relaxation techniques, either to do at home or as part of a local class. This could be yoga, tai chi or meditation, and all of these will help to reduce stress levels, whilst also giving you a regular activity to focus on.
It’s important to set sensible and achievable goals for managing your stress. Focus on what you have achieved each day, and don’t be afraid to say no to work requests, if you feel you are being overloaded. Employers generally want to ensure that their staff are happy and healthy, so don’t hide stress at work, and do ask for help.
If stress is having an impact on your work and personal life, it’s important to tackle it. You might be surprised at what a difference taking that first step makes.