First we’ll take a look at what stress is and how it affects the body
Before we get specific about work-related stress, let’s first explore what stress actually is. Stress is your body’s way of responding to a demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined – it is a natural and automatic response known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction. In primitive times this response enabled humans to either escape danger by running or face it by fighting. The same chemical and physiological processes occur today, however, modern day dangers and threats often don’t demand the same reactions, especially in the workplace.
When a stressful situation occurs, our brains are flooded with adrenalin and the stress hormone cortisol – which rouse the body for emergency action. Cortisol narrows the arteries, while another hormone, epinephrine, increases your heart rate. Working together, they force your blood to pump harder and faster as you confront and resolve the immediate threat, your muscles tighten and your senses become heightened…preparing you for a quick exit or a physical battle.
But clearly this surge of chemicals and physiological processes isn’t helpful when facing a deadline or having to make a presentation…particularly given that too much cortisol has some pretty bad side effects:
Increased blood sugar levels. Insulin helps the cells convert glucose to energy. As your pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin to feed the muscles, glucose levels in your blood remain high and your cells don’t get the sugar they need to perform at their best.
Weight gain. Your body demands energy for immediate action and to feed this, your body sends signals to your brain that you are hungry and need to eat. Read our blog on why stress makes you fat here
Suppressed immune system. Cortisol’s reduces inflammation in the body but high levels actually suppress your immune system making you more susceptible to colds and illnesses.
Digestive problems. Because blood and chemicals are diverted to other vital organs in the body to enable the flight or flight response, it shuts down other less critical functions, such as digestion. Acid build up along with other chemical processes often lead to ulcers during stressful times.
Heart disease. Cortisol constricts the arteries so that blood pressure increases and blood gets to vitral organs faster, enabling a quicker reaction. Prolonged episodes of constricted arteries and high blood pressure can lead to blood vessel damage and plaque build up in your arteries.
What is work-related stress
Because our bodies haven’t evolved alongside our environments, the same processes outlined above all come in to play when a stressful event happens and this includes stress in the working environment. By definition, work-related stress is stress that is caused or made worse by work.
It refers to when a person perceives the work environment in such a way that his or her reaction involves feelings of an inability to cope, manifested by real or perceived pressures, threats, anxieties or deadline for example. Typically stress occurs when a person believes there to be an imbalance between demands placed on them and their ability to cope with them – a reduced level of perceived control and support.
In many cases high stress levels outside of the work environment can cause an inability to cope in the working environment and it can be difficult to establish if the work-related stress is the actual cause of the stress. Someone who is experiencing stressful life events may find that he or she is less able to cope with demands and deadlines at work, even though work is not the cause and the issues had never been a problem before.
The signs of stress to watch out for
People respond in different ways under pressure, some become withdrawn, others become irritable but the common effects of work-related stress can be categorised as follows:
Emotional (how the mind processes information):
- Fatalistic Thinking
- Feeling Overwhelmed
Physical (how the body reacts):
- Chest Pain
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Aches and Pains
- Frequent Colds
- Skin Complaints
- High Blood Pressure
Behavioural (what we do):
- Increase Intake in Alcohol, Cigarettes and Caffeine to Relax
- Isolating Yourself from Others
- Sleeping too Little or too Much
- Loss of sense of humour
Cognitive (the way we think and concentrate):
- Memory Problems
- Poor Judgement
- nability to Concentrate
- ‘Brain Fog’
- Starting many tasks but achieving little
- Self doubt
Increased stress can massively alter a person’s general behaviour. These alterations in behaviour are very often noticed and commented on by colleagues before the individual realises that the changes have become apparent in their behaviour.
Often the most noticeable change in behaviour is anger with many people reacting with intermittent rage. Others can react with lower resilience, tearfulness and a tendency to become easily upset. Very often a common reaction is withdrawing from social activities.
Common causes of work-related stress
An individual can experience work-related stress as a result of many varying factors, very often these overlap and exasperate the problems. The Institute of Work, Health & Organisations, University of Nottingham, UK catagorise common issues as the following context and content factors:
Context to work: (hazardous demands)
Organisational culture: Poor communication, low levels of support for problem solving and personal development, lack of definition of organisational objectives.
Role in organisation: Role ambiguity and role conflict; responsibility for people unclear.
Career development: Career stagnation and uncertainty, under or over promotion, poor pay, job insecurity, low social value to work.
Decision latitude/control: Low participation in decision making, lack of control over work.
Interpersonal relationships at work: Social or physical isolation, poor relationships with superiors, interpersonal conflict, lack of social support.
Home-work interface: Conflicting demands of work and home, low support at home, dual career problems.
Content to work: (hazardous demands)
Work environment and equipment: Problems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance or repair of both equipment and facilities.
Task design: Lack of variety or short work cycles, fragmented or meaningless work, underuse of skills, high uncertainty.
Workload/pace of work: Work overload or underload, lack of control, over pacing, high level of time pressures.
Work schedule: Poorly managed shift working, inflexible work schedules, unpredictable hours, long or unsocial hours
So what can employers do to prevent work-related stress?
As employers there are several broad areas that should be regularly considered to address work-related stress:
- Performance feedback, recognition and encouragement
- The respect and dignity of every employee
- The alignment of personal goals with those of the company
- Clear and transparent communication
- Implementation of a stress management training process (Calmer workplace)
- Employee input into decision making
- Regular assessments with clear career progression channels
- Consistent management actions
How what can individuals do to help themselves?
The 12 step Calmer workplace process addresses the issues associated with work-related stress, taking the user on a journey of self-assessment and discovery, understanding and defining change, addressing fears and creating a mindset of positivity and success. Calmer workplace is the live, in-house training programme of the Calmer Sea: digital therapy app.
Some quick steps that will help in the interim are:
Positivity is infectious
It’s easy to dwell on the negatives but this causes a downward spiral and doesn’t alter anything. Try changing your perspective and look for the positives.
Make a list of your goals
Create a vision of where you’d like to be in six months, one or two years. Write a list of the reasons why you want to achieve this goal and also what life would look like if you didn’t make any changes. Write down an action plan and steps of how you’d achieve your goal – chunk this into steps. Consider the strengths and skills you have and the ones that you need to develop.
Reduce your stress levels
Make an effort to include stress-reducing exercises in your daily routine. Consider incorporating the following exercises:
- Breathing exercises
- Setting a sleeping routine
- Increased exercise
- Healthy eating
Be compassionate and socialise
Find compassion for others and nurture your personal and business relationships. Make a list of the people that you interact with at work and create an action plan of how you’ll deal with them. Consider a new perspective in how you look at that person. A person that you are having difficulty with has their own story and set of circumstances that may be contributing to their difficult behaviour, something might be happening in their life that has nothing to do with you. Try to alter how you interact with them.
Behave and communicate as you would when your goals have been realised
Be the you that you want to be. Live as though you are the person who has already achieved the goals you set out above and alter your perspective.
How can Calmer Workplace help
Calmer Sea is unique because the service combines many proven therapies, such as: CBT, Mindfulness, hypnotherapy, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, EFT, Havening, NLP, self-compassion, binaural sounds, meditation, EMDR, visioning exercises, personal positive affirmations, exercise and yoga, environmental stimulus and problem solving techniques.
Blending these therapies together specifically to help individuals deal with stress and anxiety, set goals, create a personal vision and then follow a path that leads them to their new successful selves.
We combine the above techniques and therapies with tried and tested business analysis strategies to help us align goals, vision and skills.
The plethora of techniques that we can include all help us to be sure of an individual or organisation’s present situation with regards to strengths and shortfalls, allowing us to accurately define their future and assess what needs to change in order for them to be successful, whether from an individual or company perspective.
We transform companies by helping their team to relax and focus
We’re passionate about helping people to be free from stress and anxiety and to become the person that they wish to be.
Fore more information about how Calmer Workplace can transform your workforce and your business please click here