The Importance of Stress Management
Stress has become an increasingly normal part of life for many. In an occupational health and safety/human resources sense, the focus is centered on the adverse and often significant effects on workers exposed to stressful situations. The consequences of stress don't just impact an individual, they can also have a significant impact on the individual's family and friends and their workplace.
For the last five years the Australian Psychological Society have been conducting a Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey. Their 2015 survey highlights some shocking results:
35% of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives;
26% of Australians report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms; and
26% of Australians report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms.
According to Safe Work Australia the impact of stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year! This figure has been calculated based on workers compensation claims. The important factor to note is that not everyone puts in a workers compensation claim. In fact, the majority of people suffer the consequences of stress in silence.
So let's take a look at stress in more detail:
What is Stress? Stress is the body's indicator of how it is feeling. It is essentially a reaction to the situation that we are faced with. Our body reacts the same way regardless of whether it is a pleasant or unpleasant situation - our heart rate will increase, our body produces adrenaline, our breathing rate increases and we are more alert.
These kinds of responses can be good for us - think of elite sports people - they function on adrenaline in competitions. It allows them to be alert, to concentrate and drives them to achieve.
Stress however is when your body is constantly in that state of being wound up and doesn't get a chance to relax.
How Much Stress is Too Much?
This can be hard to quantify as one person's motivation may be another person's stress. Generally if you start to feel any stress-related consequences then this should alert you to the fact that you are experiencing stress in your life. Once you recognise this then you can begin to look at managing, avoiding or eliminating the cause of the stress.
The Stress Process:
Stress is a process consisting of three parts:
Stressors are the factors that contribute to or cause stress for individuals. Stressors can come from anywhere in your life. Let's have a look at a few:
Health issues for ourselves or others close to us
Lack of stability/security
Long hours/excessive overtime/shift work
Conflicts with other people
Harassment, discrimination, bullying
Work pressures - excessive pace/expectations/workload
Inadequate staffing levels
Work environment/conditions (noise, temperature, location etc)
Unfair disciplinary procedures
Lack of training/recognition/support/achievement
2. Coping Strategies:
A coping strategy is how we as individuals adapt to or eliminate the stressors in our life. Coping strategies may include:
Exercise (burning up excess adrenaline)
Taking a break
Talking to someone about the issue
Asking for help with our workload (either at home and/or work)
Fueling your body with the right food
Relaxation techniques - yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, taking a bath, massage etc
Time management strategies - writing a to-do list, assigning set times for tasks etc
Going for a walk
Catching up with friends and loved ones
Doing something you enjoy - reading, writing, drawing, listening to music etc
Consequences are the adverse effects caused by stress and can include behavioural, social and physical health effects ranging in severity depending on the length and amount of stress.
If consistently under stress you may experience some or all of these early physical health symptoms:
Increased blood pressure
Tension in muscles, backache, shoulder ache etc
Headaches or migraines
Reduced appetite/loss of weight
More serious physical health consequences include long-term health effects such as:
Hypertension (which can lead to things such as strokes, heart attacks, or burst blood vessels in the brain)
Thrombosis (blood clotting) and hardening of the arteries
Ulcers (caused by increased rate of gastric acid secretion)
Stress can also lead to increased indulgence in smoking, drinking, gambling, taking drugs or risk-taking activities.
These consequences will also have a significant impact on relationships around you, at home, in the community and in the workplace.
Solutions to Stress:
There are a few key steps to dealing with stress:
Listen to your body and take notice of what it is saying. Do you have a tension headache? Are your back muscles stiff and painful?
Understand that your stress is a natural consequence of the pressure that you are under.
Develop some strategies to avoid/stay away from issues that cause you stress if at all possible. Some stressful situations can be eliminated by creative problem solving. For example, if long lines in supermarkets make you feel stressed, consider shopping online or going during a quieter time. If traffic makes you feel tense, take along your favourite CD's to listen to or if you love to read but never get the time, take along a book on audio to listen to.
Burn up excess adrenaline through physical activity.
Fuel your body with the right foods (too much salt or sugar make the highs higher but the lows lower, caffeine heightens the sense of adrenaline - until you crash from it).
Learn some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or something similar.
Involve other people and share the load both at home and at work.
Learn how to manage your time better, spending more time on planning and preparation and less time with time wasters (day dreaming, distractions, personal phone calls etc).
Remember that there will always be small obstacles in life (and major ones too) that can't be avoided, eliminated or changed. These can however be balanced by periods of relaxation. Plan time for relaxation (actually schedule it in your calendar). You will find that you will feel refreshed, reinvigorated and better able to handle the situations and obstacles you face on a daily basis.