September is well underway, summer is behind us and it’s a time many of us feel the holiday blues, returning to work or education. A period where it can be easy to feel a little more stressed than usual.
A 14-year study of over 100,000 people has concluded that highly stressful jobs are more likely to lead to premature death. Chronic stress is dangerous and it’s important to manage it like any other illness, taking the necessary actions to improve your symptoms, rather than carelessly sweeping it under the rug and hoping it will disappear. On top of the detriment to our health, it’s got wider economic implications. According to the HSE, 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety which is an enormous cost to the economy and that’s not to mention the loss of productivity stress can cause.
Why do we get stressed?
A stress response is something innate to all of us, otherwise known as fight or flight. A response that was once fundamental to our survival, releasing stress hormones when a dangerous situation arises to keep us alert, focused allowing us to have the best chance of escaping. The issue is that now the fight or flight response can easily become overactive in modern life, coming into play when important deadlines occur and things don’t pan out as expected. The Mental Health Foundation commissioned a survey of 4,619 adults in the UK which revealed that a staggering 74% of adults had felt overwhelmed by stress in the last year. This demonstrates that for the majority of us, it’s important to have some sort of stress management procedures in place.
What are some of the symptoms of work-related stress?
The following are some of the most common physical and psychological symptoms of work-related stress:
- sleeping difficulties
- cognitive difficulties (indecisiveness, brain fog and trouble concentrating)
- mood swings
- weekend immune system
What are the best ways to combat work-related stress?
1. Go for a walk
According to a study , walking can shift your brain into a meditative state, which is calming and quieting to the mind which reduces stress as numerous studies have revealed. Walking during your lunch break provides a nice hiatus from your work, and leaves you feeling relaxed and recharged, ready to finish the second half of the day.
2. Follow a healthy diet
When we’re stressed it’s often easier to turn to comfort eating unhealthy foods. While this can make us feel better in the short term by providing a brief serotonin boost while we ingest fatty foods, in the long term this only exacerbates stress. Their lack of nutritional value and high sugar content can lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels, fatigue and high blood pressure.
But there’s no need to avoid carbs altogether, complex carbs such as rice, sweet potato, oats and brown bread are a much more nutritional option. Additionally, foods high in antioxidants such as berries and veggies are brilliant at strengthening your immune system which weakens when you’re under a lot of stress.
Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and inversely, stimulates the production of endorphins which help reduce our perception of pain and boosts your mood. As explained in Harvard Health, “It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress”. Additionally, strenuous physical movement takes your mind away from any irritation and angst of the day.
All types of exercise have the benefit of reducing stress so why not try mixing up your workouts and do a combination of strength and cardio training?
Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a tense situation you often forget to breathe? Short shallow breaths are one of the body’s responses to stress, which occurs when our muscles have increased tension.
Deep breathing is an effective and immediate way to reduce stress. Whenever you notice yourself involuntarily holding your breath or taking shallow breaths, try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, and take a few seconds for each breath. Taking control back of your breathing reduces tension and allows you to relax.
See the NHS guidelines for more information on deep breathing to reduce stress.
5. Avoid procrastination
Get your priorities in order and learn to stop procrastinating. It’s easier said than done, but this applies for life outside work as well. We’re all guilty of getting preoccupied and distracted from the important things that need to be completed. This can make you busier than you need to be, draw out the tasks you need to do and make stress much more inevitable.
6. Optimise your sleep
Start a sleep routine to ensure you’re setting yourself up for the best possible night’s sleep you can get. We all have difficulty sleeping from time to time and are too familiar with those restless nights when we’re kept awake by recurring thoughts whizzing through our mind as our brain refuses to shut off.
A good method to try is a digital-detox one hour before you head to bed. Studies show that the more you use your phone the more likely you are to experience anxiety. Additionally, the blue light emitted by our devices supresses the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. This is because our body relies on the blue light emitted by the sun to determine our sleep cycle and artificial blue light from screens can interfere with this.
Finally, it gives you time for your brain to be switched off, you’re no longer plugged into the constant flow of information and notifications. You can give time for your mind to wander and wind-down.
Laughter is a brilliant remedy for reducing stress. Firstly, it relieves your stress response by triggering the release of endorphins amongst other mood-boosting chemicals while diminishing the secretion of cortisol and epinephrine. The phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ has some truth to it, since it enhances reactivity of the immune system. Laughter releases tension and anxiety, it’s an emotional catharsis and an efficient stress-buster.
8. Go for a massage
Stress affects your body as well as your mind and when you carry too much tension this can lead to pain. Massage stimulates circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscles while expelling waste products, helping to reduce stiffness and tension. This benefit extends to your mind, where studies have shown that a massage can reduce stress hormone levels by as much as 30% while increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.
Stress relief is essential in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and it’s becoming more and more linked to wellness. The effects of chronic stress can be detrimental to both your mental and physical wellbeing, and with such a large majority of Brits overwhelmed by stress it’s important to make time to relax, wind down and recuperate.