Stress and the impact it has on your health

Sustained periods of stress are bad for your health. The physical effects on your body range from asthma and intestinal disorders through to heart disease and mental illness. One of the most common effects of stress is a weakening of your immune system, which in turn increases your susceptibility to a range of diseases, from colds and flu to cancer. Stress is also frequently linked to musculoskeletal disorders such as strained necks, backs, arms and shoulders.

As well as the physical and emotional impact of stress on individuals and families, the cost to business in absenteeism and compensation payouts is again skyrocketing.

As both a society and as individuals, we clearly need to learn to better manage stress. On the upside, while stress-related illness is hitting companies in the hip pocket, they have a strong motivation to do something about it. Most of Australia’s top firms now have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that offer counselling services, while many more are addressing the issue through policy change and employee health initiatives.

Yet, managing stress at work is a two-way street. We need to understand that stress is a valid condition. Recognise the symptoms and work to manage it before it gets out of control.

What is Stress?

Stress is a prehistoric response that is rooted in a gland in your brain called the hypothalamus. An external trigger, or stressor, such as a traffic jam or a tight deadline, stimulates the release of chemicals that tell your body to either stand and fight, or to run for its life.

When this happens, blood is withdrawn from your brain and stomach and sent to your larger muscle groups, adrenalin is released into your blood, your heart and lungs work harder, your eyes dilate, your skin sweats, the level of fats, cholesterol and sugar in your bloodstream increases, your stomach secretes more acid, your immune system slows down and your thinking shifts to a more black-and-white, survivalist mode.

Unfortunately, all this activity is not terribly useful in the modern workplace. The response was designed to protect our hunter gatherer ancestors from immediate danger, such as predators. It was not designed for the more unrelenting stressors in modern life like job insecurity, an unforgiving boss or information overload. Physiologically, we haven’t evolved to live in the modern environment and that’s why there is a stress epidemic causing so much illness, particularly mental illness.

Over the Edge

When we feel in control, stress becomes the spice of life, a challenge instead of a threat. Yet when we lack this crucial sense of control, stress can spell crisis.

A healthy level of stress helps us be productive, motivated and stimulated. It induces ‘cortex thinking’, or high-level, critical thinking that allows us to make good decisions. The danger lies in not turning this the stress response off. When we experience it, our body is releasing chemicals designed for fight or flight, but instead of punching the boss or running out of the room, we sit quietly at our computers.

If our stress has no outlet over time, our response can become hyperactive. This creates ‘limbic thinking’, or low-level thinking that involves losing the ability to process information clearly and rationally. We start overreacting to small things and we make bad decisions. This is when it starts to affect work performance, health and relationships. It becomes a vicious cycle as we become exhausted, feel de-motivated and are less likely to behave in a way that would help us release stress, like exercising, seeing friends or just relaxing with a good book without feeling guilt.

Common Signs of Negative Stress

Negative stress results from a failure to adequately cope with stressors in your environment:

BehaviouralPsychologicalPhysical
Increased intake of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or food
Declining work performance
Poor relationships
Insomnia
Avoiding situations or people
Low sex drive
Negativity
Increased anxiety
Depression
Irritability
Aggression
Mood swings
Headaches
Insomnia
Persistent indigestion
Constipation or diarrhoea
Regular colds and flu (particularly on holidays)
Chronic tiredness
Skin rashes
Palpitations
Excessive sweating
Tight throat
Chest pain
Stomach pain

If you are experiencing prolonged symptoms of negative stress, our evidenced-base Wellness Retreat has been created to support you through addressing the symptoms as well as set you up with techniques to cope with stress in the future.

Our experienced team specialises in addressing these specific stressors, tailoring treatment plans to meet each individual’s unique needs. Learn more HERE