Even before the stress of the Pandemic, stress was a real cost to people in the United States. In fact, stress costs the United States economy more than $3 BILLION every year. This staggering cost reflects the very real business costs of stress-related illnesses, accidents, absenteeism, lower productivity and even employee turnover. April is national Stress Awareness month in the United States. It is a good idea to take a look at the implications of Stress on workplaces and on the individuals reporting that they sense the symptoms of stress.
8 of 10 Americans report that they experience stress symptoms in their daily lives. Symptoms may include both physical and emotional presentations. People with chronic stress may have headaches or stomach aches. They may also be irritable or describe chronic states of worry. However, chronic stress is also associated with causing or making much worse conditions such as depression, anxiety or personality disorders, sleep disorders and trouble concentrating. Physically, symptoms include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms and weight gain.
People are built to withstand some stress. In fact, the body has a fight or flight response designed to deal with threats. This mechanism causes an alarm to go off in the hypothalamus in the base of the brain. This alarm sends a signal to go to the adrenal glands which are on top of the kidneys. The adrenals glands release hormones – specifically cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones work together to trigger a cascade of reactions in the body. Adrenaline causes the heart rate to speed up, breathing to increase and boosts energy levels – as if to flee a threat. Cortisol is the stress hormone. It immediately increases glucose/sugar in the blood and alters the brain to better use glucose and it increases the supplies to repair any injured tissue. But cortisol also changes the immune system, suppressing the digestive system, reproductive system and growth system. It then shuts off any non-essential functions of the body that you would not need if you were literally running away from harm. Cortisol also responds in the brain to effect mood and fear.
While a person flees an immediate threat, the body can certainly function in this altered state and will return to normal once the threat is removed or the person has escaped. But when there is no escaping and stress is a constant state, the body has no opportunity to recover and the state of chronic stress takes a serious toll on health.
61% of reported stress is related to work. 50% report that stress has impacted their work and/or personal lives. 1 in every 3 say that stress adversely impacts family and personal lives.
And not all stress is embedded in sadness. Stress is stress whether it is the result of poor working conditions or a promotion / new job responsibility. Stress is the same whether it is an upcoming divorce or a wedding. Some jobs are just stressful, such as nursing, police / fire, counseling, etc. For all jobs there are some common factors associated with work stress:
- Low rates of pay
- No control over decisions
- Unrealistic expectations
- No peer support
- Heavy workloads
- Lack of upward job growth
- Boring/Repetitive work
Managing stress is important to overall health status for everyone. Adopting a lifestyle that focuses on healthy eating, daily exercise or movement, relaxation time with Yoga or other quiet times and managing sleep schedules can all help reduce stress levels. When needed, it is also a good reason to seek professional help with counseling. And, April just also happens to be National Counseling Month.