Stress at Work - A Practical Guide To Coping
plays a powerful role in people's lives and exerts an important influence on their
well-being. Although one's job can be an exciting challenge for many individuals,
it can also be a tremendous source of stress and strain. In today's 24-hour economy,
work is making ever increasing demands on employees' time and energy. The relationship
between work and mental and physical health contributes to both career adjustment
and the productivity and economic viability of companies. This report will outline
different forms of stress, its consequences on the body and mind, and practical
everyday solutions that anyone can use to combat it.
Job insecurity, shift work, long working hours, role conflict, physical hazard
exposures and interpersonal conflicts with co-workers or supervisors are all factors
which may give rise to the feeling of stress. At a personal level, work stressors
are related to depression, anxiety, general mental distress symptoms, heart disease,
ulcers, and chronic pain. At an organizational level, companies loose billions
of dollars a year due to employee burnout and millions of working days are lost
every year through stress.
Unless we learn to manage
stress, we will suffer the consequences. But it doesn't have to be this way.
The stress reaction is learned and can be altered through various coping strategies.
There are a few easy steps we can take to manage stress. Read on and you will
learn how to detect symptoms of stress, and common sense ways to manage and
prevent it. After all, prevention and cure are the two limbs of stress management.
Stress is simply the body's
response to a demanding or strenuous situation. It is not possible to say definitively
which jobs are at risk from stress, as stress results from the experience of doing
a job. For example, a boring job could appear to be at no risk from causing stress,
yet the individual doing the job may feel extremely stressed from having to concentrate
on such a mundane task.
When a person experiences stress,
the brain responds by releasing the chemical adrenaline into the blood stream.
This gives a boost of energy to allow us do whatever is necessary to survive.
If left unchecked, however, this adrenaline can have serious negative effects.
A well balanced diet is crucial
in preserving health and helping to reduce stress. The digestive system slows
down dramatically during periods of stress. This gives rise to the common feelings
of a dry mouth, emptiness in the stomach and change in appetite. The stomach produces
excess acid when the body is stressed and cannot absorb nutrients properly.
The increase in acid production
causes heartburn and painful stomach ulcers. Essential vitamins and nutrients
from food cannot be properly absorbed. Fat, however, is absorbed and can build
up in the blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to heart and circulatory problems.
The adrenaline caused by stress
can build up in the muscles and brain. This leads to muscle fatigue like tension
in the neck and shoulders, back pain, cramps and headaches. Blood can also build
up in the muscles causing pain. It is a common misconception that massaging or
rubbing the shoulders or temples alleviates aching feeling. However, this only
serves to increase blood flow to the muscles, thereby worsening the pain.
- Take a multivitamin &
multimineral supplement (e.g. Centrum). These are far more easily
absorbed by the stomach and will provide the essential nutrients lost. Take
the vitamin tablets with orange juice as it acts as a carrier for the vitamins.
The tablets should be taken at night before going to bed, not first thing
in the morning as many people do. The night time is when the brain repairs
itself and needs all of the important vitamins and minerals
- Avoid fatty foods and
eat plenty of high protein foods such as fish and white meat.
- Take a garlic tablet
daily. Odorless garlic pearls can be bought from most supermarkets and should
be taken with food to keep them odorless. Garlic serves to clean the blood
vessels and break down fatty deposits. Red wine also has this effect and is
much more pleasurable!
- Drink plenty of water.
Stress can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. Drinking plenty of water, at
least a quart a day, can alleviate it.
- Eat a banana every day.
The body needs energy when under stress. Relying on glucose or sucrose (like
chocolate bars or sugar) for energy means that the body cannot replenish its
own energy stores. Bananas and fruit contain fructose (fruit sugars) which
can be stored more easily, thereby reducing general fatigue. Bananas also
help to reduce the appearance of blood-shot eyes.
- Place the palm of your
right hand in the small of your back at the base of the spine. Place your
left hand behind your back on top of your right hand. Allow your shoulders
to stretch back for several seconds. Now relax your arms by your side. This
simple exercise prevents the build up of blood and alleviates the painful
aches and pains of muscle fatigue.
Stress can affect how we
sleep. The adrenaline can lead to insomnia and deprivation of REM sleep, essential
for brain functioning.
- Avoid caffeine, dairy
products and excess alcohol before bed.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
Isotonic drinks are particularly good, e.g. a glass of orange squash with
a spoonful of sugar in it.
- Set an alarm every day.
An alarm clock is essential, even on days when you don't have to get up early.
As long as you wake up for a few seconds at the same time every day, the brain
maintains its daily routine.
- Relax before going to
sleep. Follow some of the relaxation and breathing exercises below.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Exercise. Exercising
every day can help to burn off the excess adrenaline. Even just 10 minutes
of accelerated pulse activity (e.g. running, cycling, skipping) in the evening
Deep muscle relaxation.
A technique that trains the brain to troubleshoot its own muscles. By increasing
the brains awareness of the muscles it can prevent the build up of harmful chemicals.
Force the brain to concentrate on each of the body's muscle groups in turn,
starting from the feet and working up to the head and face. By repeatedly tensing
and relaxing the muscles in order, any build-up of adrenaline or blood products
is reduced. The exercise should last 10-15 minutes and be carried out before
bed. After 2 weeks, it will become completely effortless.
Guided imagery. A
thought process to relax the body and mind. More than merely a thought, this
exercise must be an experience to be completely effective. In other words, more
than just thinking about something to relax you, you need to use all of the
body's senses. The subject must be absorbing, pleasurable, sensory, and involve
movement. For example, take the concept of walking on a beach. What do you see
and hear? Perhaps a ship on the water and the sound of waves crashing. What
do you feel? Maybe the breeze on your face. This exercise can be very useful
to reduce stress before sleep or simply in stressful situations at work you
can take 5 minutes out to practice it.
- Persistent irritability
- Occasional forgetfulness
and/or inability to concentrate
- Absenteeism or tardiness
- Tired and fatigued for
- Procrastination and indecision
- Social withdrawal with
- Resentful, indifferent,
- Increased use of coffee,
alcohol, tobacco, etc.
- Chronic sadness or depression
- Chronic mental and physical
- Chronic stress related
illnesses (headache, stomach ache, bowel problems, etc.)
- Isolation, withdrawal,
This guide is intended to help people learn more about stress and stress management
techniques. Although it has been written under the guidance of a physician, it is not
an exhaustive guide and there is no substitute for personal advice from your