Stress at Work - A Practical Guide To Coping

Rafe Harwood

Work 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.

  • What is Stress?

  • 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.

  • Stress and Adrenaline

  • 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.

  • Stress, Diet and the Digestive System

  • 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.

  • Stress and Blood Flow

  • 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.

  • Stress and Sleep Problems

  • Stress can affect how we sleep. The adrenaline can lead to insomnia and deprivation of REM sleep, essential for brain functioning.

  • General Stress Management Exercises

  • 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.

  • Warning Signs That You or Your Colleagues Are Suffering From Stress

  • 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 doctor.