Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992, with the predominant aim being to help people to identify stress triggers, stress behaviours and how to tackle them. Here at Trans2 Performance, one of our focuses is on ways to combat negative stress in the workplace and making your working environment a positive one.
What causes stress?
When we’re faced with a threatening situation, our brain triggers our fight or flight response causing our body to release various chemicals to help us cope with the situation. This response originates from the Stone Age where humans were constantly being faced with life-threatening situations. The fight or flight mechanism was literally there to aid survival. Nowadays, we are very rarely faced with situations as dangerous as in the Stone Age, however, when we are faced with a situation that we perceive as threatening or dangerous, our fight or flight mechanism reacts in the same way.
Fight or Flight: the science behind it
Our fight or flight response is triggered through the release of 3 hormones: adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. All 3 are responsible for the physical reactions that we experience when we are in a stressful situation, for example, increase in heart rate, fast breathing and sweaty palms. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is the chemical that we focus most on here at T2. To help us cope better with stressful situations, cortisol travels around the body, altering levels of chemicals in our bloodstream. It increases the amount of glucose in our bloodstream, enhancing our brain activity, making us more aware and alert. As the processes in our brain are detrimental to dealing with stressful situations, cortisol decreases the function of certain internal processes that are non-essential to a fight or flight situation, such as our immune, digestive and reproductive system processes. Think of it as being the puppet master of stress! Controlling all the chemical processes in our body, and pulling the strings in the right places, at the right time.
When the science goes wrong…
Stress should only be an acute reaction and after the stressful period is over, our hormone levels should return to normal. Our body has helped us cope with the stress and now we can relax, right? In most cases yes, however, sometimes our hormone levels do not decrease and remain heightened. At work, are more prone to chronic stress as we are more likely to be exposed to high pressure environments, heavy workloads and constant targets we are expected to reach. If we are constantly experiencing these things, our brain thinks we are constantly being threatened and the fight or flight goes into overdrive. This means that high levels of the 3 stress hormones, including cortisol, are being released into our bloodstream in a constant cycle, the puppet master can’t keep up with the constant changes in our body and begins to tire. This can cause an increased risk of many health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Stress effects people differently
Stress manifests itself differently in individuals. You will often find that stress targets your ‘weakest’ part of you – either physically or behaviourally. For example, if you are prone to eczema, or headaches these will flare up. Or if you have low levels of patience towards others, these levels will be even lower during stressful periods. The key to managing stress is to identify these weaknesses or triggers of stress in yourself and in others, and take action on them before things take a turn for the worse. Failing to take action on these reactions to stress can result in more serious health problems, affecting productivity and potentially long term absence from work.
There are a number of different methods that we at T2 suggest to help you to combat and reduce the effects of stress both in and out of the workplace:
- Getting a good nights sleep
- Managing your diet
- Adopting a positive mind set
- Time Management
- Learning to say no
We will touch on some of these methods throughout Stress Awareness Month.
Feelings of stress are caused by hormonal changes which we experience when our fight or flight response is triggered. When our hormone levels are elevated for long periods of time, our puppet master goes into overdrive and begins to get tired, which can cause us to develop various illnesses. Recognising our stress triggers is important to us recognising when we are stressed and combatting the consequences of it.