Managing Your Stress at Work

According to a 2008, 12 year study of 10,308 London-based civil servants, chronic work stress was found to increase the risk of Coronary Heat Disease by 68% and is higher in employees under 50 years of age. This study also found that work stress was also associated with further poor health behaviours that could compound the risk. Coronary Heart Disease is one of many medical symptoms that is compounded by stress.

During over 13 years of nursing I saw many things. During this time I became increasingly interested in the psychological aspects of illness. For the last 6 years of my nursing life I would always ask my patients the same question, “Have you been experiencing more stress than usual lately?”

The answer was always, “yes.”

There were two main areas in the lives of my patients that continually contributed to patients presenting with strokes and heart attacks; relationship problems and work-related stress. Both of these were big indicators of people who are at risk of more serious illnesses developing.

Let us look at why.

Stress causes our body to go into fight or flight mode. Blood to our non-essential organs is diverted to your muscles and brain, which is why stress can cause indigestion and contribute to weight gain. Your body is also flooded with adrenaline, which is why sleeplessness is common in those with higher than average stress levels. You are also filled with energy, causing your blood pressure to rise and your heart to beat faster, which is why hypertension is common in those who have stressful lives.

This response literally prepares you to either run or fight for your life.

Because office-based jobs that are stressful involve you having to deal with these surges of energy, without giving you a chance to offload the symptoms, it can literally leave you wanting to put your foot or fist through a computer screen. This is because you are prepared to fight for your life.

What can cause this?

The danger of stress is that your brain has not learned to distinguish between a real and perceived threat. Consequently, a dismissive or critical comment from your boss or a work colleague can put you into fight or flight. Clearly, your life is not in immediate danger but your body is preparing you as though it is. Just by thinking about the same criticism, slight on your character or threat can literally have you preparing to fight for your life, repeatedly several times a day.

With the current recession causing pay cuts and redundancies, it is likely that many employees are living on a knife-edge as they fear for not being able to work, pay bills or even feed their families. Constant worry about such issues has the same affect on your body as living in the jungle and seeing lions arriving to feast on your family.

What can you do to reduce your stress at work?

When you find yourself experiencing symptoms of fight or flight then it’s time to focus on your breathing. Deeper breathing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to reverse your body’s stress response. Also, tell yourself “I am safe.”

This may sound ridiculous but your body is preparing you to fend for your life. By repeating the message that you are safe and making a conscious effort to deepen your breathing, you are putting yourself on the fast-track to a more relaxed day at work.

Something to think about.

Ultimately, unmanaged stress will kill you early and then you will not be able to earn money, spend time with your family or enjoy the wonders that life can bring. If you are spending your time focusing on stressful things and the above technique does not appear to be helping then get help. Most people who get ill and die early are those who did not ask for help until it was too late. There are plenty of free tips, resources and easy to use alternatives available to you but you will need to invest a little time in learning them.

You can find such tools at my website http://www.adamshaw.co/

Image reproduced from http://www.hrmreport.com

Stress Management, Obesity and Hypertension and How They All Relate

Watch a video by Adam Shaw about: Stress Management, Obesity and Hypertension and How They All Relate.

In 19 years as a health and well-being professional there has been one common link in all illness. In this video I explain…

– the link between stress, hypertension and obesity
– how stress works and its effect on your body
– how you can manage your stress more effectively

Stress & Cortisol

We are all accustomed to feeling stressed from time to time, be it work related, general fatigue, linked to a hectic home life or everyday problems.

The effects of stress are wide ranging. Stress hormones trigger back pain, weaken the immune system, increase blood sugar, promote diabetes, increase the chances of developing gum disease, decrease fertility and cause depression. In particular workplace stress can lead to serious ailments such as an increase in rates of heart disease, flu viruses, metabolic syndromes and high blood pressure.

Less than healthy behaviours result from stress, such as over or under eating or drinking more alcohol, which lead to other health problems. Stress also leads to emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive weariness. Scientific studies suggest that stress can have a more direct effect, disrupting the body’s ability to process glucose, leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Chronic stress triggers major biochemicals such as cortisol to be released into the blood stream. This causes the digestive system to weaken and inhibits the liver from being alerted that the stomach is full. Cortisol causes an influx in blood sugar and intense carbohydrate cravings. A tongue that is red and bumpy it is a sign of cortisol overload.

Stress can slow down your metabolism by releasing anti-stress (adrenal) hormones, particularly norepinephrine.

Caffeine is one of the worse drinks you can have when stressed. It causes a further release of these anti-stress hormones. Eventually the body’s supply of these hormones is depleted, and the body is left exhausted, fatigued, and irritable.

When stressed or exhausted we often turn to sugary snacks such as chocolate, which contains more sugar than we can use in a week, causing blood-sugar levels to rise. The pancreas overreacts to this, producing an excess of insulin. This flood of insulin depresses your blood sugar severely. In response the adrenal glands release anti-stress hormones, which in turn release the sugar that is stored in the liver for emergencies.

The quick burst of energy increases insulin levels temporarily. The excess sugar is stored bringing your mood crashing down. Lastly your adrenal gland kicks in and you experience feelings of anxiety, including nervousness and sometimes even palpitations. The extreme rise and fall of insulin levels makes you hungry and more likely to choose another sugary snack.

To deal with stress, try hugging friends, family or pets. This signals the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that boosts feelings of affection and is a buffer against stress and has even been used to treat depression.

One of the best weapons against tension is laughter which lowers levels of the damaging stress hormone cortisol which causes food cravings. Laughter reverses the constriction of blood vessels, helps protect brain cells and helps us get rid of the belly fat that cortisol causes in times of stress. It also strengthens the immune system by raising levels of infection fighting T-cells.

Protein found in beans, chicken, eggs and fish counterattack the cortisol. Also a good night’s sleep helps to eliminate the damaging stress hormone cortisol in your stomach. Lack of sleep can lead to strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, psychiatric problems, weight gain, decreased alertness, impaired memory and cognitive ability and along with the increased stress.

Try to minimise electrical devices in your bedroom especially mobile phones. Turn off the laptop/TV an hour before you intend to go to bed to allow you to unwind naturally. Chamomile tea is calming and relaxing. Warm milk at bedtime is not simply an Old Wives tale.

Avoid alcohol as it depletes your body of B-Vitamins and magnesium. B vitamins are very important especially useful when taken in conjunction with other B vitamins. Molasses, Brewer’s Yeast and wheat germ are rich in B vitamins.

Siberian ginseng helps keep you alert without increasing stress levels further. It helps support the adrenal glands which become depleted during stress.

Vitamin C helps reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress, and even lowered stress-induced high blood pressure as much as 10% when taken regularly. Orange juice lowers levels of cortisol.

Grapefruit, oranges and whey protein contain a stress busting ingredient and will help you stay calm. Whey contains alpha lactalbumin that boosts the body’s level of tryptophan, a building block of the feel-good hormone serotonin by as much as 43%. Serotonin is a brain chemical that reduces hunger and boosts our sense of well being. Low serotonin levels causes food cravings.

Foods high in tryptophan (a natural sedative) are dairy products, beef, turkey meat poultry, barley, brown rice, fish, soybeans, and peanuts.

Valerian is a natural muscle relaxant, so it also is an excellent remedy for stress induced insomnia.

A few drops of orange essential oil will calm and help to improve your mood. Lavender, rose and jasmine oils are all natural stress relievers.

Relaxing also helps you to unlock fat stores caused by the stress hormone cortisol. Chewing gum also relieves muscle tension.

A short walk reduces stress by boosting feel good endorphins in your body. Stress constricts blood vessels and lowers our immune system and ability to fight off disease. Just 30 minutes of any form of exercise, three to four times a week will keep your stress hormones down.

Deep breathing calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the level of cortisol.

Magnesium has been shown to become depleted in times of stress. This is exasperated by Type A personalities who have heightened feelings of competition and aggressiveness resulting in heart conditions. This can be helped by eating magnesium rich foods such as tofu, cashews, almonds, turkey, spinach, avocados, Brazil nuts, strawberries and apples.

In our modern society, stressful occasions will inevitably crop up, when they do, take a moment to think about how important the issue is to you, is it worth affecting your health by letting the stress take hold? Will stressing help the situation? If the answers are no then let go and relax.

Image reproduced from empowher.com