A New Epidemic Is Stress Making You Sick?

We all know about coronavirus but in fact one of the major health risks today is stress.

Workdays lost to stress, depression, and anxiety, are estimated to cost the British economy in excess of about £35 billion a year in lost output.

But what exactly is stress? 

Stress is a natural, short term, response to danger. It floods our bodies with the hormones, adrenalin, and cortisol.

In combination these hormones activate our heart and cardiovascular system. They raise our blood pressure and set us in a heightened state of alertness. They affect our liver and increase our blood sugar. During a stressful event all nonessential body functions, e.g., cell repair and ovulation, cease.

If we’re under immediate threat from say, a mugger, or a life-threatening accident, a strong stress response is good, it may even help to save our lives. But long-term stress is bad for us. Exposure to large quantities of adrenalin and cortisol over a long period compromise our immune systems and increase our risk of suffering from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and Diabetes.

The most common form of long-term stress reported to GPs is work-related and specifically it is reported by those people who feel they have little or no control over their working environment. A healthy working environment includes choices; some control over what you do and an element of appreciation for the effort you put in. Unfortunately, many working environments fall short of this. 

Alarmingly, The Whitehall Experiment, which monitored 10,000 civil servants over a long period, found that those at bottom of the hierarchy experienced 4 times the mortality rate of those at the top, even when poor diet and smoking were factored into the calculations! It seems that some of us quite literally, are working ourselves to death.

If you feel this is you and a change of job isn’t possible, then advice has been to try to balance stress levels both at and away from work. Yet recently the pandemic has meant that for many of us home and work have become inseparable, and this has added to wider stress in the world, including soaring food and energy prices and the war in Ukraine.

Take a few minutes and see if you can articulate in a few words what the major sources of stress are in your working environment: unrealistic deadlines or targets, obstructive colleagues, interfering management etc. Then do the same for stress triggers away from work. If you feel you can tackle any of the issues, then do that. This isn’t always possible, but sometimes just knowing exactly why you are feeling stressed is enough to help you cope and see a way forward. Perhaps you need to restrict the time you spend answering work emails out of hours or cut down on the amount of news you consume or make time to go for a walk in the fresh air. Exercise is actually an excellent stress reducer, along with yoga. A well-balanced diet also helps and drinking lots of water is a great way to help the body rid itself of toxins.

In addition, it has been shown that therapies such as massage also have potent stress-reducing properties.

Bringing down your stress levels in 2022 may not be easy but your body will thank you for trying.

By Louise Addison