Feeling stressed at work? Some of the time? Most of the time? All? Don’t feel guilty because you’re not alone. It’s estimated that more than 80% of American workers feel stressed regularly.
And they’re not the only ones feeling the pain. Apart from the impact stress can have on your family and loved ones if you bring it home, stress is costing businesses more than $300 billion annually through things like lost productivity, absenteeism, and healthcare costs.
So let’s just agree that most of us suffer from stress and most of us are impacted by it. So if you haven’t already, how about doing something about it?
How Does Stress Work?
No, it’s not true that stress is an invisible potion you get sprayed with every time you walk through the door at work. It’s a little more complicated. To start with stress, is actually a good thing, something that has evolved and been fine-tuned over millennia to help us humans deal with danger.
The Holy Grail of stress management is finding a sweet middle ground – the right amount of stress at just the right time to help you perform at your peak, and the tipping point where too much stress impacts thinking, performance, decision making, and physical health.
The human mind has been hardwired to deal with threats and dangers, the fight-or-flight phenomenon. When faced with a threat, hormones take over first. It starts with a rush of adrenaline (or epinephrine) and norepinephrine through your body to prepare for instant action. Your heart rate increases and blood rushes to your muscles, giving them what can feel like superhuman power or speed. Airways in the lungs are opened to allow you to take in more oxygen and send it to your brain for increased performance.
If the danger or threat persists, a spike in glucose is triggered to provide a jolt of extra energy to your body and brain to improve attention, alertness, and clarity of thinking. Cortisol can also prepare your organs to better resist stress, pain, or injury and suppress non-emergency functions that the body believes are not essential in that moment of danger (like reproduction).
Stress, Chronic Stress, and Burnout
Failure to manage stress, too much stress too often, can result in regular overdosing on adrenaline and cortisol, which, according to a recent Inc story “increases your risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep issues, memory and concentration impairment, and other conditions.”
Stress is an essential short-term coping skill, a way for the body to respond to a challenge, threat, or other external stimulus. A beneficial side of the stress reaction is a short-term clarity of thinking, like just before a competition.
Stress can be elastic, and the brain function returns to its normal state when the stress has passed. In cases of prolonged stress, however, the elasticity disappears, and brain function can permanently change. That change can have a negative impact on cognitive function, alertness, decision making, and memory.
Other side effects of chronic stress can include:
- Loss of emotional and physical energy
- Decreased attention
- Poor motivation
- Apathy and despair
- Cynicism and resentfulness
- Lack of commitment to the job, mission, or task
- Poor team engagement and teamwork
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Detachment and self-isolation
- Decreased job and career satisfaction
Prolonged or chronic stress can take a physical toll as well, impacting the heart and circulation, the immune system, the digestive system, and the regulation of hormones.
And current research is beginning to show some concrete links between stress, and anxiety and depression. For example, stress can have an impact on the immune system, and a compromised or challenged immune system can often lead to depression.
Untreated chronic stress ultimately becomes burnout. According to one definition:
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
Why Does Stress Make You Tired?
There are currently three good theories, and all three are probably right:
- A major part of the stress reaction is the creation of instant energy or fuel (glucose). If the body is in a constant state of stress it becomes fatigued from having to continuously make so much energy.
- Sleeping or resting is a way for the mind to rest too so that it can recover and function.
- Sleeping is a great way for the mind to forget how stressed it is, to take a break, to stop worrying.
Most Of Us Are Stressed By Our Jobs
Stressors in the workplace tend to be pretty universal:
- Too much work, too many tasks, and long hours.
- Toxic workplaces, toxic personalities and co-workers, and workplace bullies.
- Unreasonable expectations, schedules, and timetables.
- Not enough work/life balance.
- Dissatisfaction with the job, career, or employer.
- Poor pay.
- Long commutes.
- Job insecurity and fear of being fired.
- Frustration over poor career advancement.
- Poor teamwork.
- Lack of control and direction.
- Lack of support.
- Poor communications.
Any of these sound familiar? And according to Gallup, Americans are amongst the most stressed. That’s why it’s so important to manage stress quickly, to harness the short-term benefits without paying a long-term price.
Want To Dive Deeper Into Understanding Stress?
Positive Psychology has published its list of “62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies & Activities.” A great way to learn more about the complexity of stress and how to teach yourself to be in charge of it. Check out the list here.
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