How to turn stress into positive action, using 3-simple-steps and 5-quick-wins.

Introduction

This article introduces 3 simple-steps and 5-quick-wins for transforming stress into positive, proactive and persistent action, helping you improve your wellbeing and interactions with others. We outline the impacts of stress on the health of employees and the costs of inaction to employers.

46% of all employees are stressed to the point of burnout [1].

If you’re a stressed employee, business owner, or senior manager seeking to combat stress and support your people, this article helps you take action. Our content is backed by research and scientific, evidence-based studies.

Disturbingly, recent research cites 50% of work-related stress cases lead to more serious depression [4].

Work-related stress impacts individuals within both private and public sectors, encompassing corporates, SME’s and entrepreneurs across a wide range of industries, not discluding our athletes, military, teachers, police and emergency services. Recent high-profile cases in the media have helped focus the spotlight on stress and related mental health issues in sport and entertainment.

For expediency we’ve structured this article into five short sections:

1. Key Issues

2. Impacts (Health & Financial)

3. Understanding Stress

4. 3-simple-steps

5. 5-quick-wins

1. Key Issues

Two key issues are identified.

Employers: Due to a lack of understanding and awareness organisations across multiple industries are struggling to navigate stress in the workplace and the sensitivities associated with mental health, and wellbeing of their workforce.

Issue 1): Currently inadequate resources are being allocated by employers (if at all) to equip employees with the tools and strategies they need to combat stress, avoid burnout and to improve wellbeing and mental health.

Employees: Job-related demands are exceeding resources available. As a result, levels of stress, exhaustion and burnout are rising, contributing to higher levels of mental-health-disorders.

Issue 2): The increasing demands on workers to do more with less, finds an increasing number of employees without the required skills and coping strategies to positively thrive in the face of growing pressures. Secondary impacts are the intangible, unmeasured negative-effects of work-related stress filtering back into employees’ family lives and personal relationships.

2. Impacts

Multiple research studies support the established links between work stressors, employee wellbeing and productivity, outlining a clear case for organisations to prioritise higher duties of care for their workers.

Impacts to Health

  • Recent academic studies show 46% of all employees are stressed to the point of burnout, suggesting nearly 1 in 2 workers are affected [1].
  • A current WHO (World Health Organisation) study indicates work-related stress is the second most common health problem, impacting 1 in 3 workers in the EU alone [2].
  • Work-related stress is commonly linked to cardiovascular disease [3], obesity [4], and contributes to circa 50% of depression cases [5], furthermore research links sustained stress to infectious diseases [6] and cancer [7].

The financial impacts

  • An estimated $300 billion of US annual revenue is lost, attributable to stress in lost productivity, absenteeism, work related mental illness and staff turnover [8].
  • In the UK mental health issues were the second most common reason for absence in 2016 with a third being stress related [9].
  • UK mental health issues have increased over 71% from 2011 to 2016 with a total cost of absence for that year of £18bn. Figures are set to rise to £20bn and £26bn for 2020 and 2030 respectively [10].

Directives to help reduce stress will have considerable positive-effects on perosnal health, wellbeing, and productivity, whilst also reducing burdens on private and public sector health services.

3. Understanding Stress

How do we define stress? Stress has many contexts but generally describes the disruption to our bodily balance (termed homeostasis) caused by internal and/or external physical, or emotional forces (known as stressors).

Stressors are processed by the brain through the amygdala and hypothalamus, initiating the Nervous System to activate one or more hormonal responses through the sympathetic nervous system, this is better known as the ‘stress-response’ (fight or flight) scenario. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is activated following a stress response, in order to calm the body down and return it to balance.

A stress response releases adrenaline and cortisol, too much cortisol from sustained stress can result in the negative symptoms outlined in Fig 1., along with more serious medical disorders, see Section 2 (Impacts to Health).

Cortisol is a required hormone varying in levels throughout our day, it also regulates our metabolism and immune-response amongst other important functions. The levels of and duration of stress we experience; what we eat and how we sleep affect our cortisol levels, impacting both our physiological health and psychological wellbeing.

How does stress, burnout and depression differ? Burnout is a form of work-specific stress, in contrast to depression which can reach into all domains of a persons’ life.

Burnout describes physical and mental job distress comprising exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment (self-efficacy), self-efficacy is defined as confidence in ones’ performance of a specified task across any situation.

Impairing performance

Stress and its associated disorders impact job performance and engagement at work by impairing mental and physical functions, contributing to greater absenteeism and increased use of healthcare services. The common and initial symptoms of stress may vary between individuals and show up as emotional, physical, cognitive or behavioural issues. See below for symptomatic examples:

Fig 1. Example stress symptoms

More serious long-term medical issues can be experienced through continued exposure to stress, see Section 2 (Impacts to Health).

4. 3-simple-steps

What actions can be taken by the employer?

  • Step 1: Employers should improve awareness and seek proactive solutions to practically address the key issues for their employees.
  • Step 2: Define an organisational wide ‘Wellbeing Strategy’ to benchmark both the organisation and individual employees in respect of wellbeing levels. Drawing a line in the sand is critical to defining collective goals and the actions needed to reach them.
  • Step 3: Implement relevant and bespoke action plans using the latest in scientific, evidence-based interventions to optimise wellbeing standards. Then measure and monitor progress against your benchmarks, enroute to collective and individual goals. If you’d like more detail, click the link below.

contact us to learn more

As the employee, what actions can you take?

  • Step 1: Take personal responsibility to educate yourself and improve your individual wellbeing, seek out the relevant resources, methods and support to do so.
  • Step 2: Manage upwards, direct your employers to the resources you identify as a mandate for improving wider organisational awareness, foster peer support and encourage adoption of a wellbeing strategy.
  • Step 3: Take the initiative right now by asking yourself the following three questions, then utilise the 5-quick-wins below. If you want to deep-dive into a personalised programme, contact us to learn more.

contact us to learn more

Employees and employers should ask themselves three key questions:

  1. Where do I/we start, how do I/we find the right resources to resolve the key issues?
  2. How do I/we identify the most critical individual cases, and the priority life-domains of each employee requiring the necessary focus to optimise their wellbeing?
  3. How do I/we benchmark where we are right now and monitor ongoing growth, development and improved wellbeing?

5. 5-quick-wins

The following 5-quick wins serve as an initial introduction to positive, proactive, persistent actions you can take for your individual wellbeing, they sound easy, but few people do them.

These exercises promote better regulation of cortisol levels in stressed individuals and the release of positive neurostransmitters such as endorphins.

To change your outcomes, you must first change your inputs.

These are light, simple actions you can take right now, and which sit within one or more of your 5-critical-life-domains, [Health, Being, Social, Vocation, Wealth].

  • Set an intention before you start (define which quick-wins you’ll initially incorporate and for how long).
  • The ideal is you complete all of them for a minimum of 21 days, however this may be too much at once for some and a steadier build up may help.
  • First be sure to complete number 1. We then recommend at least 2 further win-items for a 21-day duration, break this period down into 7-day blocks. At the end of the 21-days, review and continue for a further 21-days, adding additional win-items as fit.

Quick wins…

1. Identify and understand if you’re feeling stressed (Health):

a.) Review the list of stress-related-symptoms in Fig 1. above. Note which, if any apply.

b.) For each symptom, think and identify the stressor (i.e. what internal, or external factor might be prompting the symptom), note this stressor down.

2. Take a break from your stressors (Being):

a.) Reduce exposure to your stressors. Do something simple you enjoy, engage in positive activities. This could be as simple as more time with family or visiting an art gallery.

b.) Write, keep a brief journal. Writing is great therapy to express your emotions, helping you gain perspective on your days. Just put pen to paper and write freely for 20 minutes either in the morning, at night or both. Review each week.

c.) Smile & Laugh: Smiling and laughing more helps release positive neurotransmitters and helps regulate your cortisol levels.

d.) Do something for others: If you see an opportunity to be kind, do so, this could be holding the door open for someone, or helping a stranger with their bags.

3. Exercise (Health):

a.) Take a walk-in nature on your own and focus on the environment and nature around you (presence and mindfulness).

b.) If you commute, take a different route to work, this can stimulate your mind and promote a change-mindset.

c.) Do some exercise or sports you enjoy 1 to 3 times a week (start small and build up).

4. Food & sleep (Health):

a.) Reduce sugar and flour-based food intake (eat natural, less processed foods).

b.) Eat x7 whole servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

c.) Hydrate, drink more water (reduce stimulants, i.e. caffeine based like tea and coffee, energy drinks etc.)

d.) Ban screens from your bedroom.

e.) Ban screens for the first 90 minutes after waking and the last 90 minutes before going to sleep. This means any screen (phone, TV, computer, handheld device etc.)

5. Share and express yourself (Social / Vocation):

a.) Talk to friends and family whom you trust to express your feelings, emotions and experiences.

b.) If you have trusted peers/friends at work, sharing with them may also help and you may find some have had, or are having similar experiences.

c.) Get out more with close friends or peers as a group, take the lead and organise something different you don’t normally do.

Learn more

If you have specific questions or would like to understand more about the deeper science, strategies and solutions available to practically apply aspects of this content, please connect on LinkedIn and contact the author directly with a DM, or contact the author at tom@lifeprint.fit

Your feedback is appreciated and welcomed.

If you find this content resonates please like and share

Author

Tom is an experienced Coaching Psychologist & Positive Psychology Coach, with a commercial background in Corporate sales and business development, Financial Markets and Cryptocurrency Trading. He is founder at lifeprint.fit, leading wellbeing-consultancy experts and providers of self-mastery and peak-performance programmes and coaching solutions. Tom is a keen endurance athlete and extreme sports enthusiast, due to run the Marathon Des Sables in 2020 for Walking with the Wounded. If you’d like to support this amazing charity helping military veterans, please click here.

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References

  1. Kalia, M. (2002). Assessing the economic impact of stress [mdash] The modern day hidden epidemic. Metabolism, 51(6), 49–53. https://doi.org/10.1053/meta.2002.33193
  2. WHO. Facing the Challenges, Building Solutions. Report from the WHO European Ministerial Conference. The Regional Office for Europe of the World Health Organization. Retrieved 3rd March 2019, from: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/96452/E87301.pdf.
  3. Lambert G, Schlaich M, Lambert E, Dawood T, Esler M. (2010). Stress reactivity and its association with increased cardiovascular risk: a role for the sympathetic nervous system? Hypertension, 55(6), e20. https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.154104
  4. Brunner E.J., Chandola T., Marmot M.G. (2007). Prospective effect of job strain on general and central obesity in the Whitehall II study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165, 828–837. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwk058
  5. Nemeroff C.B., Vale, W.W. (2005). The neurobiology of depression: In roads to treatment and new drug discovery. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 66, 5–13.
  6. Pedersen A., Zachariae, R., Bovbjerg D.H. (2010). Influence of Psychological Stress on Upper Respiratory Infection — A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Psychosom Med. 72(8), 823–32. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181f1d003
  7. McGregor, B.A., Antoni M.H. (2008). Psychological intervention and health outcomes among women treated for breast cancer: A review of stress pathways and biological mediators. Brain Behavior, and Immunity, 23(2), 159–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2008.08.002
  8. Dewe P., Teoh K., Cosemans B., Cosmar M., Cox T., Van den Broek K., Hassard J., Gründler R., Flemming D. (2015). Calculating the costs of work-related stress and psychosocial risks. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU Body or agency). https://doi.org/10.2802/20493
  9. Mental Health Foundation. (2016). Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2016. Mental Health Foundation: London. Retrieved 3rd March 2019, from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016
  10. First Care Report. (2016). Change at Work. How Absence, Attitudes and Demographics are impacting UK employers. First Care: Watford. Retrieved 3rd May from: https://marketing.firstcare.eu/hubfs/First%20Care%20Report%202017%20FINAL%20PAGES.pdf?

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