Research has shown that South Africans are highly stressed. No surprise there. Yet, stress is a silent killer, and considering the current socio-political climate, it would be wise to keep calm in times of turmoil. It is therefore important to consider how stress at work may be affecting you and how you can try to manage job stress in order to remain positive, creative and productive.
GOOD STRESS VS BAD STRESS
Good stress, a.k.a “eustress“, is stress associated with positive stimulation. Events trigger an increase of the pulse and hormonal changes, but without an associated feeling of threat or fear.
Good stress can drive creativity and enhance peak performance.
Acute stress, on the other hand, is a sudden trigger of the body’s stress response that is not caused by happiness or excitement. While such stress can be dealt with relatively quickly, chronic stress can ensue when consistent stressors start to take a heavy toll, over-stimulating the nervous system.
Negative emotional and physical health effects can result from chronic stress felt over an extended period of time. Restlessness, agitation and dizziness can cause spikes in blood pressure, lead to anxiety and depression, and prime the body for heart and circulatory problems.
JOB STRESS – THE SILENT KILLER
A great source of chronic stress in the world is related to work.
Pressure at work is unavoidable due to the demands of the contemporary work environment. A little pressure can even promote alertness and motivation. However, when pressure leads to chronic stress, it can damage the health and performance of both employee and business.
According to the World Health Organisation, work-related stress is “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities”, which in turn challenges their ability to cope. These feelings can be exacerbated when people feel that they have little support from supervisors and colleagues, as well as little control over work processes. Other work-related stressors, according to the European Union, include:
- Excessive workloads
- Conflicting demands and lack of role clarity
- Lack of involvement in making decisions that affect the worker and lack of influence over the way the job is done
- Poorly managed organisational change, job insecurity
- Ineffective communication, lack of support from management or colleagues
- Psychological and sexual harassment, third-party violence
In an attempt to cope with stress we can easily turn to unhealthy habits, such as abusing substances or eating unhealthy food. Studies have found that stress increases the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.
While it may not be possible to escape stress, managing stressors can help create a feeling of control thought to be important in stress reduction. Here are some tips to help you gain some control over your day. Take a moment to apply some of these points in your day so that you can focus on your physical and mental health and even increase your performance in the long run.
10 WAYS TO GAIN CONTROL AND BEAT JOB STRESS
1. Maintain a good diet. Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food. Maintaining a healthy diet is a good stress-coping mechanism. Besides the sense of control and good energy you acquire, certain nutrients are used up more rapidly when one is under stress. B vitamins as well as vitamin C and zinc are essential to maintaining a healthy central nervous system and immune system.
2. Build boundaries. Practice saying ‘no’ when you are feeling over-burdened. Build boundaries between what you can and cannot commit to. Switch off, digitally and mentally, when you are not at work.
3. Get organised. Gain control by getting organised. Break down projects into manageable tasks. Make mind maps, formulate “to do” lists, and try to prioritise and focus on what is most important.
4. Maintain a good sense of humour. Laughter is your body’s natural stress-release mechanism. Don’t take life too seriously. If all else fails, you can always join a Laughing Yoga class.
5. Do something you enjoy. Don’t forget to treat yourself. Set aside some time to relax and do something that you enjoy. Whether you like spending time in nature or lying in bed with a binge-worthy series, a little me-time goes a long way.
6. Get active. Exercise is a good stressor. It uses stress hormones, provides distraction, releases mood-enhancing endorphins and increases long-term resilience to stress.
7. Get enough sleep. Although high stress can make sleeping more difficult, sleep can, at the same time, help reduce stress. Try to set a consistent sleep time and attempt unwinding before sleep with some breathing and light stretching.
8. Cut out bad habits. We often turn to alcohol, smoking or caffeine to relieve our stress. Try to build better habits. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy balanced diet and keep a positive mind-set.
9. Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Gain control of your breath and you will gain control over your mind. Try inhaling through the nose for four counts. Hold the breath for four counts. Exhale through the nose (or mouth if you struggle) for six counts. Hold the breath for two counts. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
10. Speak to someone. If you are having trouble handling stress then speak to someone, whether it’s a friend, a family member or a professional such as a psychologist or social worker.