Updated 12 February 2024
Why Stress about Stress? Stress Awareness Month 2024
We are living in a frantic, fast paced world where the ability to multi-task is a badge of honour. However, an adrenaline and stress-powered life has downsides and without care, can lead to variety of physical and mental health issues. With stress dubbed the health epidemic of the 21st century – which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, it is more important than ever we find ways to monitor and manage our stress levels.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. During situations that make you feel threatened or upset, your body creates a stress response. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions. Research has shown that stress can sometimes be positive. It makes us more alert and helps us perform better in certain situations. However, stress has only been found to be beneficial if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to a variety of illness such as heart disease, strokes and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and burnout.
Why stress about stress?
Stress itself is not a negative thing, however continued prolonged periods of stress can have significant adverse effects on your emotions, physical and mental health and overall wellbeing:
- 80% of GP visits on any given day are in some way related to stress
- 76% of employees and 96% of leaders experience burnout at some point in their careers
- 79% commonly experience work-related stress.
Since Covid-19 began:
- 74% felt overwhelmed or unable to cope’ with the levels of stress in their lives
- 65% felt more stressed
- 53% felt more anxious than usual
The impact of stress in the workplace
The impacts of work-related stress can go on long after the working day is done. Of those who experience work-related stress, 55% experience anxiety as a result. Many employees are also noticing the effects of stress on their health and wellbeing. 43% experience a loss of sleep due to work-stress, while a third turn to comfort eating. 51% feel that stress disrupts concentration. Commonly resulting in lessened productivity with over a third reporting feeling disengaged and less productive at work when stressed. On the flip side however 5% of employees say workplace stress makes them more engaged, and another 5% say it makes them more productive.
Research conducted by Mind UK further proves the devastating effect of stress on staff productivity, turnover and morale if not managed well:
- One in ten (9 per cent) have resigned from a job due to stress and one in four (25 per cent) have considered resigning due to work pressure.
- One in five (19 per cent) felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed.
- Of the 22 per cent who have a diagnosed mental health problem, less than half (10 per cent) had told their boss about their diagnosis.
- Over half of managers (56 per cent) said they would like to do more to improve staff mental wellbeing, but they needed more training and/ or guidance and 46 per cent said they would like to do more but it is not a priority in their organisation.
Stress busting strategies
As leaders in workplace wellbeing solutions, we’re no strangers to strategies to help minimise stress. See some of our top suggestions below for stress awareness and stress reduction. Feel free to share these with your colleagues to mark Stress Awareness Week 2024. You may also wish to take a look at our Managing Stress at Work workshop.
Stress Busting Yoga Poses
Yoga has been proven to reduce the secretion of ‘cortisol’ aka the stress hormone, and multiple studies have shown that a course of yoga classes can help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have also found people who practice yoga fall asleep faster, sleep for longer and feel better rested in the morning than those who don’t practice. These are our favourite yoga poses to practice when we’re feeling stressed:
Happy Baby Pose
Legs up the Wall
Why not add a corporate yoga class in to your stress awareness month plans?
The way you breathe affects your whole body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Allowing your body to return to calm. The best part of breathing practise are: they are easy to learn, can be done anywhere and don’t require any special tools or equipment. One of our favourite breathing exercises is EXTENDED EXHALE BREATHING.
Extended Exhale Breathing
Extended exhale breathing is an especially calming controlled breathing practice which
incorporates an inhale to exhale ratio of 1:2.
Begin by experimenting with a count 3 to inhale and 6 to exhale, allowing a slight pause in between each
If doubling the length of your exhalation feels too much of a stretch, just work towards making your exhale longer than your inhale
This is a great technique to practice before sleep if you have trouble drifting off, or in situations where you feel anxious or particularly rooted in your stress response.
Use a visual
Picture a rectangle in your mind’s eye and trace the outline of the shape with your breath. Follow the short edges with an inhale breath and the long edges with an exhale breath. Repeat this 10 times.
Tips: try and keep a sense of ease and softness with the way you breathe. Notice if you’re grasping to try and ‘get it right’ and instead try relaxing into it. If at any point you feel uncomfortable just stop.
If you’re interested to find out more about Breathwork, see our corporate Breathwork classes here.
Stress promotes inflammation in the gut and can lead to high levels of cortisol (commonly known as the stress hormone) in the body. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce cortisol levels and restore your body’s equilibrium.
They have also been well studied for their nutritional value and positive impact on the immune system, cardiovascular system and our bodies and brains in general. They have even been shown to help ease IBS symptoms. Meaning there are so many great reasons to try incorporating anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
This Stress Awareness Month 2024, try these anti-inflammatory foods:
- Berries, including blueberries, strawberries and raspberrie
- Turmeric, garlic and chia seeds
- Salmon, tuna and other fatty fish
- Nuts, including walnuts and almonds.
- Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil.
- Peppers, including bell and chili peppers.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collards.
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate
Hungry for more for more nutrition knowledge? See our list of corporate nutrition workshops here.
The Stress Container
The stress container represents your base level of wellbeing. Everybody’s stress container is unique. However, the size of your container will be different for everyone. People with a large container are less vulnerable to feeling stressed and people with smaller containers are more vulnerable to feeling stressed.
Everyday stress will be flowing in to your container each day. Helpful coping strategies act as a tap and allow the stress to flow out of your container. However unhelpful strategies can often feel effective in the moment, but often block your tap in the long run. Causing your container to over flow. Resulting in your stress signature (the way your act when you are experiencing stress) to appear. This will be unique to you but may be: Crying, being short tempered, irritability, being argumentative, headaches, disengaging from others, isolating yourself, loss of concertation, trouble sleeping, to name a few.
Becoming aware of your stress signature, allows you to notice when your container is overflowing, giving yourself the chance to stop and ask yourself – “Want do I need right now?” And find coping strategies that work for you going forward.
Advice from our founder
“If my stress container overflows, the overwhelm I feel makes me snappy and anxious. My unhelpful coping strategies are over-working way past the point of tiredness, snapping at my family and eating large bars of Lindt chocolate. My helpful coping strategies which release the tap of the container to let the stress out are:
Having an early night, a hot bath, putting my baby in his sling for a brisk walk around Bushy Park and ensuring I have something forthcoming in the diary just for ME. These strategies aren’t brain science. They’re so simple, but always effective.” – Sally Lovett, Stretching the City Founder