Stress is a natural and unavoidable part of life, but sometimes it can really get us down.
The end of a year and the beginning of another can bring about some pretty stressful times at work, and this stress can have negative effects on our mental and physical wellbeing, and change the way we behave and communicate with others.
Stress can affect our concentration, productivity levels and our mood. Aside from the end-of-year rush, stress in the workplace can be caused by a multitude of other factors including:
- Bullying or interpersonal conflict
- Job insecurity (or fear of)
- Pressure from managers to perform better or at set levels
- Meeting deadlines
- Toxic relationships
- Work/task overload over long periods of time
Stress can be a good thing
Why do we get stressed? It may seem completely inconvenient and unwanted, but a little bit of stress can actually help us.
Stress is a hardwired physical response that can be useful when we’re experiencing “fight or flight” situations. Educator Sharon Bergquist says that the ‘adrenal gland releases the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), and norepinephrine, [and] as these hormones travel through your bloodstream, they easily reach your blood vessels and your heart’.*
These hormones help to prepare our body for stressful situations and give us a boost of energy – for example when competing in sport, speaking in public, or helping someone who’s been involved in an accident – but the effects of these hormones can also hinder us.
When stress becomes too much
One example is that, when adrenaline is released in our body, it makes our heart beat faster and increases our blood pressure. This can lead to shaking, sweating, tingling or numbness in the limbs, chest pain, and can even cause fainting, panic attacks and asthma attacks – all of which can make it difficult or impossible to complete stressful tasks such as public speaking or running.
When we continue to experience stress on an ongoing basis, this can have long-term negative effects on our mind and body. Chronic stress can even play a role in the shortening of our lifespan and the development of chronic illnesses.
The symptoms of heightened, ongoing stress can also create further issues that feed into our stress levels, creating a vicious cycle. For example, stress can cause a lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep can increase stress levels.
Some symptoms and effects of stress can include.
- Anxiety and depression
- Concentration and memory issues
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Chest pain and/or heart palpitations
- Decreased immune system functionality (therefore higher risk of colds and flus)
- Digestive problems, such as stomach aches and nausea.
- Headaches or migraines
- Heart disease (long term)
- Increased blood pressure
- Irritability, anger or restlessness
- Muscle tension
- Trouble sleeping or bad quality sleep
If you’re constantly feeling stressed, can’t catch a break, and are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it might be time to do something about it.
Methods for reducing stress
Prioritise 30 minutes of exercise a day, whether it’s walking, jogging, following online exercise tutorials at home or heading to the gym. This can also give you some time to clear your mind and release any tension you’re holding in your body.
If you’re struggling to find time to fit in exercise, try going for a walk on your lunch break, getting off the tram one or two stops early, or walking to your local shops instead of driving.
Practicing mindfulness can enable us to identify the cause of our stress and create a more positive and mindful outlook on everyday aspects of our lives.
Examples of mindfulness can range from eating slowly to appreciate the flavours and textures of a meal; noticing where your body is holding tension and what internal or external factors have caused the tension; and checking in with your feelings throughout the day, locating the source of negative emotions and considering ways to have a more positive outlook.
Meditation is another useful tool for calming the mind. Meditation and mindfulness have similar methodologies, but meditation has a stronger focus on stilling the mind and body and releasing all thoughts and tension. Meditation is best practiced in a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, in a quiet environment.
There are some great free mobile apps that can guide you through mindfulness and meditation, including Smiling Mind and Insight Timer, and there are heaps of helpful videos and recordings on YouTube and Spotify.
A healthy diet can do wonders for both mood and physical wellbeing. Reducing caffeine and sugar can help to avoid energy crashes, and foods with Omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish) can improve mood. Pumpkin seeds and bananas have also been shown to reduce anxiety levels.
It may be unrealistic to eat healthy all of the time, but having a balanced diet (which includes little rewards such as chocolate from time to time) is essential for a healthy mind and a healthy body.
It can be difficult to get quality sleep when you’re feeling stressed, but making enough time for sleep is vitally important. Eight hours of sleep is recommended for adults every day, with more for children and adolescents. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try turning off all screens and bright artificial lights one hour before bedtime. During this time you could try reading or listening to music, talking to your spouse or even colouring in / drawing!
5. Get organised
When there are a million and one things to do in the day, the thought of organising and planning can add to stress levels. But good organisation skills can help to reduce stress by ensuring that you’re prioritising the things that really matter.
To improve concentration and productivity levels, make sure you plan – and take - regular breaks throughout your day.
Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks or ask for help from others. Instead of worrying what others may think of you for it, see it as an opportunity to connect with colleagues and build mutual, positive networks of support.
6. Seek professional help
If stress is clouding your day-to-day life and you feel like you can’t stop worrying, seeking professional support is recommended.
Talking to a counsellor can relieve stress, as having someone who will listen without judgement can feel like a weight lifted off your shoulders. Professional help is particularly recommended for anyone who is turning to alcohol, drugs or tobacco to deal with their chronic stress.
Counsellors can help to identify specific causes of stress and recommend ways to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing. Trained Alcohol and Other Drug counsellors can provide specialised support for addiction.
Sometimes stress cannot be avoided, but learning tips and tricks to reduce stress can be life-changing. If you would like to seek professional support, visit your local GP for help or contact CatholicCare for counselling support (links below!)