The World Health Organization (WHO) has referred to stress as the 21st-century health epidemic. Over the last two years, 67% of people living in the United States have reported a significant increase in stress. More than 70% stated that this affects both their physical and mental health. A 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association listed the top three stressors at work as:
- Rise in prices due to inflation
- Supply chain issues
- Global uncertainty
Given all this, let’s explore how to reduce stress at work. According to the American Institute of Stress, the job itself — as well as issues related to the work environment and creating a work-life balance — is a significant cause of stress.
Stress is the body’s physical, mental and emotional reaction to adapt and respond to changes, whether positive or negative. People can experience stress from what happens day by day in their environment, in their bodies or even in their thoughts.
This reaction is generated by the human body’s autonomic nervous system, resulting in psychological changes that allow the person to be attentive, motivated and avoid danger. Known as “fight or flight,” this mechanism is an emergency physiological response that prepares the body for physical action (fight) or to run away (flight).
However, when a person is constantly facing challenges without rest or the possibility of recovering, this can turn negative, generating excessive tension.
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Physical & Mental Consequences
Prolonged activation of the stress response can affect both the body’s physical and mental health. When it slips out of balance, it can turn into chronic anxiety and, in the worst case, lead to suicidal thoughts.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that can appear from time to time when facing a problem or test or before making an important decision. When the stress level is high, anxiety disorders may appear, which are included in the group of mental illnesses. They prevent the person from leading a normal life.
Anxiety disorders can be manifested as panic attacks when you feel you are about to die; social phobia, when you feel overwhelmed by everyday social situations; other phobias; and generalized anxiety disorder, when the person has exaggerated worry and tension for no apparent reason.In addition to the mental effects, the activation of fight-or-flight mode involves chemical changes in the body, which can alter the person’s metabolism. This can cause long-term effects, leading to diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. Chronic stress can also cause other problems such as arthritis and inflammatory diseases.
The WHO has warned of the high levels of concern and unhappiness in today’s world that are causing an epidemic of stress. Stress has become part of people’s daily lives, affecting productivity and causing health problems, which at first may remain silent, but may eventually get worse.
Signs of Stress
If you feel anxiety, fear, sadness, frustration or anger, you could be suffering from stress, which could also be worsened by physical symptoms. In addition to emotional changes, stress can manifest itself through changes in your behavior and body. When you’re stressed, you behave differently, such as becoming withdrawn, uncompromising, aggressive or more angry than normal. You can experience sleeping problems, you can be irritable or tearful, and even your sexual habits can be affected. Some people start smoking, consume more alcohol and even take drugs. Stress can also affect the way you interact with your family and friends.
The body also suffers from symptoms such as headaches, nausea and indigestion. You can increase the respiratory rate, perspire more than normal and feel palpitations or different types of aches and pains. If the stress motive wears off, you will return to normal quickly with no side effects; but if it persists, you could start experiencing long-term effects.
Stages of Stress
If you are suffering from stress, you may be able to identify five stages:
- Alarm — At this stage, the body prepares itself in the best possible way to deal with the stress you are going through. You can have wake-up calls, like almost getting in a car accident or starting to forget tasks or deadlines.
- Resistance — Here, the body tries to return to its normal state, responding to some changes that occur in the alarm stage, such as inflammation. Anti-inflammatory hormones are released to relieve it, but they are usually temporary responses that do not solve the underlying problem.
- Recovery — If the cause of stress disappears or you are able to temporarily pull away from it, your body will begin to recover, returning your systems to normal levels and starting the stress resilience.
- Adaptation — If you do not act in time to recover — either by moving away to rest or by solving the problem that is causing you stress — you will enter the adaptation stage, which involves accepting it as part of your daily life. Stress becomes chronic and takes control of your health, generating, for example, sleep problems, lack of energy, changes in your eating habits or difficulty in dealing with your emotions.
- Exhaustion — With chronic stress, your body begins to get sick, nutrients are depleted and you may require hospitalization, psychiatric assistance or begin dealing with multiple symptoms of depression.
When you reach the exhaustion stage, what occurs is commonly called burnout. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to respond to any demand. This can lead to lost interest and motivation, reduced productivity and increased feelings of hopelessness, resentment, despair and the feeling that you have nothing else to give.
Burnout can have very negative effects in all areas of your life, including your home, social life, health and work. At work, it might even cost your position, lead to being fired, or if you feel that your energy is low and you have nothing left to give, it can lead you to quit.
Stress Management Strategies
To deal with stress, there are several techniques and strategies that may be related to action (do something to change the situation), emotions (change your perception over a stressful situation) and acceptance (used when dealing with situations you cannot control).
The following strategies summarize how to deal with stressful situations.
- Be assertive — You need to clearly communicate what you want, what you need and what is bothering you. If you do this with empathy and respect, but firmly, you will be proactive and start altering what is stressing you.
- Reduce noise — Slow down by switching off technology, screen time and stimuli. Try to have quiet moments every day to distinguish the urgent and the important things. You need time to recharge to avoid stress.
- Manage your time — Organize your tasks so you are not covered up with things to do and busy for the entire day. Create a fulfilling routine that includes enjoying yourself.
- Create boundaries — Set rules and establish time for yourself and others. Prioritize and do not let others’ needs become more important than yours. This will help you take control and respect yourself.
- Stop thinking — Avoid doing too much analysis. Reorient yourself to parts of your environment, noticing pleasant things out a window or taking a walk to relax your mind.
- Attend to your body first — Listen to the signals of stress your body gives you naturally, such as increased heart rate or shallow breathing. By inverting these and learning what lowers your heart rate or making it a practice to pair deeper breathing with increased stress, you’ll be able to better handle the moment in front on you. These actions build our resilience.
Building Resilience Into Your Organization
A key factor to building a more resilient organization is to not put the responsibility of doing so on individuals. There is significant value in leading discussions in leadership and management meetings on how to best implement these resiliency principles into “the way of doing business.”
This will begin to create a culture of resiliency, increasing value for employees and driving employee retention through reduced burnouts, and will signal to employees that leadership understands the root causes of burnout and how to address these in a systemic nature.
To succeed with these strategies, you can implement techniques that work.These include keeping a positive attitude, accepting situations that you cannot change, practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, exercising, making time for hobbies and interests, sleeping and having a rest, limiting the use of alcohol or drugs, spending time with friends and family, and looking for professional assistance like a psychologist or a mental health doctor.
Lessen the Stress While Driving a Truck
It’s a fine line keeping yourself awake (stimulated) when driving long distances for propane deliveries, because at some point that stimulation causes its own stress. Try to dial it to a minimum while keeping enough energy to stay focused.
Dial Down Tension While Driving
By scanning your body, you’ll notice that you might be using extra energy by tensing in one or many areas of your body that don’t need to. Notice and relax just in those areas.
Ease Your Focus After a Trip
Most of the world can’t imagine the focus it takes to do your job. After a big drive, allow your brain to rest. Stare off into the distance. See what you notice around you. Use your senses to take note of what you are curious about. Keeping your mind overly active with technology will only make things worse.
Track the Important Things
- Screen time
- Whole foods (versus processed)
These things are all very difficult to manage in one’s life while driving. Keeping track and making sure you’re hitting the minimums and possibly increasing your goals will help keep you in balance.