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[BTS] Managing Stress in the Workplace: A Look Towards Employers


Stress is a dangerous enemy to both employers and employees. Not only does it lower efficiency and production, but it also puts workers at risk for more severe and chronic health problems. What can be done as an employer to take care of their employees and how can employees take care of themselves? Taking care of those who work for your business is the same as taking care of your business, benefitting everyone connected. Prioritizing mental health and well-being should be at the top of any list of business care.


Not doing so increases both your absenteeism (not being at work) and presenteeism (being at work but hindered) in the workplace which can impact results and other employees. Stress becomes harmful when the expectation exceeds our ability to cope and it wears out the body causing behavioral or physical issues. This is called distress and typically produces a combination of confusion, performance anxiety, overreaction, poor concentration, and ending with a sub-par performance. In order to get the best from our workers, employers have a duty to at least do their part to keep them running at their best. Though we all go through stress, there are some differences.


There are two levels of stress: Short-Term Stress and Long-Term Stress. Short-Term Stress is extremely common and usually easily dealt with. We typically respond using our fight or flight response for these cases. These feelings include sweaty palms, knots or butterflies in your stomach, dry mouth, feeling sad or worried, lack of interest in normal activities, or difficulties concentrating. “Most of the physical signs of stress usually don’t last that long and can help you perform better if you manage them right” (2017) What some employers may think 'stress' is directly tying to this. However, sometimes it's too late when employers finally notice as it slips into the possible damaging stage.


Long-Term Stress is more of a continuous rollercoaster of ups and downs with little to no rest in between events. These stressful situations can increase and compound suddenly resulting in more physical signs of stress. Signs that you are having difficulties dealing with stress may include headaches, feeling down or angry all the time, tossing and turning all night, or eating too much or too little are signs of long-term stress (2017). However, “not all stress has a negative effect. When the body tolerates stress and uses it to overcome lethargy or enhance performance, the stress is positive, healthy and challenging” (Salleh, 2008). This is the goal of making a few positive habits that will benefit the employee as well as the employer in encouraging positive stress or ‘eustress’. This is the duty of employers to make sure to help notice the difference and act accordingly.




There are some recent statistics with a wide variety of typical stressors for Americans as taken from the American Psychological Association. As you can see from the image above, everyone who lives in this country is subject to an issue arising up from any of these topics. These range from concerns about healthcare (43%) to crime (31%) or to even government controversies and scandals (25%) (Causes of Stress about the Nation, 2017) There are many factors that influence the susceptibility to stress and will vary from person to person. The different influences are coping styles, genetic vulnerability, and social support. If we are faced with a dilemma and feel we have the resources necessary to handle things, our stress minimizes. Except there are times when being overwhelmed with the lack of means to deal with such pressures puts us under stress (Salleh, 2008). “Suck it up and keep going”, isn’t sound advice most of the time. If not dealt with accordingly, there can be some very ill long-term side effects. Stress has been linked to many illnesses, though some proven through more studies than others. The list contains heart disease risk, increased blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, increased use of alcohol or tobacco, headaches, back pains, stomach pains, diabetes mellitus, risk of viral infection, suppresses the immune system, ulcers, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, depression, schizophrenia, the possibility of tumor development, and many more. (n.d.) (Salleh, 2008)





This is where the program expands in order to take advantage of positive stress, eustress, and minimize or eliminate distress. The image above, The American Psychological Association had taken a survey to find that the top four best ways to reduce stress are to Listen to Music (47%), Exercise or Walk (46%), Prayer (29%), and Meditation or Yoga (12%) (Managing Stress, 2017). I will be incorporating two other outlets for stress reduction activities as well as merging Prayer with Meditation and Yoga. I see both of these as a means to center yourself and to practice letting go of the burden.


The different program options I will focus on in this Workplace Stress Reduction Program are Exercise, Eat Right, Music, Journaling, and Prayer/Meditation/Yoga. I will go through each option, the benefits, as well as possible workplace adjustments to accommodate these activities.


The first I will emphasize is the one we have all heard about: Exercise! This does many things to help your body regulate and minimize the negative effects of stress. It increases your endorphins that help make your mind and body feel good by producing painkillers all while lowering the chances of diseases (2018). If done in long stretches of time, you become attuned to your body’s movement and feel your tense muscles relax and fall into the physical rhythm. Regular exercise improves/stabilizes mood and will increase self-confidence. On top of that, it will improve sleep that is typically disturbed by stress, anxiety, as well as depression. During the day, you will see improvement in mental health covering alertness, concentration, reducing fatigue, and increasing overall cognitive functions (2018). As a company, you will have to determine whether you have the resources to create a gym for your employees, or start a fitness challenge program, or outsource to a local gym to encourage physical exercise.


Next is to Eat Right. We know that high-fat foods make us tired or lethargic, caffeine increases stress and sleep problems, and sugar causes us to ‘crash’ from quick energy rushes. Foods that should be focused on are those that are high in fiber and are carbohydrate-rich foods to produce more serotonin that helps us relax. Fruits and vegetables step in and help us boost our immune system by providing vitamin C to other stress-busting antioxidants (2018). If you already have a location where employees can grab a meal or a snack, think about providing options that include any of these nutrients to promote healthy eating. Or if you don’t have a place that offers any options, consider opening a small stall to provide a quick healthy snack for busy employees.


There are some things that you should look for when stocking your cafe or food stall.


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Nutrients that are important in Stress-Reduction

-Vitamin C: can reduce stress and boost the immune system, lower levels of cortisol, reduce a stress hormone, and lower blood pressure

-Complex Carbohydrates: increase serotonin production, stabilize blood pressure

-Magnesium: essential for avoiding headaches and fatigue, improves sleep quality, and relieve premenstrual mood changes; decreases muscle spasms and constipation; lower chronic inflammatory stress

-Omega-3 Fatty Acids: reduce surges of stress hormones, protect against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome


Foods that are helpful in Stress-Reduction

-Dark Chocolate: relieves stress, can improve cognitive functions and mood; has antioxidants and can reduce metabolic stress

-Oatmeal: reduce levels of stress hormones, boosts serotonin that stimulates feelings of calmness

-Chamomile Tea: relieves stress-induced symptoms such as gastrointestinal disorders and insomnia; commonly used for ailments such as inflammation, hay fever, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, rheumatic pain, wounds, ulcers, and hemorrhoids.

-Mint Tea: reduces stress, has relaxation properties on gastrointestinal tissue, analgesic and anesthetic effects

-Barley Tea: relaxes the body; anti-cancer agent properties and anti-carcinogenic characteristics

-Passionflower Tea: helps with sleep disorders, nervous tension, and anxiety

-Valerian Root Tea: used to treat anxiety and insomnia

(Wongvibulsin, 2014)


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The third workplace program would be focusing on music which has been shown to decrease anxiety. Participants who are involved with music therapy have been able to restore emotional balance, with evidence of effective auditory stimulation that helps abolish/control pain. The right music can also reduce anxiety, restore some functioning in the immune system, and calm neural activity in the brain. As reported in literature, the five benefits of music therapy had on cancer patients were their promotion of wellness and the healthy aspects of patients’ lives, increased immunity, reductions in pain, increased sense of control, and reduced psychological and physical symptoms. Music is also a very common form of therapy that encourages relaxation and anxiety reduction (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010) Finding the right playlist that your employees can listen to that have been proven to reduce stress can be listened to on borrowed portable devices, streamed in on their computers, or designate a quiet space to play soft, relaxing music in the background.


Following that, the next outlet is my favorite and usually my first recommendation: Journaling and/or having a Drawing Book. This helps immensely in maintaining and preventing overwhelming stress. There are even stress psychologists that determined that journaling enhances immune functions, decreases stress, can alter the course of chronic conditions, and an increased sense of relief. “Journaling is a form of preventative maintenance” (2018). Dr. Pennebaker with other researchers studied the effects of expressive writing in hopes that it would help people overcome emotional inhibitions. Except it wasn’t as simple as they had hoped. Writing out experiences, thoughts or ideas helps organize thoughts and give meaning to experiences. The process assists in helping the person learn how to regulate their emotions by making them construct a story about what had occurred. Once someone has gotten comfortable with writing about what is going on, they may finally reach a stage where they will search for social support to aid in their healing. Dr. Pennebaker does recommend that writing about a traumatic incident should wait at least a month or two to benefit from this activity (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018). Employers have different options in incorporating this program: 1) provide and encourage employees to engage in journal writing 2) host art therapy sessions to focus on a creative release maybe once a week to once a month or 3) encourage employees to get a journal and have incentives to have them keep engaged in it.


Lastly, another great way to reduce workplace stress is to start or continue Prayer, Meditation, or Yoga. Yoga helps with staying relaxed, stretches the muscles, gives a sense of calm and peace, and focuses on breathing (2018). According to a Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study, they have found that relaxation-response techniques such as meditation, yoga, and prayer, can reduce the need for health care services by 43%. Many previous studies have discovered that a physiologic state of deep rest, not only relieves stress and anxiety, but improves blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption. Stress-related illnesses cause the third-highest health expenditures in the United States (2015).


When stressed, there are a variety of symptoms that can occur: feeling sad, frustrated or helpless, disbelief, shock, numbness, feeling guilty, fearful and anxious about the future, anger, tension, and irritability, crying, wanting to be alone, reduced interest in normal activities, difficulty concentrating, making bad decisions, loss of appetite, sleeping too much or too little, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, nightmares/bad memories, poor memory, diarrhea, changes in energy levels, increased use of smoking, alcohol or drugs, and occurrences of headaches, back pains, and stomach problems (2018)(2018). A solid way to change the organization to address job stress is to incorporate a Stress Reduction Workplace Health Program. Then to support that, there are a few more things that should be done as recommended by the American Psychologist: 1) Ensure that the workload is compatible with the worker’s capabilities and resources, 2) Design jobs to be meaningful, stimulating while providing opportunities for workers to use their skills, 3) Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities, 4) Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs, 5) Improve communications to reduce the uncertainty of career development and future employment prospects, 6) Provide opportunities for social interaction amongst coworkers, and 7) Establish work schedules that are in line with the demands and responsibilities outside of the job (2014). Stress is dangerous to both employers and employees when not addressed. With this program, we aim to turn absenteeism and presenteeism distress into productive and efficient eustress!


“Stress, in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.” – Hans Selye





REFERENCES:


9 Yoga Tips to Overcome Anxiety disorder | Yoga Poses for Anxiety, Stress and Depression | Yoga Poses for Anxiety and Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.artofliving.org/yoga/health-and-wellness/yoga-for-anxiety-disorder


(n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/StressManagement/HowDoesStressAffectYou/Stress-and-Heart-Health_UCM_437370_Article.jsp#.Wrr4RYjwaM8


A. (2018, February 12). How to Eat Right to Reduce Stress. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/how-to-eat-right-to-reduce-stress


BAM! Body and Mind. (2017, September 20). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/bam/life/butterflies.html


Coping with the stress that environmental contamination can cause [PNG]. (2017, September). ATSDR.

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/docs/factsheet/ATSDR-Stress-Fact-Sheet.pdf


Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. (2018, March 08). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469


Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma


Physical Activity Reduces Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st#


Reduce Stress by Journaling. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/reduce-stress-journaling


Relaxation response proves positive. (2015, October 13). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/10/relaxation-response-proves-positive/


Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18.

Salleh, M. R. (2008, October). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/


STRESS...At Work. (2014, June 06). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/


Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497


Violence Prevention. (2018, January 09). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/coping_with_stress_tips.html


Wongvibulsin, S. (2014). Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from https://exploreim.ucla.edu/nutrition/eat-right-drink-well-stress-less-stress-reducing-foods-herbal-supplements-and-teas/


IMAGE REFERENCES:

1a)

Causes of Stress about the Nation [PNG]. (2017). American Psychological Association.

http://www.apa.org/Images/2018-SIA-infograph-StressingNation_tcm7-225501.png


2b) Manage Stress [PNG]. (2017). American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/Images/2018-SIA-infograph-ManageStress_tcm7-225511.png



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