The Science of Stress
Simple tips to combat the worries of life and work
In 1845, Friedrich Engels became one of the first psychologists to recognise something truly ground-breaking. The impact of occupational stress on the lives and performance of working people. The effect that it could have on mental and physical health started to be considered, and the emergence of employee safety began.
Cavemen relied upon their body’s stress responses to keep them out of harm’s way- increased heart rate, the release of hormones that could depress the immune system, and changes in metabolic rates. Wonderful! Lucky human race for having such a highly developed string of coping mechanisms that would protect them from being eaten. However… life has since progressed.
Unfortunately our responses to stress never received that message. Our modern day lives are now full of stress producing situations; traffic jams, conflicts (emotional and physical), workplace pressures. Our physical responses to stress are meant to be fleeting, but with a constant chain of events that are stress-inducing, we are amidst a major hormonal overload.
Chronic stress causes a variety of problems, which is unsurprising. From insomnia to muscle tension, and problems with concentration, humans struggle to illicit the responses required in themselves in order to perform their jobs successfully. If unchecked, stress can lead to memory impairment, alongside more severe cognitive issues, and potential mental health deterioration.
So, what can we do about it? Some mechanisms may seem obvious, such as meditation, yoga, or physical exercise. But how many people are actually responding constructively to their occupational stress?
In a survey carried out by ComPsych, 46% of workers reported feeling dangerously overloaded daily at work.
In 2014, a third of people with chronic stress reported seeking support, which may sound like a large fraction, but in reality, the 2/3 leaving their stress unchecked are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as well as a large variety of heart issues. An overactive release of hormones to depress the immunity are particularly dangerous at the moment, and long term it could be fatal.
Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to breaking your cycle with stress. If you can’t recognise your stress and attempt to improve, it is likely that your workplace performance will also disprove greatly. Sleep is key to clear minded decision making, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep patterns cleanse your mind of toxic chemicals that have built up in your brain throughout the day.
Not filtering these chemicals can also be a cause of early onset Alzheimer’s, so protecting your mind from unhealthy sleeping patterns is bigger than just meeting your workplace goals. It’s about longevity of enjoyable living standards too.
Stop multitasking. Breaking tasks down into specific steps is an ingenuous way to ensure precision in your workplace activities, as well as reducing your stress levels. Cortisol and adrenaline are released when you multitask, which again depresses your immune system and increases heart rate. Aside from this, most people do a sloppy job when compromising their accuracy with divided attention!
Another fool proof and pain free fix for stress relief= have a banana. Honestly, as strange as it sounds, the potassium regulates the stress hormones in your body. Not only this, but distracting yourself momentarily with sourcing, peeling, and eating the banana will help you to steady your breathing and clear your mind even for just five minutes. Whilst we are on the topic of food, try a spoonful of honey too.
Honey and lemon substitution for coffee number five of the day did I hear someone say? The honey reduces inflammation in the brain (defog and improve your low mood ), whilst simultaneously reducing caffeine intake. Genius and delicious some might say.
Join a choir or listen to some rock at full volume. Hell, go to the beach and jump up and down whilst shouting. I am giving you far too many alternatives to stress for anyone reading this to not improve their mental health… humans are meant to release their emotional tensions through vocal activation and shouting or singing is a fantastic way to alleviate your pent-up energy.
Try and spend the first hour of your day not using your phone. If this is near impossible, an alternative is going for a walk without looking at any electronics.
And if THIS is still hard (believe me, I struggle), give your dishwasher a rest by hand washing some of your dishes. Day to day activities can be therapeutic too and allowing yourself the time away from devices can be instantly useful for re-regulating your nervous system.
Deregulation of the body can be quite subconsciously influential on the most basic of human responses, such as breathing. Taking time for yourself to consciously work on your breath control can be priceless, even for just a minute during your lunch break.
Step away from your stress by (attempting to) setting aside time to be stressed. After your allotted time has passed, walk away from your list of qualms and grab a glass of warm water. This will cleanse your body of toxins.
In our workplace culture, it can be easy to sometimes value ourselves as commodities, and this can lead to undervaluing our emotional wellbeing and down time.
Chronic stress has long been an issue which deserves more attention, and the same can be said for listening to your body. If you can do anything today, try and let it be attempting one of the stress reducing activities, and see if it’s something you can get behind.
Psychology student writing about behavioural sciences, business psychology and child development