How does stress make you feel?
When we think about the effect of stress on our body and the way that we feel, many of us may list symptoms such as headaches, a tight chest or feeling irritable.
The true answer to that question is down to each individual. Just as the source of stress can vary widely, how people react to stress and by what degree can also be very different.
Whilst we will be aware of a headache after another hectic day at work, prolonged stress may be taking its toll on our bodies in ways that we do not realise. If left unchecked, these hidden side effects of stress can lead to significant health issues that will affect you and an employer.
Revealing the hidden impact of stress on our health
When we feel stressed or fearful, our body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released by our adrenal glands as part of our body’s innate ‘fight or flight’ reaction. It’s a necessary and basic physiological function – it helps keep us alive in times of threat.
However long-term elevated cortisol levels interfere with our body in a multitude of ways: learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease to name a few.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the unexpected ways that stress can affect us.
Stress affects digestive health
Our digestive system is home to a whole host of beneficial bacteria called often referred to as the microbiome. Did you know we have more bacteria than cells in our body? We are dependent on these bacteria to help digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria.
The research into the microbiome is vast right now as more and more benefits are tested and identified. Without a doubt it’s something we need to keep healthy and in balance to support overall optimal health.
Nevertheless, stress plays a big role in upsetting the balance within the microbiome, which can have a knock-on detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing. And I’m not just talking physical health – our mental health is also closely linked to the gut.
Stress affects hormone influenced conditions
Acute and chronic stress can fundamentally alter the body’s hormone balance. Think about it, when we’re producing a stress response as a life-saving mechanism our hormone function isn’t that important for that short-term fight or flight action. But of course, we’re a society stressed all of the time and that can really knock our hormone systems out of balance.
Even for those of us who do not knowingly have a hormone condition, our hormones play an essential role in transmitting messages around our body. These chemical messengers can affect many different processes in the body; functions such as: reproduction, sexual function, metabolism, growth and development.
Stress affects sleep
Most of us need around 8 hours of sleep a night to feel our best and function in our everyday lives. However, according to the NHS, 1 in 3 of us do not get enough sleep and it comes as no surprise that stress is often blamed.
Incessant triggers in our busy, technology-driven lifestyles can be stressful and this can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Regular poor sleep puts you at a higher risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Stress affects the musculoskeletal system
Stress causes the muscles in our body to tighten, which can lead to pain, injury and chronic issues like migraines and tension headaches. Tense muscles are one of the physiological reactions to stress as they help our body become more resilient to an attack. In today’s society, our fight-or-flight reaction to stress can trigger prolonged issues as the causes of stress are often ongoing.
Stress affects …. everything
I could carry on and refer to just about every system and organ and function in the body – stress has far-reaching impacts. Looking after ourselves, building resilience, taking time to relax and recharge and addressing our stressors is key to long term wellbeing and simply being and feeling our best. It doesn’t have to be hard, but having someone helping you along the way can be a real benefit.
If you think stress is affecting you then just get in touch and we can chat about how I can help. Feel free to book a discovery call.
What is the hidden cost of stress to organisations?
With our physical and mental health being affected in ways that many of us wouldn’t associate with stress, is the full impact of stress on our economy and society being reported? Yes stress is up there on the top reasons for sickness absence, but how much of it is hidden in amongst other sickness reasons?
Stress will impact an organisation’s absence levels
With employees in the UK missing 6.6 days of work due to ill health in 2018, it is clear from the evidence above that there will be an unacknowledged correlation between stress and absence figures.
- Are employers joining the dots between the way their employees are feeling and the amount of stress these individuals are under at work?
- Are employees making the link between the way they feel physically and emotionally and a stressful workplace or home environment?
Although many organisations see productivity as a reason to invest in wellbeing measures, an employee with good health who is thriving every day can be much more effective and engaged.
Stress will almost certainly be under-reported
Whilst there seems to be an increase in how comfortable people feel talking about stress, there is still a need to build supportive workplace environments where stress can be discussed openly.
A study by Deloitte found that “95 percent of employees who have taken off time due to stress named another reason, such as an upset stomach or headache.”
Unfortunately, mental health still carries with it a stigma and employees may feel concerned in talking about stress at work for fear of judgement or other negative professional reactions, such as being held back from a promotion.
Not talking about stress is bad for business though, as prolonged stress may lead to reduced productivity, increased presenteeism and more days lost to ill-health.
Time for organisations to step up?
Do you really know the price your organisation is paying for stress? I talked in a recent blog about how some level of stress can be beneficial, helping people to raise their game and performance. Unfortunately though employers will never know the entire stress-load an employee is carrying and what their tipping point might be. Ignoring stress, or deliberately increasing stress with the objective of driving performance, can be a dangerous gamble.
Knowing your people, creating the right environment and processes that enables them to deliver, leading in a style that enables people to flourish and thrive – they’re all golden when it comes to helping people manage stress and wellbeing overall.
If the subject of stress and resilience is an important one for your organisation then don’t hesitate to get in touch.
If you want to explore this topic further it is explored in my bestselling book ‘Have It All Without Burning Out’.