Stress is normal. We can feel stressed because we feel overwhelmed with work, feel under pressure, are experiencing new challenges, worried about something, and the list goes on.
Stress at work can happen often, but when we feel stressed in our personal lives, this can impact our work lives too. Doctor Adrienna Ember – who has a double doctorate – is a clinical psychologist specializing in therapy, personal development, and supervision and is a member of the New Zealand Psychological Society. She covers many areas such as work stress.
Stress is generally accepted as an evolutionary response from the body and the nervous system, which can potentially cause dangerous triggers, as it’s seen as a survival instinct, she says.
“The physiological and nervous system changes in the body during a stress response, such as increased blood flow, the ability to mobilise energies we at times are not aware of and sustain goal/task-orientated focus help us to overcome challenging situations or achieve to the best of our abilities (e.g. at a competition).”
However, stress was caused by nature as a quick response to difficult situations due to stress affecting people’s physical and mental selves. According to research and personal experiences, stressing frequently as a quick response can cause long-term effects like a weaker immune system, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Overly stressing can cause insomnia, feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, hopeless, anxious, depressed, irritated, and shorttempered, which can lead to unhealthy habits like drinking, substance abuse, or emotional eating.
Everyone can react to similar situations differently based on their past experiences, responses to stress, and state of mind, Adrienna says.
“It is important to do a reality check when facing potentially stressful situations and ask ourselves: what is at stake?”
Some red flags when it comes to work stress becoming a reoccurring problem occur when people see changes in their behaviour, daily routines, and emotions, which can last for two or so days.
For instance, insomnia or oversleeping, skipping meals or binging, headaches, foggy brain, continuously making mistakes at work, disorientation, forgetting things, muscle pain, irregular bowel motions, fatigue, getting angry/overreacting, negative thoughts, and not feeling like your usual self, she says.
Other effects of work stress include losing self-confidence and self-esteem – thinking we’re not good enough in our role – feeling isolated, scared of making mistakes, and being ashamed about messing up.
It also does not feel good to pretend you’re feeling fine. This kind of reaction appears before we know it and often leads to unhealthy ways of dealing with stress.
This reaction can “undermine our relationships with our loved ones, and their physical and mental health,” Adrienna says.
She also provides tips on how employees working in stressful environments can relieve their stress via the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand toolkit.
“You will find information beyond basics such as healthy eating, regular exercise and time spent outdoors, socialising and talking about problems, various forms of mindfulness and relaxation, move around and step out of the building between meetings, watch that you drink enough, prioritising tasks, leaving work at workplace and using your home to truly “recreate” yourself, be it gardening, reading a book, taking a bath, having a nice meal, watching funny movies, engaging in hobbies, and laughing a lot.”
Here’s a link to the toolkit: mentalhealth. org.nz/resources/resource/five-ways-towellbeing-at-work-toolkit.
Lastly, Adrienna advises employees to tell their managers/bosses they’re struggling to keep up with their workload if expectations are unrealistic.
People should not feel bad for making their bosses/managers aware of their stress, as it is their bosses’/managers’ role to make sure the workload is manageable for employees and must have a Plan B when Plan A does not work.
“Familiarise yourself with whom you can turn to for help in potential worst-case scenarios at your work.
“Also, don’t hesitate to ask for days off for stress release if you need to and make sure your work won’t pile up to cause you extra stress upon your return but will be allocated to stand-in or support staff, or re-prioritised,” Adrienna advises.
Next time you think you’re going to stress about something, take a breather, think about the positives in your life and think about how far you’ve come to get to where you are now.
You’re not alone. Need to talk to someone? Get in touch with a psychologist or counsellor via these links: