Your heart is racing, sweat beads on your forehead and you are overwhelmed by a sudden urge to flee. Just another day at the office, right?
Workplace stress is at epidemic levels in Australia with almost three in four workers struggling to manage the pressure of unreasonable workloads, job insecurity, and low morale. But the good news is there are steps you can take to recognise the early signs of stress and boost your coping capacity.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, large numbers of workers are clocked on for more than 50 hours a week, leaving Australia near the bottom of the work/life balance ladder compared with other countries.
Among the many causes is the impact of technology blurring the boundaries between work and downtime, with employees expected to be contactable at all hours. In some sectors, technological advances create job insecurity as computers and machinery take tasks from workers. Casualisation of the workforce and the growing gig economy (where workers are freelance contractors or hired on demand) has also removed much of the stability enjoyed by previous generations. Last year, a workplace wellness survey of more than 1000 Australian workers found that 73 percent felt stressed with millennials bearing the brunt of the pressure.
At a biological level, stress is related to allostasis, when the nervous system, immune system, and hormones are activated to help the body adapt to challenges.
Hormones including adrenalin and cortisol trigger the fight-or-flight response that helps us react quickly to manage stressful situations.
When this happens efficiently and infrequently, the body can cope. But in circumstances where these systems are overstimulated and cannot perform properly, the result is allostatic load, which can lead to disease.
When worries, challenges, and anxieties show no sign of abating, chronic stress can result. Signs of stress include aches and pains, insomnia, indigestion, diarrhea, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem and feeling out of control, moody and tearful. If left unchecked chronic stress can lead to depression, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and even heart disease. And while stress might leave you reaching for alcohol, caffeine, and sugary foods, these can, in fact, escalate symptoms. Instead, regular exercise and a balanced diet supplemented by specific vitamins and minerals can help ease symptoms of stress and set you on the path to make longer-term changes.
Magnesium assists muscle and nerve function, with foods such as kale, spinach, yoghurt, almonds, avocado, bananas and even good quality dark chocolate rich in this essential mineral. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is another way to absorb the stress-relieving benefits of magnesium.
B-complex vitamins found in many animal proteins protect the immune and nervous systems while promoting mental clarity.
Herbs including St John’s wort, valerian root, licorice, Avena Sativa,Withania, Rhodiola and Lavender have traditionally been used in teas, tonics and supplements for their calming and immune boosting properties.
Hormonal support can also be helpful, with the amino acid tyrosine – found in protein-rich foods – working as a precursor to hormones that regulate the body’s stress response.
Sipping green tea is a soothing way to increase levels of theanine, another amino acid used to treat high blood pressure and anxiety.
While dietary changes and supplements won’t make work less stressful, they can help build your physical and mental reserves so you can take steps towards reclaiming a manageable work/life balance.
For professional help, see your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
St John’s Wort & stress
Since the days of the ancient Greeks, people have taken St John’s wort as a natural remedy for stress, anxiety and mild depression.
The herb is believed to work by preventing nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing the chemical messengers’ serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, which are linked to nervous conditions.
Clinical trials have found the herb to be as useful as standard antidepressant drugs for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. It is not recommended in cases of severe, biological depression.
Because of the potential for adverse reactions when combined with other medications – particularly warfarin and other antidepressants – it is advisable to consult your healthcare practitioner before taking St John’s wort.
When stress interferes with sleep
Stress often affects your quality of sleep. A calming combination of the Ayurvedic herb Withania, with traditional herbs hops and passionflower in liquid form, is recommended to help you fall asleep naturally. Reach for a Rhodiola, lemon balm, and ginseng liquid combination specifically to relieve symptoms of mild anxiety and nervous tension.