Do you feel tired, irritable, anxious, tense, discontented or aggravated? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you might be feeling the effects of stress.
Astonishingly, many of us know the impacts of stress on our lives, but we aren’t really aware just how severely stress can negatively influence our lives, our happiness and the people around us.
Indeed, Americans are stressed. In today’s fast-paced world, stress has become a fact of life. We stress about everything under the sun—work, the economy, school, even stress itself.
Occupational stress is on the rise
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), occupational stress has become an increasingly “hot topic” over the past few decades. There are numerous reasons why employees and management alike are concerned about stress in the workplace. According to the AIS, elevated levels of stress at work increases absenteeism and employee turnover, as well as amplifies medical and insurance costs.
In addition, the AIS indicates increased stress in the workplace reduces productivity, which negatively affects a company’s bottom line and can lower profits. High occupational stress has a significant financial impact on U.S. companies. In fact, the AIS estimates that stress in the workplace costs businesses more than $300 billion annually.
Causes and symptoms of stress
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress can be a reaction to a brief situation such as being stuck in traffic. Or, stress can be long lasting if you’re contending with relationship problems, a death in the family or other serious situations.
As for stress in the workplace, the AIS says there are numerous causes for it. Some of these include long work hours, being treated unfairly, receiving little praise for a job well done and, “most importantly, increased demands but having little control or decision making latitude of your work activities,” states the AIS.
People who suffer from stress experience both physical and psychological symptoms. According to the APA, the following are some of the symptoms of stress:
- Upset stomach
- Muscle tension
- Change in appetite
- Teeth grinding
- Change in sex drive
- Feeling dizzy
- Experiencing irritability or anger
- Feeling nervous
- Lack of energy
- Feeling as though you could cry
- Lying awake at night due to stress
How does stress impact Americans?
The APA says stress becomes dangerous when it interferes with your ability to live a normal life over an extended period. Stress impacts lives in a dramatic way. As stated in its 2007 Stress in America poll:
- About one-half of Americans say that stress has a negative impact on both their personal and professional lives.
- About one-third (31 percent) of employed adults have difficulty managing work and family responsibilities.
- Over one-third (35 percent) cite jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress.
- Stress causes more than half of Americans (54 percent) to fight with people close to them.
- One in four people report that they have been alienated from a friend or family member because of stress.
- Eight percent connect stress to divorce or separation.
The APA’s 2007 poll found that one-third of Americans report experiencing extreme levels of stress. The poll also found that nearly one-in-five report that they are experiencing high levels of stress 15 or more days per month.
More recently, the APA’s 2010 Stress in America survey now indicates that nearly 75 percent of Americans say they are stressed to the max. And experts say the survey points to an alarming national health crisis. Among the survey respondents’ top concerns are money (76 percent), work (70 percent) and the economy (65 percent).
According to the APA survey, nearly three-in-four respondents say they continue to be stressed to the max, to levels that are unhealthy and which could put them “at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.”
The survey also finds that fewer adults, even those who are employed, feel satisfied with the balance between work and life outside the workplace, which means the stress they feel at work goes home with them at night.
How to recognize stress and cope with it in healthy ways
According to the APA, while low to moderate levels of stress can be good for you when managed in healthy ways, extreme stress takes both an emotional and physical toll on the individual. It’s important to know how to recognize high stress levels and take appropriate action.
Being able to control stress is a learned behavior, and stress can be efficiently handled by taking little steps toward altering unhealthful behaviors, continues the APA. In order to manage your stress, the association says it’s important to understand how your stress and how your thoughts or behaviors are different from times when you aren’t stressed. As people experience stress in different ways, it’s important to learn your own stress signals.
The APA says it’s vital for you to be able to identify your sources of stress. Ask yourself, “What events or situations trigger stressful feelings?” Stress can arise from your children, family, health, financial decisions, work, relationships and the like.
Also, it’s important to recognize how you deal with stress and to make sure you aren’t relying on unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, to manage stress. Instead of engaging in unhealthy behaviors to cope, the APA suggests meditation, exercising or talking things out with friends and family members—all healthy ways to deal with stress.
While there are many things we can do to reduce and prevent stress, the following are just a few suggestions mentioned in an article entitled 33 Ways to Reduce and Prevent Stress on the Web site www.littlethingsmatter.com.
- Practice positive thinking.
- Practice good time management.
- Don’t procrastinate.
- Stop striving for perfection.
- Look for the upside.
- Set aside relaxation time.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Use a “To Do” list.
- Stop stressing over little things.
- Stop expecting people to live by your rules.
- Present yourself as being calm and in control.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.