Everybody deals with stress, whether at work, home, or school, though it can mean different things to different people. We can talk about the various stressors we encounter in our lives (work deadlines, job pressures, hassles at home, etc.), or we can talk about the strain these stressors have on us (loss of sleep, anxiety, etc.) if the pressure becomes overwhelming.
Though research has long demonstrated that we all need a certain amount of stress in our lives to stay alert and active, the strain we experience when that stress becomes unmanageable can lead to serious medical problems, both mentally and physically. For example, the modern pressures of work, especially in an era of non-stop telecommunications, can mean a much faster pace of life and getting much less sleep as a result.
According to data published by the National Sleep Foundation, about 35 percent of American adults, 25 percent of young children, and as much as 72 percent of high-school children report not getting enough sleep at night. While there can be different reasons for this, technology, including smartphones, tablets, and computers in the bedroom, seems to be the primary cause.
How healthy is your work-life balance?
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For working adults especially, this means that the work-life balance that previous generations once took for granted is being eroded by the need to face more workplace challenges than ever before. Employers and supervisors can now contact workers at any time, day or night, with new assignments, deadlines, etc. And more people than ever are compromising their health in ways that didn’t seem possible even twenty years earlier.
Take the average workplace, for example. Even if you aren’t working from home, you likely have a business email account that bombards you with emails from employers, supervisors, and coworkers to which you MUST respond as soon as possible. Whether the email is about a new deadline, a need to explain some expense report, a notice of further mandatory training, etc., it still acts as a distraction that takes you away from whatever you are working on. Such distractions inevitably add new stress to your day in addition to the usual pressure or getting assignments done on time.
But even if you are working from home, whatever peace this might bring can also be disrupted by regular interruptions. And that assumes you aren’t being monitored by whatever software your employer has in place on your machine to ensure you aren’t “wasting time” (and, yes, some companies do just that). Though you are spared the hassles of daily commuting, you are still obliged to keep up with your regular responsibilities and stick to a regular schedule.
When stress starts building up
All of this stress has a way of building up over time, especially if you start neglecting your home life and adopting unhealthy habits (not getting enough sleep, not eating properly, not exercising, etc.). The end result can mean burnout, depression, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, reduced immune functioning, and even a shortened lifespan. In Japan and other parts of Asia, such work-related deaths are known as karoshi and have become a significant public health concern.
While karoshi isn’t as widely recognized in Western countries, the risk of burnout and work years lost to preventable diseases is becoming a major issue here as well. This is why more workplaces than ever are recommending sensible strategies to cut down on work stress and encourage employees to make healthier choices to prevent long-term health problems.
How can I handle work stress?
Among the things you can try to make your life a little easier include:
- Learn to relax away from work – This means setting regular rest breaks for yourself. Step away from the computer and walk around a little if you are at work. Get your mind off of whatever assignment vexes you and turn your mind to something that isn’t work-related.
- Use relaxation strategies as needed – Take a deep breath or engage in one of the many relaxation exercises you can learn online or through relaxation training. Even twenty minutes a day can yield essential dividends when relieving tension.
- Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness training is based on Buddhist teachings and encourages us to focus on the present moment without worrying about the past or the future. Stop anticipating failure or obsessing about past mistakes and simply focus on what is in front of you right now.
- Build up your support networks – Along with the friends and family members in your regular support network at home, you can also build a support network at work as well. Cultivate friendships among your coworkers, especially those who are more experienced. Find mentors who can guide you during particularly stressful times when you are feeling alone.
- Get enough sleep – Too many people don’t seem to get enough sleep at night. Sadly, that seems to have a lot to do with how we rely on electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers. Along with cutting into our regular sleep hours, we often have digital devices right next to our beds so we can check email at any time, day or night. We all have daily rhythms that we follow to ensure that we are fully alert during the day, and using digital devices late at night can disrupt those rhythms. Cut out all digital devices use at least an hour before going to bed and keep them out of your bedroom.
- Eliminate stress from your life as much as you can – If you are in a particularly stressful job with little real prospect of anything improving, consider finding another job that isn’t so hectic. No job is worth risking burnout or other health problems.
- Make healthy choices – This includes eating regularly and sensibly, cutting out late-night snacks, and exercising regularly. Avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes while you’re at it. But be sensible about making any major changes to your regular routine, including clearing all of this with your family doctor first. For that matter, make sure you see your family doctor regularly rather than waiting until you aren’t feeling well.
Granted, these are all just suggestions, but they are things that you can try to make your life a little more manageable. Try different things and judge for yourself what works best. Good luck.
Davis, M. (2019), Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. (2019). The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.
Nagoski, E., & Nagoski, A. (2019). Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle. Ballantine Books.
National Sleep Foundation (2021). Sleep Statistics. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics.
Ragland, L. (2021). Ways to Manage Stress, WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management#:~:text=Set%20limits%20appropriately%20and%20say,stress%20your%20body%20even%20more.
NeoRhythm has not been evaluated by the FDA. These products do not claim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. Always consult your medical doctor regarding any health concerns.