Understanding the Impact of Chronic Work Related Stress

The last place work related stress manifests itself is in our physical health. Highly ambitious people love the adrenaline rush that work challenges bring. But over an extended period of time work related stress comes at a price: their physical health.

The field of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) is about the interconnection between our mind, brain and hormonal system and our immune system. PNI highlights how our thoughts, perceptions and emotions cause changes in the chemistry of our brain. In turn these changes impact on our physical health.

Simplistic explanation of chronic stress

Our body is geared to handle short term bursts of stress. However, on-going stress affects our bodily functions severely. Every stressful situation brings an adrenaline rush. But when this stress remains for an extended period of time, certain hormones (cortisol and DHEA) are given off throughout the day and at night as a means of keeping our body going.

The level of these hormones secreted fluctuates according to the level of stress we experience. These hormones can help us out initially. But when challenging circumstances persist, the secretion of these hormones has a detrimental effect on our adrenal glands. Excess cortisol secretions leads to:

  • Bone loss
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Emotional mood swings
  • Increased Type 11 diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Etc

Over time chronic stress can lead to burnout.

Stages of burnout

Driven: You love challenges, feel energised and rushed, are productive and work long hours, have no time for regular exercise and your eating habits are poor.

Dragging: You have less energy and often start the day with coffee. You eat fast foods during the day and drink caffeinated drinks like coffee and Coke to keep you going. Bouts of insomnia are a nightly occurrence. Your weight increases or find you have lost your appetite.

Losing it: You are feeling tired and suffer from insomnia. Your weight has increased noticeably. You take in lots of sugary eats and drinks, fast foods, etc. Drinking more alcohol in the evenings helps you relax. You experience symptoms of stress: feel anxious, short of breath, nauseous, dizzy, etc.

Your mood has shifted: you are moody and feel depressed at times. Tranquillisers or anti-depressants look like a good option. You take more stimulants to keep you going. But all these succeed in doing is depleting your system further.

Hitting the wall: Family and friends are tired of your complaints. Your health symptoms are becoming more serious: you are forgetful, your concentration is weak. Migraines, stiff necks, back pain, allergies, insomnia are the norm. You are tense, anxious and fearful the whole time. Socialising has dropped to an all-time low.

Burnt out: This is crisis time! You are extremely irritable and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Everything is an effort. You feel alone and isolated and have lost interest in everything and feel you only exist.

You may have been diagnosed with heart disease, Type 11 diabetes, cancer, depression or some other serious disease.

Read the warning bells

Most of the time when we look back we are able to recognise the first warning bells. They are always there. The question is whether we chose firstly, to see them….and then secondly, react to them or not! We need to know that work related stress impacts on our well-being.

Take these messages seriously, very seriously. Otherwise your body will give you a stronger wake-up call. Sadly sometimes pride or ego prevents us from seeking help in time.

Take action

See your general practitioner. Even if they may say you are fine, see a specialist. Go for a full medical check-up and more. Have blood tests done. Check your homocysteine levels. These levels will indicate if you are setting yourself up for a serious chronic disease.

Follow the doctor’s advice. It is fascinating how few people actually do. Unless you take corrective action nothing will change.

Once you have had a proper assessment and are clear on a treatment plan, there are three strategies you need to follow:

  • Rest: catch up on sleep and quiet time. Cut out unnecessary and draining activities. You need to get you core self in a relatively healthy state again so that you have a strong foundation to build on.
  • Repair: now is the time to get into some healthy lifestyle habits. Change your eating patterns and exercise regime. Build in regular “time out” for reflection and contemplation.
  • Rejuvenate: only once you are strong enough can you start taking on more challenges or do things to energise you.

As much as business may be in your blood, remember that you need to be alive and in good health to do business!

Business coaching enables you to read the warning signs of work related stress and to take preventative action.

Posted in Business, Stress.