For many of us, stress is a kind of widespread disease: everyone knows it, some people have it, and very few manage to avoid it. And we shouldn’t because stress also has a good side.
Stress can be a very effective motivator. Hardly anything spurs us on as much as the approaching deadline or tomorrow’s customer appointment, for which the product presentation must be ready. Stress can help us in such cases to direct our focus to what is really important. In this way, we master challenges and adapt more quickly to new demands.
Too much stress, however, can put our bodies on constant alert, and this constant state of alert can have a negative impact on our bodies and psyches. As a rule, it is this overload that we think of when we talk about stress in everyday life.
What is stress?
Despite intensive research, there is no uniform definition for the term stress. The decisive factors are always the context and the concept behind it.
The WHO defines stress as:
„Any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological distress. Stress is the body’s response to anything that needs attention or a reaction. To some degree, all people experience stress. What matters for well-being is how one responds to it.” – WHO
Generally, we distinguish between positive stress (eustress) and negative stress (distress). Positive stress is the kind that motivates us and keeps us on top of things. Negative stress overwhelms us and can cause chaos in our minds. When positive stress becomes negative stress depends on many factors, some of which can vary from person to person.
The most common stressors: What causes us to feel stressed?
What the next test is to school children, is the upcoming job interview to job seekers; and what the next customer presentation is to sales teams is the delivery date to production employees.
Depending on our life situation, environment, and personality, we all have our very own stress triggers. Critical life changes such as puberty, the birth of a child, or moving to another city can also trigger stress.
In general, a stress trigger, also called a stressor, is anything that puts us on alert. A distinction can be made between external and internal stress triggers:
Situations that make us uncomfortable or seem threatening
Examples: Noise, climate, traffic jams, waiting, worry, debt, illness, pain, boredom, criticism.
External stressors also include social stress triggers that we experience as psychosocial stresses.
Examples: Bullying, negative work climate, poor indoor environment, stressful work hours.
Views based on our upbringing and socialization that cause us to perceive something as stressful
Examples: Perfectionism, high demands or expectations, unfulfilled desires.
Psycho-mental stress triggers are also among the internal stressors.
Examples: Being over- or under-challenged, not understanding the objectives, pressure to perform, time pressure, competitive pressure.
We also encounter many of these stress triggers in the workplace. In a survey conducted as part of the DBG’s Gute Arbeit Index, the following ten occupational stress factors were named most frequently:
- Time pressure
- Interruptions at work
- Unfavorable posture at work
- Noise and loud ambient sounds
- Increased workload
- Conflicting demands
- Adverse environmental conditions
- Heavy physical work
- Need to hide emotions
The same is true at work: what stresses one person out leaves another cold. So in the end, each and every person has to figure out for themselves what factors trigger them or learn to deal with them better.
For most people, it is also a combination of several factors that leads to negative stress. For example, someone who cares for a relative, works full time, and has children to look after may react more sensitively to stressors at work because of the stresses in their private life – and vice versa.
How does stress manifest itself? What are symptoms of stress?
The symptoms of negative stress are many and varies. Like the stress triggers themselves, our reaction to stress can be both internal and external:
For example, our bodies might respond to stress with:
- Nausea, stomach pain and digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Back pain
Our psyche often reacts to stress with:
- Irritability, aggression, frustration
- Worry and anxiety
- Problems falling asleep and staying asleep
- Depression and sadness
In general, stress reduces our ability to perform and concentrate in the long term, it weakens our immune system and increases the risk of heart diseases such as heart attacks or back pain.
Our behavior can also change if we feel chronically stressed. Many people become very withdrawn under stress or are avoided because of their irritable behavior. Some have problems making decisions or spontaneously changing plans.
Substance abuse can also be a consequence of distress, with people often resorting to socially accepted stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine because their abuse is not immediately noticeable.
Stress and burnout
Chronic stress can lead to serious organic illnesses and burnout. In a world as digital and fast-paced as ours, it’s no wonder that many people feel they can’t keep up with the pace of our current meritocracy.
The name “burnout“ comes from the verb “to burn out”. Those who suffer from burnout usually feel emotionally and physically burned out. Exhaustion spreads and suddenly nothings work anymore. Many sufferers feel empty, powerless and despondent.
Once burnout has occurred, many sufferers face a long road to recovery. Treatment is varied and ranges from dietary changes to psychotherapy. Stays that health spas lasting several weeks are not uncommon. Therefore, prevention pays off, not only for employees, but also for employers, who should make a valuable contribution to the physical and emotional health of their employees with targeted measures.
How can stress be reduced? Can stress be prevented?
Stress management is a science of its own, and rightly so: After all, every second German says that he or she sometimes feels stressed. More than a quarter say they often suffer from feelings of stress. The good news is that you can learn how to deal with stress.
The magic word is resilience. The dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to survive difficult life situations without sustained impairment”. Resilient people, therefore, succeed in regaining an optimistic attitude more quickly after challenging events.
In addition to inner resilience, there are also a number of external factors that we can influence if we want to reduce our stress levels. And since we all have our very own mix of stressors, the first thing to do is to find out what is currently stressing us out the most.
A survey showed that the majority of people cite work as the number one stressor, followed by high demands, illnesses in the family, family conflicts, and constant accessibility due to cell phones and social media. Especially in the area of occupational stress, several levers can be pulled. Not only by employees but also by employers.
5+5 measures against stress at work
As an employee, you can…
… slow down your daily routine by improving your time management.
Tip: Plan breaks and a daily buffer for the unexpected. Priority lists that you coordinate with your manager can also help. Or collect smaller tasks in a to-do list to minimize distractions.
… learn to say no as soon as it becomes too much.
Tip: Offer alternative solutions instead of just saying no: “I’m afraid I can’t make it today, but I’ll be happy to make time tomorrow afternoon.”
…make sure you take enough time for compensatory activities.
Tip: Find out if your employer offers yoga or other sports classes on-site, and try targeted relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness exercises.
… use your vacation days regularly.
Tip: For many, the relaxation effect is greater if they don’t spend their vacation at home. Regular short trips can work wonders.
... make sure you get enough sleep.
Tip: Lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to stress. And stress, in turn, can lead to lack of sleep. Avoid this vicious circle and make sure you have a healthy routine.
As an employer, you can…
… set undisturbed working hours without e-mail and the like.
Tip: Meeting-free lunch breaks or off-peak times can help create space for concentrated work and necessary breaks.
… introduce an active break culture.
Tip: Managers play an important role as role models when it comes to corporate culture. Getting them on board is the key to creating a stress-avoiding environment.
… make stress and stress management a topic.
Tip: You can optimally support your employees with targeted training, exercises, and exchanges with psychological experts.
… work on your communication culture.
Tip: Managers in particular are in demand here. Have you ever heard of “Mindful Leadership”? Further training in this area is a good start.
…expand your company's health management to include mental offerings.
Tip: With a platform like Likeminded, your employees have a good choice of self-guided courses, group workshops, one-on-one sessions, and webinars.
Mental health programs are a great way for employers to address the issue of mental health in the workplace. After all, just like physical issues, mental health problems can lower productivity, lead to absenteeism from work, and thus incur costs. So investing in emotional health pays off.
Did you know that you can calculate the potential ROI Likeminded can bring to your business on our website? Try it out right now.