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Work-related stress under the spotlight this Corporate Wellness Week

Break the vicious cycle for the sake of your health and wellbeing

Episodes of occupational or work-related stress are a problem most people will encounter at some point in their professional lives. The effects of work stress, if it is not well managed, can spill over into one’s home life and have the potential to negatively affect our loved ones.

“Stress is not always a bad thing, and a reasonable level of stress can actually be healthy as it keeps one stimulated. Highly stressful conditions sustained over a long period affect individuals differently, but are generally regarded as unhealthy,” says Dr Jacques Snyman, Director of Product Development at Agility Health.

What is workplace stress?

Common sources of work-related stress include difficulties keeping up with workload, conflict with colleagues, and strains in family life that impact on work performance, among others. Lower-income workers face significant stress from financial pressures, especially those who are the sole breadwinners for their families.

“People tend to feel the effects of stress in the workplace more acutely if they feel that they have very little scope for making decisions relating to their work, or no room to advance their ideas about how their work processes could be made more efficient,” says Lizette Bester, Executive at Agility Corporate, an employee risk management company.

High levels of stress are frequently associated with health conditions, such as high blood pressure, impaired immune system and insomnia, and may trigger certain psychological problems. The effects of stress can take their toll on anyone, but those with underlying health problems face even greater risk of incurring stress-related health problems.

“Stress therefore presents a very real threat to individual health, as well as overall productivity, which has implications for employers’ bottom-lines and the country’s economy,” she adds.

“Through education and healthy human resources practices, the workplace can be made into a less stressful experience.  Introducing wellness programmes that provide access to both health and wellness services can protect the employees and their ability to remain productive.

Bester explains that employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be as simple as access to counselling via a provider or more holistic by providing psycho-social, financial and legal counselling. These interventions may be complemented with wellness days, where health risks are assessed.

“The areas identified as being of concern during such wellness days can be followed up with education campaigns that are best structured to address specific employee needs, thereby helping to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. This has a direct impact on the bottom line,” Bester explains.

Coping with stress

“Fortunately, there are some simple measures that employees can incorporate into their daily lives to help combat the negative effects of stress and help them to deal with the daily grind. Exercise is one of the best stress busters, as it provides a physical release for the stress hormones and stimulates the release of the feel-good endorphin hormones,” says Dr Snyman.

“A balanced diet is also key to coping with stress and maintaining immune function. Whole grains, fresh vegetables and lean proteins will provide better nutritional support than refined carbohydrates and sugary treats. Remember that sugary and caffeinated drinks may provide a quick pick-me-up, but this is often followed by a fatigue ‘crash’,” he adds.

“Good quality sleep is also vital to restoring balance and equilibrium.  Focusing on sound time management can also assist individuals in compartmentalising their tasks and focusing on the right things at the right time for optimum efficiency.  A systematic approach will help to address feelings of being overwhelmed and ultimately helps to reduce stress,” Snyman concludes.