Why it happens and what to do
Do you feel like you’re drowning in a bottomless sea of deadlines, expectations and long to-do lists? Are low energy and fatigue common complaints? Are you susceptible to negative moods, including irritability or frustration under stress?
Stress can be good
Short bursts of stress to overcome lethargy or to enhance performance constitute a positive and healthy stress response. Action-stimulating stress gives a hockey player the competitive edge or enables a singer to project enthusiastically, creating a sense of mastery and accomplishment.
Stress can be bad
Human beings are designed to respond to short-term emergencies. The “fight or flight” response initiated by the adrenal glands mobilizes adrenalin and cortisol to release blood sugar and increases blood pressure and heart rate for better oxygen perfusion to the muscles.
Harmful effects occur when the stress response system remains in the “on position” chronically, leading to a host of stress-related diseases. Ongoing or excessive stress responses can eventually manifest as autoimmune disease, peptic ulcers, cardiovascular disease or even cancer.
Workplace stress: increasing global concern
Work-related stress is defined by the World Health Organization as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities, and which challenge their ability to cope.”
Here, an estimated 62 percent of highly stressed workers identify work as their main source of stress. This growing concern is also reflected globally; Japan and China, where long working hours are expected, each have a word for death by overwork: karoshi and guolaosi, respectively.
Learning to adapt to stress
That mid-afternoon candy bar or third cup of coffee is really only a temporary solution to lagging energy or low mood. Over time, excess caffeine and sugar-laden snacks coupled with stress and a sedentary lifestyle brew up the perfect storm resulting in a cycle of fatigue, nutrient imbalances and poor stress response.
Developing the ability to predict stressors and build self-control by using effective communication, considered a form of emotional intelligence, minimizes stress. Emotional support through leisure time and social connections can also counteract some of the negative effects of stress.
Natural substances known as adaptogens, used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to promote a sense of well-being by regulating the adrenal stress response, may help reduce the intensity and negative impacts of stress.
Ashwagandha, rhodiola and holy basil (also known as tulsi) are all common adaptogens used to help relieve stress-related complaints. Check with your health care practitioner for more information on which supplements may work for you.
Simple lifestyle strategies
- Exercise increases endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) and helps shed daily tensions.
- Good quality sleep helps improve mood and reduce stress.
- Mindfulness practices like meditation can restore calm and peace even after just a few minutes.
- Spending time in nature helps buffer against stress and correlates with higher rates of happiness and cognitive performance.