Stress and the Body
Your body is a very carefully regulated ecosystem, with numerous checks and balances of chemicals that affect everything from bodily temperature and temperament, to cognitive thinking - all in pursuit of maintaining homeostasis. A particular disruptor of the body’s homeostasis is stress. The National Cancer Institute defines stress as the body’s response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure. Stress causes chemical changes in the body that can raise blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, which can also lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, anger, or depression.
The UK's Stress Problem
Stress is a major issue in the UK, across all age groups, from 18 years of age onward over 50% of young adults, adults, and senior citizens all admit to feeling so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope according to the Mental Health Foundation. A major contributor to the UK’s stressed population is workplace pressure. People rely on their jobs to help pay for their living expenses, as such, naturally there is substantial pressure to do well at work and even get promoted . This “pressure” is felt when the workload is overwhelming, a person's job is in jeopardy, or there are conflicts with co-workers or bosses, and is referred to as work-related stress. In 2021 alone, The Labor Force Survey found that in the UK, over 800,000 people reported to be suffering from work-related-stress, depression and anxiety. This estimate is likely much higher when taking those that haven’t reported into account.
This issue continues to worsen as according to the Health and Safety executive, “In the recent years prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety had shown signs of increasing. In 2020/21 the rate was higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels.(HSE, 2021)” Managers and HR must survey their workforce and allocate resources to help employees that suffer from excessive workplace stress.
Negative Feedback Loops
If left unaddressed the body will generate unhealthy internal habits. For instance, working long hours and not getting great sleep signals to receptors that the body is still not fully “recharged,” and that more sleep is needed. Now imagine you have work the next morning and cannot afford to sleep in longer. Your body will then utilize its survival adaptations and send signals to ignore your brain's receptors from telling you that you're tired in order for you to push through the tough next morning at work. This bodily process is a negative feedback loop, essentially your body's reactions to something disturbing the homeostasis or ideal conditions inside your body. In response to the change, your body represses or tries to negate the reaction to the change and does so continuously in a loop of reactions. This is not unhealthy in the short term, but with the constant work overload and pressure over time, the repressed enzymes and proteins that would be considered normal reactions increasingly perpetuate the cycle at the expense of the body and mind (Goldstein, 2008). Chronic stress in these cyclic patterns has been known to negatively affect mood, decision making, and communication/sociability.
The Future of Wellness in the Workplace
Prior to Covid-19 Office managers and HR may not have considered it a priority to allocate money out of their budget to help support their employees’ mental health. Common solutions companies have been using include: more welcoming and open offices along with other progressive ideas like rest areas that help make the workplace smarter and more engaging. With more people working from home and less people coming into the office, comes a predicament of wasted plant assets and unused office space. At the same time it offers an opportunity to repurpose office space to be more progressive and employee friendly. More and more offices are moving towards rest areas, particularly nap pods as a way to support employees through long hours. This recent change in the modern workplace is spurred by the acknowledgement of companies that their most important asset is their own employees and no cost is too much to budget for the protection of their health and productivity. For even more information on why employers should invest in employee wellness refer to this blog.
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