There’s help available if you’re drowning in work.Chatting with a highly stressed work colleague recently, she revealed she’d recently spent thousands on treating the symptoms of stress – from heart palpitations to problems with her digestive system.
I was shocked – how have things become so bad young people are suffering from heart problems at work? I thought it would be a good topic to discuss as we break for Easter because I figure I’m not the only one desperate for a few days off.
According to research released by Work Safe Australia last year, based on workers compensation claims alone workplace mental stress costs Australia $10 billion a year.
And that doesn’t take into consideration the amount we spend seeking treatment for stress – everything from doctors and specialist appointments to yoga classes and everything in between. I’m thinking about money spent on booze and drugs to try to alleviate stress, as well as cash dropped on shopping sprees for ‘retail therapy’.
There’s no doubt about it, stress is big, big business.
But what exactly is stress? And what’s the cure for it? Google tells me that stress is “pressure or tension exerted on a material object” and “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
As a GP, Dr Brian Morton knows a lot about stress not only as a doctor, but also in his own working life, citing a recent example.
“Yesterday a husband and wife who hate each other came to see me with their brain injured son in his 30s. They were involving me in sorting out his care battles. So sometimes it’s not the actual job of seeing patients that stresses you, it’s the peripheral things. Reducing stress is about identifying them and stopping them, and putting in guidelines about what you will and won’t do.”
He says small business people are particularly prone to stress as a result of being sucked into doing things not directly related to their work. Financial stress is also a major factor.
“A sign of stress is when you’re being less efficient, when work seems to be piling up whereas in the past your ability to manage your workflow was higher,” says Morton.
He says in this situation, the solution is to identify where work procedures need to improve.
As I have written about before, inability to sleep is another sign of stress. “Not sleeping at night and thinking about what went on during the day, or not being able to sleep and not being sure why are all signs. You might have previously bounced out of bed and now feel fatigued at the start of the day. Many people also have physical symptoms like palpitations, sweating and tremors that indicate adrenaline is in overdrive,” Morton explains.
Anxiety is another sign, which might manifest as irritability, muscle aches and pains, nausea, indigestion and even diarrhoea.
So if those are the signs of stress what can we do about it? Morton says seeing a GP is a good place to start – especially for anyone experiencing chest pain – to exclude serious illness as the cause of the symptoms.
“Once that’s been ruled out you have to examine which parts of the business are related to your stress and change the way you approach your business, which might mean taking time off or cutting down your hours,” he says.
As we’ve read about many times before, it’s all about achieving an adequate work/life balance.
Says Morton: “It’s an idea to see a trained professional to work out how to go about that. You might also need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help people make changes and relieve anxiety.
“Sometimes problems might seem so insurmountable the person doesn’t know where to start. Often you need help to start making small changes.”
Good advice indeed.
What’s your experience? How have you reduced stress in your life?