STRESS; THE NEW FASHION?
“Are we all really more stressed out now because life is tough…or is it because ‘suffering from stress’ is much more acceptable…trendy”?
How are you feeling today?
Are you okay? Perhaps you’re feeling a bit sad, depressed? Maybe it’s been a bit of a rough week and it has stressed you out? If the answer’s yes then perhaps you should give Monday a miss, don’t bother getting up for work , I’m sure they’ll cope without you. Just take a duvet day, nobody will blame you for it.
What? You’d feel guilty? Don’t be silly, it’s perfectly acceptable if you’re feeling a bit below par, everybody is doing it, you know.
That’s right, Government figures show that stress has now overtaken both a bad back and flu as the reason reported by those taking time off. Stress is indeed the new ‘bad back’ darling although, quite interestingly, like most new fashions, this one tends to suit a certain ‘type’ of person (or worker), that is public sector workers.
Stress, depression and anxiety are frequent reasons for absence from work among police officers, NHS and social workers, teachers, civil servants and local government workers. In stark contrast, complaints of stress from commercial trades, such as hotel and restaurant workers, car salesmen and estate agents are not even comparable.
At the start of the 1990s, the most common cause of workers taking a day off was ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ such as bad back, legs and necks. Since then, stress and related conditions has increased and is now around double that. Last year, workers citing stress took five million days off work, and each stress victim took on average more than 30 days off in a year – nearly double the 90s figure.
And, who exactly do you think had a duty to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and to take measures to control that risk? Why employers of course. In fact, the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has threatened to prosecute employers who do nothing to reduce stress among their staff. Which is all well and good but I remember a time where absence due to stress was unheard of. In fact, the above statistic is telling us precisely that; the UK workforce used to suffer from perpetual bad back but this ailment appears to have shifted to our minds.
It’s clear that stress related illness (or at least absence from work because of it) is a relatively modern thing. But does it make sense that, despite the progress of the modern world and associated conveniences, we’re all more stressed now than ever before? But how can that be? Life is supposed to be easier now, right? Or is it just that the type of work has shifted? Before, a hard graft was defined as a lot of sweat whilst now it’s the clicking of buttons and supervision of equations on a spreadsheet? Or perhaps it’s the fact that, these days, stress can start from the moment we get into our cars. Congestion is so bad, and getting worse, that many of us are feeling like we’ve already put in a day’s work before we even reach the office. Yet, even that’s been addressed with the ‘true’ advent of telecommuting, thanks to the power of ‘the cloud’.
Perhaps, but has the workplace really changed that dramatically in the past two decades? By changed, I mean the type of jobs we do. Bankers are still bankers aren’t they? Checkout staff are still checkout staff, secretary and office administrators are still doing the work they used to, as do office workers in general. In fact, the latter probably have it even easier, and I would know a thing or two about that because my company specialises in the installation of business software. Going into a business, understanding how it works and implementing processes and software that automates previously time inefficient and consuming tasks is what we do, thus making the workload and ‘the lives’ of many a frustrated company owner and employees ‘easier’.
So, let’s have a look at the so called ‘public sector’ workers. Have the police, you know, those people who sign up to deal with some of the worse things perpetrated by modern society, really got it any more stressful than their predecessors? I don’t think so. You could say that the stress induced by the bureaucracy they have to deal with now has probably increased but crime is ultimately, well crime.
Teachers, on the other hand, well they’ve always been known to have it rough but are also known, according to government figures, to have the most holidays of any other profession. Although some are believed to ‘work’ some of their holiday, and I guess they too have become victims of the bureaucracy stress factor with league tables and the overall inability to solve an issue by clipping some gobby brat around the ear hole. Yet, in the final analysis, do they have it much worse now?
I could go on but it’s fairly plain to see that whilst some jobs may have changed in remit and freedom in job execution, the principles remain fundamentally the same.
So, are we all really more stressed out now because life is tough, harder than it used to be, or is it because ‘suffering from stress’ is much more acceptable now? Because it’s actually become a ‘trendy’ illness, a bit like depression. I mean that in the real sense of the word and am in no way alleging that there are a lot of ‘sick notes’ out there who can’t be asked to go into work and jump on the easiest, not obviously visible excuse to stay home. No, I mean, literally trendy because illnesses such as depression and stress are very much on the tongue of our Google doctor self diagnosing world. There used to be a time (and some would argue it’s still here but I’d disagree) where depression was tantamount to a sexually transmitted disease, it was all very taboo and very hush hush. Now, taking Zoloft or Prozac is as trendy as taking a headache pill. Similarly, ‘suffering from stress’ is no longer the topic of whispered tones. It’s okay to say you’ve fallen apart, life is getting on top of you because society has banded together to banish ‘the shame’ of ‘failure to perform’. Let’s face it, we do live in a world where that, the most sacred of performance failures is cured by an often ‘recreational’ blue pill.
What on earth do we expect?
Now, please allow me to stress (see what I did there) that I am in no way trivialising such debilitating illnesses as depression and stress because I know that there are many genuine sufferers out there who have reached the end of the proverbial rope. What I am saying is that because these illnesses have become commonplace and because ‘professionals’ encourage us not to mask or ignore the ‘warning signs’, and, in the absence of any physical markers (such as warts), these ‘trendy’ illnesses are easily and regularly hijacked by those individuals who will opt for an ‘easier’ short term fix to often more complex and life altering issues, such as behavioural problems. Sadly, it is indeed much easier now to find a therapist to justify our behaviour than it is to make the effort to try and change it. And now, many don’t even bother to seek a therapist, opting instead for the very handy 5 step Google self diagnosis.
So, what exactly is stress?
Well, modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations and demands. Stress itself (not the ailment) is so commonplace that it has become a way of life and it isn’t always bad in small doses as it helps us deal with pressurised circumstances and motivates us to perform to our best. However, what happens when we’re forced to constantly run in emergency mode? Well, our bodies and mind pay the price.
Psychologist Connie Lillas uses a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress:
- Foot on the gas – An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
- Foot on the brake – A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
- Foot on both – A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.
Stress can manifest itself through a series of cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms. Here are just some of them:
Memory problems, Inability to concentrate, Poor judgment, Seeing only the negative, Anxious or racing thoughts, Constant worrying.
Moodiness, Irritability or short temper, Agitation, inability to relax, Feeling overwhelmed, Sense of loneliness and isolation, Depression or general unhappiness.
Eating more or less, Sleeping too much or too little, Isolating yourself from others, Procrastinating or neglecting , responsibilities, Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax, Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).
Recognise any of these? Well, there’s a good chance you will because most are fairly normal in isolation! However, as a rule, the more you experience of the above symptoms at the same time then the most likely you are to be suffering from stress. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be ‘signed off’ for a few weeks from work, it first and foremost means that you need to look at addressing the root cause of these symptoms. What exactly is it about your life that is making you feel that way and then attempt to address or manage that stress more efficiently.
It’s important to understand that stress affects each and everyone differently. Some roll with the punches, while others crumble at the slightest obstacle or frustration. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle. Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics. General stress causes tend to be major life changes, work, relationship difficulties, financial problems, being too busy, children and family (yes, especially them).
So what can be done?
You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.
There are many techniques out there. This is one thing that your trusty search engine can help with. Because stress is something that affects many of us around the globe, there’s a veritable banquet of techniques, articles, books, recordings and even videos out there, you just have to find the one that is right for you. But if you are at all unsure, you could seek advice from your doctor but his or her helpfulness may well be limited to some basic pointers and encouragement to research relaxation techniques that work for you but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay them a visit if you’re unsure.
Ultimately, stress doesn’t discriminate, it affects each and everyone of us differently. You may well be stressed over something right now.
The question is; will you manage it or will you let it manage you?
Have a stress free Sunday. 🙂
“The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.” ~ Author Unknown