Understanding Stress

According to the american institute of stress, work-related stress costs U.S. Businesses an estimated $300 billion annually in absenteeism, decreased productivity, employee turnover, and healthcare expenses.
High levels of stress can damage our mental and physical health. Do you know how to recognize work-related stress and what to do about it?

Mary Jarjour, American-Lebanese capacity builder, mother and fitness enthusiast focusing on learning and wellness, examines the impact of stress on our mental and physical wellbeing.

What is stress?

Feeling stressed is our body’s reaction to a trigger in our environment. There are physical and emotional symptoms of stress. These symptoms can be different for everyone. Some common physical signs of stress are: pounding heart, sweating, nausea, muscle tension, headaches. Anger, irritability, anxiety, or feeling numb are some emotional symptoms of work-related stress.

Why does it happen?

Physical signs of stress come from our body’s “fight or flight” response. This automatic response helps us get out of danger by confronting danger, or running from it. It helped our ancestors stay safe and survive dangers in their environment, like wild animals.
Our body’s reaction to stress is supposed to fade away when the danger has passed. But when the ‘danger’(=trigger) is there all the time, the physical response doesn’t go away
Sometimes, a stress reaction is triggered by danger in our environment (like violence). But often, our triggers are work pressure, problems with family or difficulties in relationships. When our bodies are stuck in ‘fight or flight’ mode all the time, it can make us sick.


Stress at Work

A small amount of pressure can help motivate some people at work. You probably know someone who says they work better under pressure. But, a stress response in the body is what happens when there’s too much pressure.
Work-related stress happens when we feel we can’t do everything at work, or can’t do it well enough. And, this type of stress gets worse when we have other pressures outside of work (like parenting, financial problems, or caring for a family member who is ill).

What not to do

These choices might feel good at first, but cause more problems later.

  • Comfort eating: It feels good to eat when we’re hungry, but “comfort eating” is when we eat more to feel better when we’re stressed. Comfort eating hurts our health, especially when we eat extra fat or extra sugar (like candy, chips and other junk food). This can cause weight gain and other problems, especially true when we sit a lot at work.
  • Smoking (including e-cigarettes and argileh): Smoking feels relaxing at first, but can cause other health problems, making it harder to deal with stress in the long run.
  • Caffeine: energy from caffeine covers up the effects of bad sleep. Some people say it helps them focus. But, our bodies get used to caffeine quickly, and we need more to get the same effect. Lots of caffeine can lead to health problems, which make it even harder to manage stress.

What to do

Feeling overwhelmed? There are healthy ways to manage stress. These strategies can help.

  • Breathing exercises take just a few minutes. You can do them from anywhere.
  • Add more movement to your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk at a mall if it’s too hot outside, or YouTube a yoga video at home.
  • Pray, meditate, or practice mindfulness
  • Improve your sleep! This is a big one. Like junk food, regular “junk sleep” (not enough sleep or waking a lot due to noise) hurts our health. It can also make it harder to resist stress. Go to sleep and wake up at same time every day. Relax with music or read something happy before bed. Block out noise with earplugs from a pharmacy, or even better, a custom set from a hearing center.
Stress at work is common. We can’t control the source of stress, but we can make healthy choices to calm our bodies down and protect our mental and physical health.

Where does your stress come from? Which healthy coping strategy will you try first? Let us know in the comments below.


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