A battle plan for workplace stress — article by Scott Keith
Posted Apr 19 2010 12:05am
April is National Stress Awareness Month. What better time to remind ourselves that stress can affect your performance at work. Sure, it would be nice if you could break away from your cubicle at a moment’s notice, pump a little iron to relieve anxiety, then return to your office computer feeling as fresh as a coastal breeze. But that’s not feasible for most of us. According to a stress and exercise physiologist, there are stress-busting techniques that are much simpler to apply to your work environment.
Jenny Evans blends her knowledge of psychology, nutrition and mind/body wellness to help the multi-tasking office worker build energy and productivity. In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Evans points that out that for our ancestors, stress had a lot more to do with survival. These days, we experience frequent, acute bouts of stress that tend to accumulate throughout the day or week. It has to do with “the speed of life,” says Evans, noting that we’re juggling numerous forms of high-tech communications and doing the jobs of two or three persons. When you add economic worries and parental responsibilities to the mix, stress is on the increase, according to Evans.
Stress can have a negative impact on the body, and it’s not simply a matter of emotions. Evans says stress is a physiological response. “Chemicals and hormones are released that alter your physiology.” According to Evans, exposure to stress stimulates the “fight or flight” response. Adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) are released to get your body to release fats, proteins, and sugars so that you’ll have the energy to “fight or flight.” This intense activity, says Evans, burns off those stress hormones and releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) that restore balance to the system. The problem in today’s high-stress environment, says Evans, is “you’re getting that ‘fight or flight’ response, cortisol is being released into the body, but a lot of us are very sedentary, so we don’t burn off that cortisol.” She says cortisol is directly linked to fat that’s deposited around the mid-section. This fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer, stroke and decreasing immunity.
So how do we pick up the pep at the office? Evans, founder and CEO of PowerHouse Performance Coaching and PowerHouse Hit the Deck, suggests some simple steps to reduce stress, even if it’s hard to sneak away from the watchful eyes of your boss. Evans says it only takes 30 to 60 seconds of high-intensity physical activity, such as sprinting up a flight of stairs, to release endorphins. These short, intense bursts of activity, points out Evans, can physiologically re-set your system and get the body back to a state of balance. The result is you’ll do a better job of responding to your stress.
If you simply can’t remove yourself from the computer or office cubby hole, Evans suggests standing up when you’re on the phone or doing several quick walks around the office. “When you sit for extended periods of time, your energy, focus and productivity actually decrease.”
Another way to boost your energy is to take frequent, light-snack breaks. Says Evans, “We actually add more stress to our bodies with some of our eating habits. When you go too long without eating, and glucose levels drop, that is a physiological stress on the body – often when we go too long without eating, we’re so hungry we pig out.” This gets excess glucose in the system, which is also a stress to the body. A light snack, adds Evans, might be a piece of fruit, half of an energy bar, a small handful of nuts or a container of yogurt.
Evans points out the need to cut down on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. “Ironically, those three things actually stimulate the stress response in the body. Caffeine releases adrenalin, so when you’re feeling stressed out and start drinking caffeine, it’s actually getting the body to release more adrenalin and your sense of stress and anxiety is actually going to increase.” Evans suggests caffeine-free products or tea.
Getting back to multi-tasking, consider these stats from Evans: “When you’re multi-tasking, research (University of London Institute of Psychiatry) shows us that your IQ drops as much as ten points, the same drop you would get from missing an entire night’s sleep or if you smoked marijuana. Other research shows that when you’re multi-tasking, it takes you 50 percent longer to complete a task and that you’ll make 50 percent more errors.”