Tips for Mitigating Stress in the Workplace
Posted 5/30/2017 by UHBlog
Chronic stress is a growing problem in the United States. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls it the health epidemic of the 21st century. While some people can handle stressful situations better than others, over time stress can build, causing physical, emotional and behavioral problems.
“Stress itself isn’t the enemy,” says psychiatrist Francoise Adan, MD, who is Medical Director of University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. “What can be the enemy is the way that we react to our stressors, such as financial, career, personal or other concerns we have. It’s how we perceive it and the responses it creates within us.”
In the workplace, job stress is estimated to cost American businesses approximately $300 billion a year while impacting the well-being, absenteeism and productivity of organizations.
Ongoing stress also increases health care costs in many organizations, according to Dr. Adan.
“From an employer’s point of view, we know that stressed employees are sicker, less engaged and less productive,” she says. “Stress has a tremendous direct and indirect impact on businesses. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of primary care doctor visits are related to conditions caused and/or exacerbated by stress. These health conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorders and stomach problems.”
One of the biggest problems with chronic stress is it often leads to unhealthy behaviors. An American Psychological Association (APA) report found that highly stressed people are:
- Less likely to eat healthy
- Less likely to exercise
- More likely to fail at weight loss programs
- Less likely to get enough sleep
To counteract this, many employers offer wellness programs. Unfortunately, the APA report found that these are often underutilized by employees - even when incentives are offered.
“Many of the wellness programs offered to employees fail because they aren’t comprehensive enough,” Dr. Adan says. “They aren’t addressing the stress epidemic and teaching their employees how to manage it.”
To help employees manage stress at work or in their personal lives, Dr. Adan recommends these five tips:
- Deep breathing. Inhale to the count of four, and then breathe out to the count of six or seven. This signals the brain that it’s okay to relax.
- Using affirmations. In a small sentence, present tense, use the “I” word. For example, “I’m peaceful and present.”
- Practicing mindfulness. Focus on the here and now by putting down tablets and phones, for example, and being part of a personal interaction you’re having. This can help those whose stress and anxiety are making it hard for them to sleep.
“This is like a skill, an art, how we are present in the moment,” Dr. Adan says. “So I’m not in past, what I could have done, should have done. That often leads to regrets and sorrow. And I’m not in the future with the to-do lists.”
- Being positive. Think of one or more positive things that have happened in the last 24 hours. You can even suggest starting work meetings with attendees sharing something good that happened to them recently.
- Expressing gratitude. Showing appreciation and giving thanks on a regular basis, helps put your stressors in perspective, Dr. Adan says. One suggestion is to make a list every day of a few things you’re grateful for.
“These tools are simple and have no side effects - and they can make a tremendous difference,” she says.
Targeted programs that teach employees techniques they can use to control stress’s impact on their lives are also a good idea. UH Connor Integrative Health Network offers several of these types of programs, including Stress Management and Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.) - recognized as a 2016 Crain’s Health Care Hero for improving the lives and health of those in Northeast Ohio - and mindfulness, yoga and meditation classes.
If you’re interested in stress management training for your workplace, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.
Francoise Adan, MD, is a psychiatrist and Medical Director of University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. You can request an appointment with Dr. Adan or any other doctor online.