This month is international Stress Awareness Month. As leaders in virtual healthcare solutions, we far too often see the implications of stressful living on our patients. To get some insight into the condition, we asked Dr David Griffiths, Chief Medical Officer at Teladoc Health UK, for his reflections on stress and how it may be managed.
Are you feeling stressed out? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is a common experience for many people in the UK. In fact, a recent survey found that 79% of UK adults feel stressed at least some of the time. I don’t want to worsen your stress but did you also know that it can have a negative impact on your health?
What is stress and how does it affect your health?
Stress is a normal response to a challenging situation, such as a tight deadline or a difficult conversation. When you feel stressed, your body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can prepare you to take action. That’s ok if a tiger walks into your room, as it prepares you for the jump out of the window (although I’d suggest you contact your office health and safety lead if this has happened to you).
However, if there’s no tiger or if the threat doesn’t require physical action, it is less helpful. And when stress is there for the majority of the time, it can have negative effects on your physical and mental health.
I don’t want to add to your stress levels but…chronic stress has been linked to a range of health problems:
- Mental health: Stress has been linked to a range of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. According to a Mental Health Foundation survey in 2018, 74% of UK adults had felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
- Heart disease: Stress has been linked to heart disease. A 2012 BMJ paper suggested a statistically significant link between levels of psychological distress and cardiovascular mortality.
- Obesity: For example, work-related stress has been shown to correlate with weight gain, particularly in those who already have a high BMI.
- Diabetes: Persistent stress has been proposed as a causative factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Immune system: Stress can also affect the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and illnesses. For example, a study in Health Psychology in 1998 showed that patients with severe chronic stressors had a substantially increased risk of developing symptoms when exposed to a common cold virus.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to manage stress and protect your health. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and boost your mood. According to a study by the Mental Health Foundation, regular exercise can reduce the risk of depression by 30%.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help you relax and reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can increase stress levels and make it harder to cope with challenging situations. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Connect with others: Social support can help you cope with stress and protect your mental health. Make time for friends and family, and consider joining a support group.
- Consider seeking some coaching support: It’s ironic that we often increase our own stress levels by having unrealistic expectations of what we can and / or should achieve. Saying no to things can be difficult but it can make a massive difference. Sometimes even just reframing our choices is enough. Coaching can help massively with this sort of issue.
- Seek mental health support: If you’re struggling with stress, don’t be afraid to seek help from a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance and support to help you manage stress and protect your health.
“Stress is like spice – in the right proportion, it enhances the flavor of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.” – Donald Tubesing
Stress is a part of the human condition. It can be a good thing, putting us in the frame of mind to get stuff done. Too much of a good thing can always be a bad thing though and the health risks of excess stress should not be ignored. Take a deep breath and ask yourself whether any of the tips here could help you.