Work represents one of the most common stress sources of our days – meeting tight deadlines, handling conflicts with co-workers, facing unexpected project requirements, and even coping with job insecurity. Moreover, having little time available just for themselves makes people feel even more overwhelmed by stress.
A certain amount of stress is actually necessary because it helps us stay alert and feel stimulated, but what happens when stress levels skyrocket?
The first step towards finding a solution is understanding stress response mechanisms.
The fight or flight response
The fight or flight response, also known as the “acute stress response” is a theory first described in the 1920s and stating that animals and humans react to threats with specific physiological actions determined by changes in the sympathetic nervous system. The release of the adrenaline and norepinephrine hormones lead to immediate physical reactions such as an increase in the heart rate, blood vessel constriction or dilation (for muscles), supplying more energy to the body, loss of hearing, pupil dilation and tunnel vision.
Consequently, our bodies are ready to run faster, our muscles become more efficient, and blood is diverted from our extremities in order to reduce blood loss in case of damage. We are fully prepared to either fight or run.
While this type of response used to be very useful for our ancestors whenever they had to face a threat such as the attack of a wild animal, having your senses running haywire when you check your email and see you have more work to do than you can handle seems more of an unnecessary, disturbing reaction.
Long term side effects
The biggest problem about the fight or flight response is that in today’s working environment we need to control our reactions. Many of us don’t burn off the effects of the stress response through physical exercise and in time all the stress builds up, leading to health problems.
Psychological consequences include anxiety, irritability, aggressiveness, lack of concentration, and the impossibility to make balanced decisions. These symptoms appear even when the threat is small, like coming across an unexpected situation or not being able to achieve our daily goals. Having these survival mechanisms activated without actual needing is what makes the modern human feel so stressed every day.
How to manage stress in the workplace
So, what can you do when your body seems to offer you just two options – running out the door or yelling at your nagging boss? We’ve already seen that controlling these reactions does help you fit well in society and look mannered, but on the long term your health will suffer negative consequences, such as a higher risk for heart attacks, increased blood pressure, and blood vessel damage.
One of the most efficient solutions is exercising – by consuming the energy released by your body you will feel more relaxed. This is why in some corporation headquarters you’ll find a gym for employees, or you may be offered a free gym subscription from work. Even a short walk after feeling stressed helps.
Relaxation techniques combining abdominal breathing with the visualization of a peaceful scene also help – studies have shown that people with high blood pressure applying such techniques have managed to improve their condition and reduce medication. Getting away from the source of stress and taking a break leads to even better results.
People getting emotional support from friends and family manage to get more easily over times of stress. We all are familiar with that sensation of relief experienced when we share our worries with other people, and rallying with co-workers against a bullying management is a common practice.
Massage therapy is a highly-effective solution for coping with stress at the workplace, too. Receiving human touch increases the release of serotonin and decreases cortisol levels (one of the hormones associated with the fight or flight response), bringing people from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state. Massage also helps releasing the muscle tension caused by stress reactions and helps the body reach homeostasis – the ability to keep the internal equilibrium constant when subjected to stress factors.
Employees receiving short massage sessions at work experienced benefits like increased productivity, better problem solving abilities, a boost to creativity levels, and feeling less tired.
What about you – would you like to get a massage at work as a way to reduce stress?