In my last blog entry, I talked about how the triggers of stress differ from person to person – meaning they are very individual. However, what can be said in all cases is: when a person suffers too much stress for too long, it is harmful to their health – and is also detrimental for their employer. This is because people who experience chronic stress do not perform as well and are less productive. It is estimated that in Switzerland, the consequences of stress cost the economy an estimated CHF 5 billion per year.
So what exactly happens to the body when we perceive a situation as stressful? When we sense danger, our interbrain sends out an alarm signal. This results in the immediate release of hormones. Adrenaline boosts the energy supply, noradrenaline acts as a neurotransmitter to the brain’s fear center, and cortisol stimulates the body and improves brain function. This sets off intense physical reactions, e.g.
- Increased circulation
- Higher respiratory rate
- Increased heart rate and higher blood pressure
- Increased sweat production
- Slower digestion
Our bodies are a wonder: in a stress situation, they put us in a state of perfect readiness to act while simultaneously curbing our non-vital physical functions. The brain is supplied with even more energy and our muscles tense up. The result is that our attentiveness, speed of decision-making and cognitive performance are all enhanced. We are then ready to respond more quickly and effectively to a threatening situation. You may perhaps be asking yourself: so what is the problem?
Chronic stress makes us ill
A stress response now and then does not pose a problem. The body can eliminate stress hormones and recover. The issue today is that one stress situation tends to be followed by another. Cortisol keeps getting released and cannot be eliminated fast enough by the body. Stress levels remain high. The body is in a permanent state of tension and can no longer recover.
In the longer term, this has a severe negative impact on the individual’s health, e.g.:
- Higher risk of heart attack and heart palpitations
- Increased risk of high blood pressure
- Digestive system disorders
- Neck pain
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Sleep disturbances
- Diminished cognitive performance and difficulty concentrating
The latest studies show: prolonged stress can even cause a shrinkage in the areas of the brain responsible for rational thinking. Instead, there is increased activity in the regions of the brain that evoke negative emotions like fear and self-doubt.
Chronic stress also has a cost
Chronic stress therefore has a massive impact on individuals and their quality of life and ability to function. But it also has major implications for companies:
- A person who is exhausted lacks concentration and makes more mistakes – please also read my blog entry http://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2016/04/01/drunk-from-sleep-deprivation/ on this topic.
- Demotivation leads to lower productivity and lower quality of work.
- More frequent absences occur, until the employee is completely unable to work.
- Other team members have to take on more work and suffer due to the irritability or social withdrawal of the individual in question. This creates a negative atmosphere and reduces productivity within the team.
- This results in higher staff turnover in the medium term.
Of course, companies demand exceptional performance and a high level of commitment from their people – but if employees are too devoted, this can also lead to lower quality of work. In other words: chronic stress has high costs for companies. The Job Stress Index 2015 estimates that the impacts of stress cost Switzerland’s economy CHF 5 billion a year – taking account of health costs, absences from work, lost productivity, etc.
The good news in this context is: stress prevention pays off – both for the individual and the company. According to conservative estimates, stress prevention measures have a return on investment of around 1:5. That should be a compelling argument even for the company’s CFO! And more important still: you remain healthy and can deliver a good performance! Until my next blog entry, I wish you a period with as little stress as possible, plenty of relaxation – and lots of energy!
© Claudia Kraaz