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April: Stress Awareness Month

Simple techniques for destressing in the workplace

Stress Awareness Month offers an excellent opportunity to discuss stress in the workplace and encourage employees to practice destressing techniques.

The Health Resource Network has sponsored Stress Awareness Month since 1992 in an effort to create a national conversation about the effects of stress. The goal is to spread information about why stress is dangerous and how to cope with it. The organization also wants to change misconceptions about stress that are ingrained in American culture.

“Even though we’ve learned a lot about stress in the past twenty years, we’ve got a long way to go. New information is now available that could help millions of Americans eliminate their suffering” according to Dr. Morton C. Orman, M.D., Founder and Director of the HRN.

Stress explained
Feeling stressed out is actually a survival mechanism that is meant to encourage quick reflexes in dangerous situations. This is known as the fight or flight response, the human instinct to either put up defenses or make a getaway. When your brain senses a threat, it triggers the sympathetic response, causing stress hormones to enter the bloodstream. Blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels are all affected by the hormone increase. The reaction isn’t only caused by life-threatening situations however. Triggers affect some people more than others but they can found in any situation from a bad day at work to a family conflict. When the stress hormones are excreted, the immune system is suppressed. This is why consistent stress can result in more serious health problems. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alterative Medicine, chronic stress has been linked to the development or worsening of headaches, blood pressure, stomach pain and mental illness such as depression.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has several viable ways to reduce stress when those hormones kick in.

  • Exercise: Take a walk, go for a run or hit the gym. Dancing, swimming and cycling are also great outlets for stress.
  • Meditate or do yoga: Focusing on breathing helps people slow some of the hormone-based reactions. It can also distract from anxiety-causing thoughts.
  • Schedule hang time with friends and family: Spending time with the people who make people around them smile and laugh can slow the stress reaction. It can be helpful to talk stressors out but it’s also fine to push them to the side and make fun the priority.
  • Visualization: Redirecting thoughts to a positive image, whether it be an adorable puppy or a beautiful beach scene, can improve the negative effects of stress. Visualization can also be used to aid progressive relaxation, the conscious process of releasing tension from each muscle group. Start with the facial and neck muscles then carry that thought through every body part until each individual toe is relaxed.

Stress reactions to avoid
According to the American Psychological Association, high levels of stress can cause people to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as cigarette smoking or eating for comfort. Others may drink alcohol or become sedentary. These behaviors can cause health problems in the future thus should not be used for stress management.

Stress in the workplace
Job-related stress can have hidden costs for employers as a result of poor attendance and productivity or employee turnover. Share these tips with employees and encourage them to practice de-stressing behaviors. It could be helpful to distribute desk planners so employees can schedule relaxation breaks throughout the work week. Lunch bags may also encourage employees to bring healthy meals to work instead of eating out, resulting in better overall nutrition which can bolster the immune system.

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