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What is stress?

What is stress?

What is stress?

Stress is the physical and mental changes we feel when we can’t cope with something in our lives. We often feel stress in response to situations that challenge us – and this can be a good thing. Stress can be motivating and help our performance if it’s managed well. But we often have to deal with stress from multiple sources – work, home, family, health and finances, and so on. When stress builds up or isn’t managed, it can be harmful to our health.

What is work-related stress?

When work is our primary source of stress and causes us harm, it is referred to as work-related stress. The things that cause us stress at work can often be out of our control, so we may not be able to manage it as easily. Work-related stress is different from just feeling challenged at work. It can become a serious health issue that can negatively affect both our mental and physical health. Prolonged stress from work can lead to burnout.

The situations that cause work-related stress can be different for everyone, especially if we are experiencing stress in our personal lives which can reduce our overall tolerance for stress. When it comes to the workplace, NZDF has a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to manage the work environment to manage the risk of stress. Good workplaces manage the work environment so our work-related stress levels are managed before they become harmful. However, if you are already experiencing the symptoms of stress, it’s important to get help.

The basics of stress:

So what happens when we are stressed? When we are in a situation that is challenging or stressful, it can trigger a response in our bodies. This causes hormones to surge throughout our body to help us be alert and focussed and to manage the situation. This can be a good thing when it’s short-lived and we can relax afterwards. But when the stress goes on for a long time and we don’t have a chance to fully relax afterwards, we can become exhausted over time.  These physiological changes can also sometimes harm our health. 

Signs and symptoms

What does work-related stress actually look and feel like? Stress can actually look and feel different for everyone. Over time, daily hassles and work pressures can gradually wear us down, and the signs and symptoms of stress can often develop without us fully being aware of them until they become severe.  You might start going through each day somewhat mindlessly, living on autopilot and doing things by force of habit. Or you may start experiencing physical symptoms like poor sleep or stomach pains. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of stress:

Being self-aware about our own ‘stress signature’ (the stress symptoms that you experience) is important so you can recognise when outside help is needed. This will also help you stay in check with what’s currently challenging you, how your coping skills are working, and your overall wellbeing. When we aren’t self-aware, sometimes our friends, family or colleagues notice the signs of stress in us before we start noticing. If you or your loved ones are noticing any of the signs and symptoms of unmanaged stress, it’s time to make a few changes.  Even just a few simple changes can help stop your stress from escalating to the point where it can damage your health.

Take the test:

The effects of stress can vary from person to person. Check out if you
are experiencing any of the common scenarios. Do you….

  • Feel mentally drained by the end of a typical day?
  • Feel rushed, even when you are running on time?
  • Have trouble doing things at a slower pace, even when you have the time?
  • Tend to think about what is coming up in your day rather than being in the here and now?
  • Often want to be left alone when you get home?
  • Find yourself sighing a lot during the day?
  • Forget to take breaks because of pressure you feel under?
  • Find it difficult to relax even when you have free time?
  • When you have free time, prefer activities that help you to zone out?
  • Have trouble motivating yourself to do things that are healthy for you?
  • Feel exhausted by the end of the day most of the time?
  • Feel like you are multi-tasking even at home?
  • Tend to bring your work-stress home with you?
  • Have poor sleep, or often wake up at night and think about things that are stressing you?
  • Notice that you get impatient and irritable about little things?
  • Often do tasks (like household tasks) without even thinking about them?
  • Feel like taking time to relax means you’ll fall behind on some duty or responsibility?
  • Have a sore stomach or headache often at work?
  • Avoiding social interactions with co-workers, friends, or whanau?

If you experience any of these on a regular basis, it is possible that your stress levels are building up and are having an impact on how you are functioning

Often this is very subtle, and it’s only when we take a moment to stop and review how we are doing that we notice.