The workplace is the leading source of stress and anxiety for American adults, according to numerous studies, and the impact has steadily increased over the past few decades. Although stress is a normal part of life, when it becomes extreme and/or long term, it can interfere with job performance, personal life physical and emotional health. While job and family pressures that cause stress or anxiety are unlikely to go away, it is possible to manage stress to not only minimize the physical and emotional repercussions but to actually improve your health. Many experts agree that regular physical exercise is one of the best mechanisms to manage stress and avoid its negative health repercussions.
The workplace is full of potential stress and anxiety triggers: heavy workloads, deadlines, long hours, insecurity about job retention or advancement, difficult bosses or colleagues, unclear or perceived unachievable performance expectations, among others.
According to the American Workplace Survey VII as reported by The American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job and 50% of those indicate a need to learn how to manage stress.
In a similar study by NIOSH 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful and their job stress was more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or emotional problems.
When anxious or stressed, the body launches into “fight or flight” mode which releases hormones associated with increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, sweating, and muscle tension. Constant or repetitive bouts of stress puts a lot of “stress” on the body and its systems.
In one study 62% of workers reported having neck pain at the end of the workday and 34% reported difficulty sleeping because they were stressed out about work. Overtime muscle tension and lack of sleep take a toll on the body, compromise the immune system and can contribute to more serious health problems.
Stress and anxiety can lead to fatigue, headache, irritability, difficulty concentrating, back and neck pain, sleeplessness and when long-term, contribute to depression, heart diseases, heart attack, gastro-intestinal issues, asthma and arthritis flare ups, loss of sex drive, skin problems and other physical health problems.
It is not always possible to control or avoid stress in the workplace or elsewhere, but it is possible to manage it. WebMD’s Stress management Health Center offers several tips for managing stress including time management, healthy eating, quiet time or meditation and exercise among them. All of these are common coping mechanisms, however the stress management technique most recommended by health care professionals is exercise.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is vital for maintaining mental fitness and reducing stress. Being fit makes the body better able to fight stress while also improving alertness and concentration.
Scientific studies have shown that aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, can reduce blood pressure, and improve sleep and self-esteem. As the Mayo Clinic reports, even just five minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can generate anti-anxiety effects.
Exercise can address both the physiologic and emotional repercussions of stress. Movement relieves tension in the muscles, increases breathing and oxygenation of the muscles and brain which increases energy and focus. Aerobic exercise releases mood enhancing chemicals, endorphins which can help alleviate the feelings of depression and anxiety associated with stress. Completing a workout, even a brief one often yields feelings of success which can translate to greater self-confidence and self-worth and serves as a distraction from your daily worries...
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (walking, swimming, gardening, etc.) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (running, interval training). However, it’s important to build up fitness gradually and consult your physician if you are new to exercise. Brief bouts of activity offer physical and emotional benefits so you don’t have to commit to long 30-60 minute or more workouts. Doing 2 to 3 shorter 10 minute bouts of activity per day will still reap benefits.
For both fitness enthusiasts and non-exercisers, small bouts of movement at the time you are feeling stressed can have a big impact. Taking a brief walk, doing a few stretches or in-office exercises can reset the body and mind. Setting “activity” reminders on your daily calendar every hour or two or utilizing in office fitness mobile apps is a great way to infuse stress reducing movement into the workday.
Stress is inevitable. Having your health suffer due to stress is not. Exercise in any form and any duration is a great stress reliever. Being active can make both your body and mind healthier.