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Let stress get you out, but not down

Holding a coalition government together is unarguably the toughest job going, but you don’t have to be a mild-mannered prime minister to stagger under work stress. Sanchita Sharma writes.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 17, 2012 22:34 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Holding a coalition government together is unarguably the toughest job going, but you don’t have to be a mild-mannered prime minister to stagger under work stress.


Inconsequential workday stressors — colleagues not sticking to deadlines, people calling in sick on days of key cricket matches, shirkers taking credit for your work, among others — can wreck your head as much as hitting it with great force against a stone wall or dealing with an irate political ally with questionable judgment.

In India, interpersonal conflict, frustration, lack of feedback or getting stymied at every step stresses out one in six (17%) people enough for them to want to quit, found an Ipsos poll on employee disgruntlement across 24 countries. Almost one in three (28 %) sat on the fence but the majority (57%) said they found their workplace “psychologically safe and healthy”.

Among the happiest were people in the US and Canada, followed by India, Australia, UK and South Africa. People in Argentina (44%), Mexico (43%), Hungary (42%) and Spain (38%) were the unhappiest, followed by Russia (36%), Poland (35%) and France (32%). On an average, Indians were 10 percentile happier than their global counterparts: globally 47% of the 14,618 people polled said they liked their workplace, compared to India’s 57%.

Unhappiness at work doesn’t mean a recurrent wish to watch your smug colleague choke on his bland, homemade lunch, or your obsessive urge to trip your boss down the stairs. Signs of something not being right are usually more subtle, such as spending your weekend stressed about going to work on Monday, getting impatient or irritated over small issues, or simply not caring about work matters at all. If this is the case, do not wait for psychosomatic symptoms of stress — sleeplessness, headaches, low energy, muscle and body pain — to appear, but consider either changing your work profile or getting a new job.

For, over time, workplace irritants can trigger heart attack, stroke, cancers, stomach disorders, diabetes, chronic fatigue and depression, especially if coupled with an unhealthy lifestyles. (We all should walk 10,000 steps or more a day, about 8 km, recommends the World Health Organisation. Few of us manage more than 4,000 in a typical work-day).

Last year, researchers added another risk to work stress: that of developing asthma. The European study, published in the international journal, Allergy, followed 5,100 adults over 10 years and found asthma was higher in people who regularly felt stressed at work than those who didn’t.

Chronic or recurring stress — for instance, constantly meeting ever-advancing deadlines or dealing with hostile colleagues — triggers the release of the hormone adrenaline, which raises heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and makes breathing rapid and shallow. If the stress is continuous, you develop high blood pressure, which damages blood vessel walls and triggers heart attacks and stroke; disturbs kidney function; upsets hormonal balance and causes diabetes; and irritates the stomach lining to produce more acids leading to ulcers, cramps and constipation.

Prolonged exposure to the stress hormone adrenaline and cortisol accelerates the aging of brain cells and lowers learning and memory. Stress also lowers libido as much as smoking, drinking and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Physical problems apart, stress also urges you towards eating disorders and addictions, such as cigarettes, high-fat snacks and alcohol. So, if you see your work invading your mind space and your smartphone and iPad taking over your leisure time, take a break. And if the thought of going to work still depresses you, get a new job.