The faster the urbanisation rate, the less time left for personal time. People tend to spend their free time sleeping or bingeing on Netflix to recover from work-related stress. It becomes a struggle, for most, to choose to exert remaining time and energy on physical activities like walking, jogging, or spinning for even five minutes, let alone thirty to sixty minutes.
What do surveys say?
According to a Statista survey conducted on 30,000 respondents in Europe between March to April 2021, fifty-five percent from Switzerland are reported suffering from burn-out or on the verge of it. Fifty-three percent from Austria and fifty-one percent from Germany.
Lepaya, a power skills training company, conducted a research on stress at work on 1,322 European workers and results show more than half agree to experience unhealthy levels of stress at work.
Based on the survey, Germans working in the financial, automotive, manufacturing, health care and education industries are the most stressed.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work says “workers experience stress when the demands of their job are excessive and greater than their capacity to cope with them.” And when this situation persists for a prolonged period, stress develops into more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal problems (three most common musculoskeletal problems are trauma, back pain, and arthritis).
Triggers of stress at workplaces are high levels of work pressure, lack of job security or changes within the organisation, longer work hours and pressure to deliver. Relentless worry and anxiety over undelivered actionables, delayed deliverables or unmet deadlines can result in burnout and later, to more critical disorders. Although burnout is not classified as a medical condition by the World Health Organization, it is a syndrome that needs serious attention.
At What Cost?
The estimated direct (healthcare and welfare payments) and indirect (diminished productivity and income loss) costs related to work-related stress is 10 billion days of annual work days lost and US$ 1 trillion per year.
In Europe, mental health disorders total cost is € 240 billion per year. Fifty-six percent of the cost is attributed to absenteeism and reduced productivity, while 43.3% goes to direct costs such as medical treatment.
What is stress?
Stress, whether we admit it or not, is synonymous with work. But stress is not all unhealthy.
There is a good kind of stress which we all need. The first day at your job, when your boss suddenly awarded you a project you have been rooting for, or a big client you have been working on signed up with you and wanted a project presentation from you. Anything that shakes your balance is stress. And anything that shakes you short term is good stress. Good stress is also called eustress. We release feel-good hormones or endorphins during these exciting times.
However, stressors become bad when you are unable to manage them, and they prevent you from doing anything else. Working on a pet project can initially give you the feel-good stress, but if you are unable to manage the project and it takes you longer working hours and less sleep to finish it, it turns to bad stress.
This means, a big part of stress relies on a person’s hands.
While it is great to have companies provide and offer emotional and mental health benefits, it is best to initiate steps to address your stress. It is wise to assume responsibility for your health.
HOW DOES MINDFULNESS HELP US MANAGE STRESS?
Living in the moment is mindfulness.
Living in the moment is being aware of your present. Intentionally and deliberately paying attention to every detail of the moment, without judgement, and not thinking of the past or future.
Mindfulness is a state of being, and a skill that can be learned through constant and consistent practice.
Long-term practice of mindfulness results in changes in how the brains work. For example, the amygdala (which is the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response) is part of the limbic system. The Limbic system is involved in our behavioural and emotional responses.
In stressful occasions, there is a reduced blood flow in the left brain and increased blood flow in the right brain. The right side of the brain is involved in emotions, among other things. Mindfulness can help stimulate the left brain to counteract the escalating emotion resulting from heightened emotions or stress. The amygdala is, therefore, controlled from doing its natural tendency of fight or flight.
The science of mindfulness offers these other benefits from prolonged practice:
- It enhances attention by maintaining focus.
- Enhanced emotion control by helping the brain to recover quickly from negative situations and diffuse fights or arguments.
- Enhanced attentional control or the ability to focus and shift attention intentionally. It is the skill to choose which to pay attention to or ignore.
- Emotion regulation leading to reduced stress.
- Improved productivity through focus and enhanced present-moment awareness.
- Improved decision-making by avoiding rush decisions.
- Because mindfulness enhances one’s ability to recover from negative situations, practitioners become open to negative feedback.
- Strengthens self-awareness by helping you observe and understand your emotions and actions (or reactions) in each situation as they happen and how your behaviour affects others.
- Increased well-being through potential treatment of many clinical disorders.
There is value in implementing the practice of mindfulness at the workplace. Learning the skill is a powerful tool to be added to your tool kit. It is applicable both at work and home, and in all types of relationships – vertical and horizontal.
It is recommended to do a consistent practice of the skill to be able to enjoy the benefits. Only long-term practice can create a positive change in one’s brain structure and function. Neuroscience supports this.
Mindfulness allows a person to look at the whole picture, discourage bias by being non-judgemental and, as a result, supports inclusion. Mindful leaders look beyond age, race and colour.
It is easy to get along with people when one has no bias. Isn’t that the biggest stress-buster?