A little bit of stress can be a good thing, motivating us to think creatively and to act with determination.
However, when people talk about stress they are usually referring to effects of unrelenting, excessive pressure. These kinds of pressures occur in many areas of our lives, at school and college, in our relationships, and particularly at work.
The workplace can be a very pressurised environment with demanding customers, unrealistic targets and unhealthy competition among colleagues. With these pressures it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of one's health and to prioritise workplace demands above the benefits of looking after yourself.
People might stop taking exercise, they might eat more junk food or skip meals entirely, and they may consume excessive amounts of alcohol to help them unwind. Poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol use can in turn lead to metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity) which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other cardio-vascular problems.
People under a lot of stress may be familiar with the idea that stress can lead to high blood pressure or disturbed sleep, but headaches, muscle pain, loss of appetite, loss of libido, digestive disorders, increased blood sugar levels, compromised immune system, low mood and depression, are all common consequences of prolonged pressure. For many people, it may not be obvious that their unhealthy work pattern is a factor in their physical illnesses.
To manage work-related stress more effectively it is important to establish limits on how much you are willing to let work dominate your life and to learn to say no to unrealistic demands. For your psychological wellbeing it is good to have interests and pastimes outside work as this will help you keep things in perspective. If your whole world centres around work then it is easy to view small problems as catastrophes.
Try not to take work home with you either, neither physically in your briefcase or handbag, nor in your head: when you are at home engage your mind in things that are related to home life. Take time to sit down and talk to your partner, play with your children, read something or watch a bit of television, pursue a hobby for a short while. And when you go to bed, do not use your laptop, smartphone or tablet to check social media or send a few last-minute emails; your bed is for relaxing and sleeping, so relax and sleep, don’t work.
In relation to physical health you might think you have no time to take any exercise, but there are many little things you can do to increase your activity levels during the day such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, or walking over to talk to a colleague instead of emailing them. Moderate exercise such as walking briskly for the last few stops of your commute rather than taking the underground can help lift your mood too (research suggests that 30 minutes outside even on a cloudy day is as effective as a lightbox for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
And if you are really not coping with the pressure of work and feel at a loss to know what to do, seek help. The practical and effective strategies offered in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be accessed privately at clinics such as those at the London Bridge Hospital, through your GP or through workplace assistance programmes.