Stress is a common direct reason for absenteeism and often plays a contributing role in many physical illnesses. Perhaps an even greater problem for organisations in terms of lower productivity and increased errors is ‘presenteeism’, where individuals remain at work but are unable to function effectively due to the symptoms of stress, e.g. poor concentration, demotivation, irritability and anger, withdrawal, avoidance, demoralisation, low self-esteem and self-confidence. Of course, many of these signs, e.g. irritability, could affect the people they work beside, perhaps lowering team-spirit. Stress Control offers solutions to these problems by teaching individuals to ‘become your own therapist’ and, as a result, along with generally boosting their sense of wellbeing, to stay, and function more effectively, at work.

Dr. Anja Rivera de la Cruz

Stress Control is a core piece of our Continental Mental Health Prevention Program. It offers exactly what we were looking for: An efficient, well-evaluated stress management training suitable for everyone from production worker to engineer. Stress Control helps us to prevent chronic stress, burnout, depression and anxiety in our workforce. We use it as a global tool and are highly satisfied with the results!

Dr. Anja Rivera de la Cruz
Director, Corporate Health
Continental

Around The World

In Britain, around 1 in 5 people say that stress is a problem right now. Recent research suggests that, across Europe, 38% of adults will suffer from a mental health problem over the course of a year. And about half of us can expect to suffer from stress over the course of our lifetime. Of these problems, a combination of anxiety and depression is the most common. So stress problems are very common. Professor Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, a world-renowned expert, has described mental disorders as ‘the core health challenge of the 21st century’.

These are the 14 most common signs of stress reported by people in Britain:

  • worry
  • panic attacks
  • tiredness
  • feeling on edge
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • poor sleep
  • unable to switch off
  • feeling worthless
  • waiting for the worst to happen
  • feeling hopeless
  • tearful
  • feeling irritable
  • drinking too much

Physical Health

Mind and body are inextricably mixed and we have known for many years that stress not only makes us feel miserable but it can, especially if it lasts for some time, have a significant negative effect on our physical health. Stress can often be a contributory factor in headaches, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, muscle pain, asthma, pre-menstrual tension and many others. Many so-called ‘medically-unexplained symptoms’ may be related to stress.

Russ et al, 2012 looked at the relationship between psychological distress and mortality and showed that ‘sub-clinical stress’, i.e. at level that would rarely lead to any treatment, was associated with an elevated chance of dying of heart of disease. At the ‘clinical’ level, risks of dying of either heart disease or cancer were very significantly elevated.

Thus, employers should be aware not only of the costs to the organisation related to those with a stress diagnosis but also the many people with physical conditions exacerbated by stress.

What Is Stress?

Stress is one of the most common problems across the world. It involves a range of problems, the most significant being anxiety, e.g. problems relaxing or switching off, worrying (the ‘what if’s), seeing the world as a threatening place, physical symptoms such as headaches, heart rate change, breathing changes, muscle tension, and depression, e.g. loss of enjoyment, lack of interest, brooding (the ‘if only’s), feeling worthless, dragging yourself through the day, lack of energy, future seeming bleak. Associated with these are often poor sleep (so not recharging your batteries), poor concentration, irritability and anger, low self-esteem and self-confidence, and drinking or using drugs too much. We can divide stress into four parts: feelings, thoughts, actions & body.

How stress can affect your feelings

  • You may feel uptight
  • You may feel flat
  • You may feel easily upset
  • You may feel guilt keenly
  • You may feel easily embarrassed
  • You may feel low a lot of the time
  • You may feel panicky
  • You may feel full of anger
  • You may get jealous easily
  • You may feel discomfort easily
  • You may feel insecure
  • You may have lost your sense of humour
  • You may feel without hope
  • You may feel tearful
  • You may feel that stress brings out the worst in you
  • You become more small-minded, petty and resentful

How stress can affect your thoughts

  • You may worry or brood about things you know you should not worry or brood about
  • You may lose self-confidence
  • You may feel your memory is poor
  • You may feel very self-conscious
  • You feel cut-off from others
  • You may feel you are at the end of your tether
  • You may find it hard to concentrate
  • You may find it hard to relax your mind
  • You may feel that you can't control your world
  • You may have lost interest in a lot of things
  • You may be easily startled
  • You may not like yourself
  • You may be waiting for the worst to happen
  • You may feel easily confused
  • You may feel you have no get up and go

How stress can affect your actions

  • You may avoid doing things or going places as you fear you will not be able to cope with them
  • You may be more quick tempered or angry
  • You may be withdrawing from life
  • You may be unable to sit at peace
  • You may be making more mistakes
  • You may try to 'play safe' more than usual
  • You may try to avoid responsibility
  • You may be drinking more than you should
  • You may be smoking more
  • You may be eating a lot more or a lot less
  • You may be more tearful
  • You may let other walk over you more

How stress can affect your body

  • You may have a lot of aches and pains due to tense muscles
  • You may feel shaky
  • You may feel your heart rate increases
  • You may be more prone to colds and flu
  • You may feel drained of energy
  • You may never feel 100%
  • You may lose or gain weight
  • You may get a lot of headaches
  • You may feel your breathing changes when tense
  • You may feel you have to push yourself through the day
  • Your body may feel uptight much of the day
  • You may find that your body reacts very easily to stress
  • You may find it hard to get over to sleep or to stay asleep

What Is Anxiety?

We all know what it is like to be anxious: the way you can't sit at peace, the way you become scared to do things that you would not have thought twice about in the past. Fine if this happens only once in a while but when it is there more days than not; when it pushes itself into the centre of your life; when decisions are made on the basis of how your anxiety is that day then it is time to deal with it.

Some common signs of anxiety

  • You can't relax
  • You are on edge all the time
  • You are snappy
  • You can't get over to sleep
  • You worry night and day
  • You go over things in your head again and again even though you don't want to
  • You try to switch off but can't
  • Your body reacts so easily headaches, rapid heart rate, tense muscles
  • You try to avoid going places or doing things that you think will make the anxiety worse
  • You are always waiting for the worst to happen
  • Your confidence is going down the tubes
  • This tires you out
  • You don't see an end to it

Anxiety is all about the present and the near future. It is a fear of how you are coping just now and a fear of what might happen to you – the ‘what if’s’. You feel you are less able to cope with things you could cope with easily in the past.

What Is Depression?

We all know what it is like to be depressed - the way you feel so easily overwhelmed by the world and while you know you should do something about it, can't build up the energy to get moving. Fine if this happens only once in a while but when it is there more days than not; when it pushes itself into the centre of your life; when decisions are made on the basis of how your depression is that day then it is time to deal with it.

Some common signs of depression

  • You feel flat
  • Each day is a struggle
  • Nothing feels good anymore
  • Life seems pointless
  • You feel worthless
  • You cry a lot
  • Your sleep is bad
  • You drag yourself through the day
  • The future seems bleak
  • You feel alone
  • You feel resentment towards others even although you know you should not
  • You can't be bothered with things you used to like
  • You don't to do anything, go anywhere
  • You have started to withdraw from life

Depression is often about dwelling or brooding on the past – the ‘if only’s’. It often involves a sense of ‘loss’ – losing something of great value to you – a relationship , a loved one, a job, a sense of security, etc.

Describing Stress

I make a lot of stupid mistakes at work now. It's ten times worse if the job is boring. I have been pulled up once by the boss. She has said that I don't seem to be as on the ball as usual. She's dead right.

Oddly, I don’t feel tense but I went for a massage and the guy said how tense my muscles were. Sure enough, I began to notice that, first thing in the morning, my body would be uptight. I also noticed that I sweated more easily and got a bit out breath before giving a presentation.

I’m more withdrawn these days – I’ve noticed I tend to avoid going to the canteen and I tend to make up excuses to avoid a night out – nothing against my workmates , they are a decent bunch – but I don’t feel I’m good company these days.

Where do I start? It's everything. I'm uptight most of the day; my confidence is through the floor. My concentration is rubbish and I know I’m getting too ratty with the people I work with. I worry night and day over things that I know really aren’t worth worrying about.

I feel dog-tired in the living room but as soon as I get into bed, my mind just seems to wake up, full of a lot of stupid thought. I just don’t get decent night’s sleep anymore.

I seem to be dragging myself through the day recently – not enough energy, not enough motivation, not enough interest in the things I used to enjoy doing.

I feel too easily overwhelmed by things now. I try to keep my head above water but I expect a big wave to break over me at any minute. I used to be so organised. Now I feel I’m pretty chaotic.

If I've done well and praise myself, it is like there is a wee voice in my head that says "and who do you think you are?". I can't take a compliment even if I know the person means it. I think "If only you knew what I am really like". I tear such strips off myself. I would not talk to any other person in the world in the way I talk to myself.

I can’t sit on my backside for more than five minutes – I’m always up, doing this and doing that. I drive the family nuts. I cannot, for the life of me, sit back and relax.

I just go along with people all the time. I can disagree with everything someone tells me yet all I do is nod my head and don't say a word against it. I want to put over my own views yet I can't. I can't stand up for myself at all.

I know we all worry about our kids but I'm well beyond the pale. Neil is going to Spain with a load of his pals next week and I've already got him dead and buried. I imagine him drinking too much and falling off a balcony, see him in a plane crash, see him in a car crash, getting stabbed in a fight. Then I get on to him and tell him to be careful. I know I'm driving him round the bend.

My get up and go has got up and gone.

I'm telling you, I'm like a bear with a sore head. I feel so self-centred and that's not like me. I don't trust people much now. I'm waiting for them to let me down or take advantage of me. I can fall out with people over nothing. If I can't find a parking place, it's the end of the world. The glass is always half empty these days.

I can't make a decision to save myself. It is OK if there are no options but when I have to choose, I get in a right sweat. Even daft things like should I wear my coat today, should I phone him just now. Things everyone else can do without thinking. Then if I do make a decision, I worry if I have done the right thing. I can't seem to let things go.

I used to stroll through life - I could cope with anything life could throw at me. These days, I always feel run down. I'm never firing on all cylinders. I was never one for the doctors. Now I'm never away from the place.

I feel I can't do anything right. Before all of this, it was water off a duck's back. But now I dwell on everything and take everything to heart. I so want to just stop thinking. There are always things in my mind that annoy me and they shouldn't annoy me. But my brain never stops. It wears me out.

I can't concentrate - I don't pick up the story in any film I watch. I used to be a great reader. Now, I get to the end of a page in my book and have to go straight back to the start. I had to phone the wife last week to tell me my PIN number. I've had the same one for years and years but my mind just went blank at the machine.

I am so insecure, I keep waiting to be found out yet I know that most people think quite highly of me. It's crazy but I can't stop it.

Most days are not too bad but nothing feels right these days. Stress makes me feel so vulnerable. I often want to curl up into a ball to protect myself. I feel that people are judging me all the time, that I'm not doing well in their eyes I was quite a devout person. My religion meant a lot to me but I find myself full of doubts in a way that I have never done in the past. I don't have any certainty in my life any more. I do feel that I am drifting.