Health and Wellbeing Advice

Your heart is racing, sweat beads on your forehead and you are overwhelmed by a sudden urge to flee. Just another day at the office, right?

Workplace stress is at epidemic levels in Australia with almost three in four workers struggling to manage the pressure of unreasonable workloads, job insecurity and low morale. But the good news is there are steps you can take to recognise the early signs of stress and boost your coping capacity.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, large numbers of workers are clocked on for more than 50 hours a week, leaving Australia near the bottom of the work/life balance ladder compared with other countries.

Among the many causes is the impact of technology blurring the boundaries between work and downtime, with employees expected to be contactable at all hours. In some sectors, technological advances create job insecurity as computers and machinery take tasks from workers. Casualisation of the workforce and the growing gig economy (where workers are freelance contractors or hired on demand) has also removed much of the stability enjoyed by previous generations. 

At a biological level, stress is related to allostasis, when the nervous system, immune system, and hormones are activated to help the body adapt to challenges.

Hormones including adrenalin and cortisol trigger the fight-or-flight response that helps us react quickly to manage stressful situations.

When this happens efficiently and infrequently, the body can cope. But in circumstances where these systems are overstimulated and cannot perform properly, the result is allostatic load, which can lead to disease.

When worries, challenges, and anxieties show no sign of abating, chronic stress can result.  Signs of stress include aches and pains, insomnia, indigestion, diarrhea, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem and feeling out of control, moody and tearful. If left unchecked chronic stress can lead to depression, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and even heart disease. And while stress might leave you reaching for alcohol, caffeine, and sugary foods, these can, in fact, escalate symptoms. Instead, regular exercise and a balanced diet supplemented by specific vitamins and minerals can help ease symptoms of stress and set you on the path to make longer-term changes.

Magnesium assists muscle and nerve function, with foods such as kale, spinach, yoghurt, almonds, avocado, bananas and even good quality dark chocolate rich in this essential mineral. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is another way to absorb the stress-relieving benefits of magnesium.

B-complex vitamins found in many animal proteins protect the immune and nervous systems while promoting mental clarity.

Herbs including St John’s wort, valerian root, licorice, Withania, Rhodiola and Lavender have traditionally been used in teas, tonics and supplements for their calming and immune boosting properties.

Hormonal support can also be helpful, with the amino acid tyrosine – found in protein-rich foods – working as a precursor to hormones that regulate the body’s stress response.

Sipping green tea is a soothing way to increase levels of theanine, another amino acid used to treat high blood pressure and anxiety.

While dietary changes and supplements won’t make work less stressful, they can help build your physical and mental reserves so you can take steps towards reclaiming a manageable work/life balance.

Are your stress levels out of control? What are your options? Talk to the experts at Go Vita Tanunda for practical advice on how to manage stress naturally.

>> Lee Teusner of Go Vita Tanunda