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Stress and the workplace

According to the Confederate of British Industry (CBI) mental health issues contribute approximately 30% of lost working hours per year with a cost of £4 billion to the UK economy.


These figures are getting worse. Over the last 30 years or so, the levels of stress have increased. For women they have increased approximately 18% and for men 25% which is significant (WHO).


We all spend time taking care of our bodies (mostly), why don’t we do the same for our brain? Maybe it’s because people don’t realise how they can do this or that they need to do this?


A little about the brain. Our brains are hardwired for survival – always on the lookout for the next crisis! It’s a 3lb organ and it interprets our senses, instructs bodily movements, controls behaviour; it’s our seat of intelligence. It contains 86 billion neurons (the nerve cell). It dispatches chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters (chemical messenger).


There is NO limit to what the brain can create. Frequently used neurons develop and have a stronger connection. Those that are infrequently used or never used eventually die off – use it or lose it theory!


When your body perceives threat your sensory nerve cells pass this onto your brain – releasing chemical messengers into your bloodstream. At the same time it sends a nerve signal down the spinal cord. Both arrive at the adrenal gland which sits on top of your kidneys. The adrenal gland releases epinephrine (adrenaline) into your bloodstream. This results in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Once cortisol is released into the bloodstream it increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system. Too much cortisol can degenerate your brain, causing brain fog and confusion.


I also want to bring in the gut! The gut is also referred to as your second brain as it is filled with important neurotransmitters, and it does more than just handle digestion. It does not control your conscious thought. More than 95% of your body’s serotonin (the feel-good chemical) is located in your bowel. The gut and brain are closely connected and services an important function for managing stress and also aiding digestion.


You can and should change the way you look at stress. Stress has positive and negative impacts. Stress and depression can cause the brain to lose volume and retract – it represses the expression of several genes that are necessary for the formation of synaptic connections between brain cells. This loss of connectivity can contribute to the loss of brain mass in the prefrontal cortex (complex cognitive behaviours, personality expression, decision making, social behaviour).


STRESS can be overridden with behaviour therapy. The feelings of stress and anxiety are just sensations…. A series of nerve impulses.


There are many ways in which you can start looking after your brain. There are many resilience building programs available and most of which are available to everyone.


Some examples of building brain resilience might be:

  • Brain games to help manage stress

  • Meditation and mindfulness exercises

  • Breathwork

  • Nature – getting out in nature for just 10 minutes helps you re-set

  • Exercise

  • Journaling (I know this is not for everyone 😊)

  • Sleep

  • Healthy diet

  • Understanding your stress triggers (getting support)

Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how we react to it. You’ve all heard of IQ (Intelligence Quotient), well we also have EI (Emotional Intelligence); your capacity to recognise your own feelings and the feelings of others. EI is now recognised as an important leadership skill. Companies like Apple, Google, General Mills, Deutsche Bank, Proctor & Gamble are implementing mindfulness programs for their employees.


Looking at tools that help organisations tackle the stress phenomena, mindfulness is being used more and more. Mindfulness can boost productivity. Following a review, the resulting stats were gathered:

  • After one seven week course 83% of participants stated they were taking time each day to prioritise their personal productivity – which was up from a mere 23% before the course

  • Furthermore, 82% of employees stated that they now took the time to eliminate any task that had limited productivity

  • More results indicated that 80% of senior executives that took the course reported a significant change in their ability to make better decisions with 89% reporting they felt they became better listeners

Building Resilience in the Workplace

Meditation and Mindfulness are like a doorway into another reality. If you are willing to walk through it, it just might be the best stress reduction tool you will ever discover.


Bringing the concept of mindfulness into leadership can provide a transformational experience for both management and employees, cultivating the hallmarks of excellence which could be defined as creativity, compassion, focus and clarity. A mindful leader can relate to others better and help motivate employees towards their shared goals.


Resilience building can help employees better manage stress before it gets out of hand. As an organisation, if you endorse this you are essentially giving your valuable employees permission to engage in self-care at work; imagine that!


Just 10 minutes can help clear the mind. Taking the time to step into someone else’s shoes helps you better understand the challenges your employees face day to day. Some examples might be:

  • Approaching a member of your team who has been unproductive for a week or so only to find out their best friend had recently passed away

  • Instead of jumping to any negative thoughts or actions if an employee has been arriving later than normal for a week or so. You could gently ask them if they need a chat/a cuppa or if they need your help. You might discover they are dealing with a sick spouse or child and are shouldering more of the parental burden

Some simple mindful tips you might like to use:

  • As you are walking to your place of work (either from a car park, train stop, whatever) try slowing down. Take time to check your body, notice any tension. Focus on that tension and take a moment to refocus that energy (take some deep breaths, imagine the tension floating away with each outbreath)

  • As you walk into the office try different types

  • of breathwork, again observing your emotions and any tension. Start to re-focus by noticing sounds, smells, things you have never taken the time to see before, smile at someone

  • If you feel stress at your place of work, take a few minutes out. Don’t sit in the emotion, enabling yourself to spiral into that place of negativity. Go outside and take a few deep breaths, start noticing what is around you, take yourself out of your mind, re-focus

  • If you feel stuck take a few minutes out. Take time to really focus on an object, notice everything about that object, all it’s details

  • Try eating away from your desk, or eat in silence once a week. Eat slower, notice the sensations, the tastes, the smell, maybe even the person that made you lunch (if it’s a loved one 😊)

  • At the end of the day, take time to reset your energy. Maybe go for a walk, listen to music, read a book, go to the gym, call a friend, do anything you love to do… re-focus and let go of the day

Mindfulness is just one of many techniques you can learn to control stress in the workplace. If you need help or want to learn more please get in touch. Much Love Jo xxxx


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