Cortisol: The stress hormone that is ruining your workday
Stress is a reality that plagues most of us from time to time and some of us on a daily basis. With the number of tasks we are required to take on at a time on the rise, stress in the workplace is increasing, which, ironically, is stressful in itself. 59 percent of UK employees say their workload has increased over the past two years and 66 percent say the speed in which they are expected to complete their work has increased as well.
Stress and our health
According to this blog by HIF, too much stress can have dangerous impacts on our health. One of the most common is the correlation between stress and extreme tiredness and even insomnia. But the impacts of stress aren’t just lack of sleep. They can also include weight gain, acne, fragile skin, increased facial hair and irregular menstruation for women.
Where are all the stress-related symptoms coming from?
The pressure from your boss, the looming deadlines, juggling kids’ school schedules and attempting to maintain some sort of social life all whilst trying not to combust aren’t necessarily to blame. The culprit for your stress-related symptoms is a little thing called cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands which, when the brain registers we are under stress, spreads through the body and increases heart rate, sends more blood to our muscles and vital organs, and opens up airways in the lungs to increase oxygen capacity and brain alertness. When we experience a stressful situation, our cortisol secretions increase. Cortisol creates our ‘fight or flight’ response to situations like stress or danger. Typically, once the stressful situation passes, our cortisol levels return to normal but for those who are chronically stressed, cortisol levels can remain too high for too long and can cause the above stress-related health problems.
Cortisol is increased by consuming caffeine and alcohol and by sleep deprivation.
Myths about stress
It can be mistakenly thought that stress is good for us because of the motivational benefits of a certain amount of pressure. Pressure can indeed motivate us and can, therefore, be useful but long-term stress is invariably harmful. A probable explanation of the myth that people perform well under stress is that in fact, they perform well under controlled, effectively managed pressure.
‘Suffering from stress makes you weak’
Societal standards can cause some of us to think that if we admit to experiencing stress, it is a sign of failure, weakness or ineptitude. For example, an individual working in an organisation going through imminent redundancies, for may seek to cover up any sign of stress in the worry that they may be regarded as unable to cope with their job and might, therefore, be regarded as expendable.
‘Stress effects everyone equally’
An employer or manager should appreciate that not all members of their team will react in the same way to any given problem. A stressful situation or task for one person may be perceived as pressure by someone else.
Managers and supervisors must be aware of the symptoms of stress and have the skills and expertise to defuse or mitigate any issues before they become potentially serious or disruptive.