Most individuals spend a large part of the day at work and the workplace environment can impact a large part of physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, numerous studies show that job related stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Chronic stress leads to suboptimal and/or low salivary diurnal cortisol levels over time. When addressing HPA axis dysfunction, stress management tools specific for the workplace are important.
While some workplace stress is outside of an individual’s control, the response to the stressor is always within the person’s control. It is not what stressors occur, but how those stressors are dealt with that matters to the HPA axis. Stress is a highly personalized phenomenon and can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons. This delineation can be an empowering teaching tool, providing patients the ability to not feel victimized by outside events.
Here are 8 stress management ideas to implement with patients during workday hours:
1. Take regular breaks. Bonus points for getting outside in the fresh air. During these breaks, limit conversing to non-worked related matters.
2. Limit working extra hours. Additional hours each day have been shown to work against productivity. Moreover, overwork has been associated with impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory and heart disease.
3. Take vacations. Even shorter vacations of 4-5 days have been studied to improve health and wellness, both while on vacation and after returning to work.
4. It’s ok to say no. Some individuals are motivated by external approval. While being a team player and having a “can do” attitude are wonderful qualities, it may be easy to overextend in an attempt to deliver.
5. Inquire with an employer on workplace pets. A 2012 Virginia Commonwealth University study showed employees who brought dogs to work produced healthier levels of cortisol. The study was conducted at a company in North Carolina, which “employs” 20 to 30 dogs a day. As the workday progressed, employees who brought their dogs to work experienced a decline in stress levels of 11% while those who didn’t have a furry friend near them saw their stress levels rise by up to 70% by the end of the day. On the days the dog owners worked without their dogs, their stress level increased throughout he day, mirroring the pattern of non-dog workers.
6. Bring the outside in: office plants have been shown to improve mood and workplace satisfaction. A study from 2010 supports a 37% reduction in tension/anxiety, a 58% reduction in depression, a 44% reduction in anger and a 35% reduction in fatigue with plants in the office, concluding that “just one plant per work space can provide a very large lift to staff spirits.”
7. Eat a healthy lunch. Foods like sweet potatoes contain complex carbohydrates, which can increase feelings of satisfaction while having less of an impact on blood sugar levels than simple carbohydrates. Replace coffee with green tea; L-theanine within the tea plant significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.
8. Find a BFF. Multi-year research by The Gallup Organization found that having a work best friend, especially for women, correlated to less stress and more job satisfaction. “Women were less likely to report having a negative experience during the day such as worry, stress and feeling tired.”
A salivary adrenal panel, including diurnal cortisol and DHEA levels, can provide an objective measurement of chronic stress, opening conversations and treatments which can lead to happier, healthier lives.
Remember, until March 31st of this year, all complete adrenal panels ordered will include a complementary sIgA test!