September 16, 2020
By Arjan Toor, CEO of Cigna Europe.
Being stressed isn’t unique, nor is it a new trend for a new decade. What is unique, is the way people choose to manage their stress – if they even choose to manage it at all. Identifying stress triggers, talking about stress and managing it is a big deal, especially when it affects 84%1 of the population worldwide.
Being able to talk and open up about stress is crucial. We often speak to several people throughout the day – be it family members, friends, colleagues or even strangers. You would think that talking about stress would come naturally and be one of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce and manage stress levels.
Nowadays, there’s hardly a month in the year where there’s not a local, national or worldwide awareness event focussed on making mental health concerns less taboo, and encouraging people to open up about how they’re feeling. The importance of discussing mental health and speaking to others to help lighten the load has never been more prevalent in the media. Unfortunately, recent research from Cigna shows that the number of people wanting to talk to anyone at all, about stress and mental health, is worryingly low. Less than half (46%) would choose to speak to their partner, 32% to family and 29% to friends. And, shockingly, only 14% of people in the UK would choose to talk to a professional.
So, for the high percentage of the population who choose not to open up to anyone about how they’re feeling, what does this mean for them? How do they manage their stress? It’s not good news – a quarter admit to stress eating and 14% believe that alcohol reduces their stress levels. These spiralling behaviours and unhealthy coping mechanisms can then lead to further problems like obesity and alcohol addiction, often going full circle again and further impacting a person’s mental health. In addition, unmanaged stress, or badly managed stress, can build up and manifest itself in a range of physical illnesses including high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath and chest pain – often becoming chronic and harder to manage.
Why are we so stressed?
One of the main causes of stress can be attributable to the workplace - 64% of people say they work in an “Always On” environment where they feel the need to constantly access work emails, attend work calls or check mobile phones for work purposes out of normal office hours. This should serve as a wake-up call for employers who wish to retain employees, boost morale and increase productivity from those who may be experiencing present-eeism due to long working hours. Now is the time for employers to take notice of their employees, their demanding workload and their stress levels and encourage them to open up about how they’re feeling.
What about workplace wellness programmes?
A workplace wellness programme can go a long way in helping to support employees, not just with their physical health, but their emotional health too. However, it’s important to understand that a workplace wellness programme is more than just promoting the odd health awareness day within the workplace and sending some emails to staff with links to helpful resources. A wellness programme is well rounded, strategic and engaging – allowing employees to feel like their employer is tuned into their physical and mental health requirements and is seeing their overall wellbeing as a top business priority. Perhaps most importantly, it can also let employees feel valued.
Despite the importance of a workplace wellness programme, alarmingly only a quarter (28%) of UK employers have a formal wellness programme in place to support their staff and, for the ones that do, engagement in these programmes is worryingly low.
Create a PLAN for managing stress
Cigna is one company who is on a mission encourage employers to invest in resilience training and workplace wellness programmes to help their employees lead healthier, happier lives, improve productivity, and reduce costs and the burden of stress on the healthcare system. While doing this, Cigna also wants to help people better understand what happens physically to their bodies when the stress response is triggered and how to proactively manage stress their when it occurs to ensure it doesn’t become chronic stress.
Individuals can better control their stress once they have a Stress Care PLAN in place.
Advice from Cigna is that people find a:
- Period of time to unwind: Set aside a designated time each day to slow down and relax
- Location that is stress reducing: Designate a physical place to take a break, whether it’s the gym or a coffee shop
- Activity to enjoy: Choose an activity but make sure it’s easily accessible, practical and affordable
- Name of a person to talk to: Find someone you are comfortable talking to who will offer you support and guidance – this could be a friend, family member or a professional.
Talk your way to being happier
Talking about stress and mental health doesn’t need to be awkward or uncomfortable. Talking can be done at a time, place or while doing an activity that you enjoy as the Stress Care PLAN suggests. Sometimes, the more typical the setting, the less unusual or uncomfortable to the conversation can feel.
People who are open about how they are feeling to others tend to be happier and healthier, both mentally and physically. Talking to others allows you an opportunity to express your feelings, share your problems, and relieve stress and vent negative emotions so that you do not have to carry them around with you any longer.
How you manage your stress is your choice – but choosing to talk about it can go far in helping reduce your stress levels and improve overall physical and mental health and positively impact your life.