- 1 in 7 (14%) turn to alcohol and a quarter (25%) comfort eating to cope
- Headaches (75%) and high blood pressure (71%), which can signal other health issues, are among the most commonly recognised physical signs of stress
- Despite this, 43% prefer to deal with stress in private rather than seeking medical advice
New research from global health service company Cigna reveals stress, mental wellbeing and burnout are major health issues but are often not raised or addressed with doctors and other healthcare professionals. In fact, those in the UK are often choosing to manage stress themselves rather than consulting a healthcare professional.
Today, Cigna announced the launch of its “See Stress Differently” campaign which aims to raise awareness of stress, encourage people to talk to their medical professional about stress, and create a clear plan for people to better manage stress and its side effects.
This reluctance to seek professional help is leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms, with a quarter (25%) admitting to stress eating and, worryingly, 14% believing that alcohol reduces their stress levels. Only 14% would speak to a medical professional when feeling stressed, preferring to talk to their partner (46%), family (32%) or friends (29%).
Chronic stress can be very harmful to health and wellbeing and can have a major impact on people’s ability to perform at work, engage socially and enjoy life. It’s widely recognised stress affects physical health too, with 62% of respondents recognising the link. Problems sleeping (85%), headaches (75%), and high blood pressure (71%) are the most common physical symptoms.
The survey also showed that 43% prefer to deal with their stress in private rather than seeking medical advice. The long-term impact of ignoring these physical symptoms can be deadly – with a number of studies linking chronic stress to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
When professional medical advice is avoided, lesser known physical symptoms of stress can often go undiagnosed. This can result in people trying to find cures for the symptoms of chronic stress, rather than addressing the root cause. The symptoms least likely to be recognised as stress related are: backache (29%), blurred eyesight or sore eyes (33%) and indigestion or heartburn (46%).
Cigna’s annual global 360 Global Well-Being Survey revealed that 87% of workers feel stressed and 12% feel their stress is unmanageable. This may be a result of an ‘always on’ culture in the workforce. New research reveals 87% of mangers admit to having their work phone on them outside of office hours and when on annual leave, setting an unhealthy precedent for staff.
In fact, only 1 in 10 British employees have taken a sick day off due to stress-related issues in the last year, but felt they were unable to admit the real reason for doing so – with the majority (64%) either claiming they have a physical illness, or not giving a reason at all.
Gabby Logan, TV Presenter, is supporting Cigna’s new ‘See Stress Differently’ campaign and encouraging people to take control. Speaking from experience, she said: “Life has definitely got more stressful for me in the past few years, juggling work, family and friends. With a never-ending to-do list of commitments it can be difficult to take time for myself. This initiative is helping increase awareness around stress so that people recognise that serious chronic illnesses that can be avoided if recognised and diagnosed early. For me, nothing beats a quick 30-minute workout at the end of the day – preferably outside if the weather is okay!”
Phil Austin, Cigna Europe CEO, said: “Mental health and physical health – mind and body – are interconnected, Taking action so that people and healthcare professionals better understand the link means we can do more, sooner, to help people stay healthy. We can’t hide from the fact that the workplace is a stressful place to be, but what we can do is give managers and employees the tools to manage their stress in a structured and engaging way.”
"Cigna wants to help the world take control of stress and hopes to reduce stress-related chronic illnesses. By taking a proactive approach to manage stress, we can reduce chronic illnesses, and lead happier, healthier and longer lives and by encouraging people to seek the right advice, we can potentially, save lives as part of our core mission to improve the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we serve"
Dr Peter Mills, Cigna Medical Director, said: “It’s sad to say that I’m not shocked those in the UK are willing to accept physical symptoms of stress such as headaches and loss of libido without speaking to a medical professional. Whilst it is important to have a supportive social group during stressful times, the best person you can speak to is your doctor.”
"When people fall into a habit of trying to treat the physical symptoms of stress, rather than the root cause, the results can have long term impact on their mental and physical health. That’s why we need to adopt a more open approach to healthcare – and chronic stress in particular – that addresses both the physical and mental effects, or as I like to call it: Whole Person Health."
1) Dr Peter Mills, Building a Whole Person Health Approach to Chronic Stress at Work
Cigna is on a mission to help people take control of their stress by encouraging them to create a personal Stress Care PLAN. They advise 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