Stress is natural and sometimes necessary. What we must not forget is that it requires recovery. In today's 24-hour society this is not always obvious, which has made stress into a public health problem. The most important thing is to slow down in time.
What is stress?
Stress means that the entire body, including the brain, mobilises to respond to a threat. Our hearts beat faster and our metabolisms are reset to provide the muscles with easily accessible energy in order to flee or defend ourselves. The senses get sharper when the brain becomes fully focused on escaping the threatening situation.
The human response to stress has been necessary for our survival since the Stone Age. Without it, our ancestors would not have managed to escape the dangers of the wilderness. Even today, the body thinks the fight or flight response is necessary when stress strikes. The difference for Stone Age people was that the stress was temporary. The fight or flight lasted for hours or days, and then came a period of rest. In today’s society, stress is more constant and therefore more harmful.
Stress in itself is a positive thing. It’s when it overwhelms us so we cannot cope with the threat, or when we cannot recover in time that it becomes harmful.
What are the signs that someone is feeling stressed?
The amount of stress a person can handle depends on the individual. A person’s workload, personal life, lifestyle, age and health all have an effect. Women suffer from stress to a higher degree.
Stress entails a high energy increase for the entire body, and can therefore it can produce numerous different symptoms. In the case of chronic stress, common symptoms are anxiety, depression, sleep problems, difficulty remembering things, difficulty concentrating, having a short fuse, as well as stomach problems and muscle pain. Other signs of stress are if a person starts smoking or drinking more, eating for comfort or using sleeping pills.
Why is recovery needed?
Recovery is about winding down to replenish the energy the body has expended. Without recovery you become tired, and many people today go to work or school every morning without the energy they need to feel well. If the load becomes too high and prolonged, without sufficient recovery, there is a risk of developing exhaustion syndrome. Therefore it is very important to listen to the body’s signals and slow down in time.
Due to the number of people on sick leave caused by stress, more and more employers are beginning to realise the importance of preventive measures. The Swedish Work Environment Authority has had a regulation in place since 2016 that describes what the employer is obliged to do to ensure a good working environment and a reasonable workload.
What is considered to be recovery?
After experiencing a stress-related burden, the brain needs time to rest. Going home after work and taking care of children, paying bills and planning dinner do not count as recovery. On the other hand, physical activity and enjoyable socialising do. Watching TV, reading a book or lying on the sofa and “doing nothing” are also types of recovery.
Sleep is the most important form of recovery. Sleep problems can make you more sensitive to stress, while at the same time stress is often the cause of sleep problems. Seven to eight hours a night are recommended. It’s also important to take breaks during working hours. The higher the workload, the more breaks are needed for you to hold up in the long term.