Think about your employment. In the past twelve months, have you frequently called out sick? Do you regularly dread the workday ahead? Do you struggle to meet productivity targets? Do you work through lunch? Do you take assignments home? Are you constantly operating with new staff because of a high turnover rate? If you found yourself answering yes to several of the above questions, you’ll likely agree you suffer excessive job stress.
Change is inevitable. While change can be uncomfortable, transformation has the possibility of generating progressive results. When employees see the long-term vision of their work as having positive consequences, they are more likely to cope with work stress in the short term. If there is no progress being made, and the end of the high-pressure environment is out of sight, it’s hard to remain optimistic.
In the wild, a tiger relaxes in the sun. Eventually, the tiger gets hungry, and it searches for its dinner. After two days of hunting, the large feline finds a deer. It stalks its prey and then at the right moment, neurological signals in the tiger’s body prime the animal to attack. The tiger can kill the deer. When the battle is over, the tiger’s nervous system calms, and it happily feeds upon its meal for two or three days. The tiger’s stress hormones were released while it captured its meal, and then resolved as the tiger feasted.
Twenty-first century employment is slightly different then a hunt in the animal world, but not completely. Just as the tiger needed a strong neurological response to attack the deer, individuals may also have an intense physiological reaction to environmental stressors such as long hours, upcoming deadlines, or challenging work relationships. The difference in an office environment is that there is often no reduction of stress hormones after completion of an assignment. The adrenaline remains heightened as we exchange one task for another. Days may blur one into the next. Vacations may even be burdened by calls from work or catching up on things at home that were left incomplete due to work hours.
The primary stress hormone in the body is called cortisol. Cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream. It also tells the body to avoid certain functions that would not be essential in a high stress situation. You would not tell a tiger about to attack you, “Hold on Mr. Tiger, let me eat my own lunch before you come after me.” You would stop digestion and try to get away. Cortisol suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, the immune system, and growth processes to be able to handle high alert situations. Cortisol also influences mood, motivation, and fear responses. In a 2018 study by Cay et. al cortisol levels increased nine-fold in people facing stressful circumstances compared to restful times.
According to a review published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, there is a clear connection between high cortisol levels and increased blood sugars. Increased blood sugars and altered insulin levels lead to a condition known as Type 2 Diabetes. Many individuals know the importance of eating healthy, getting regular physical activity, staying hydrated with water, and getting adequate sleep at night. Stress relief is a crucial and frequently forgotten component to physical wellness. Without timeouts for meditation, yoga, or taking a walk outdoors the risk of a major adverse health event substantially increases. In other words, long-term stress from work, without an outlet for mental wellbeing, could in fact be one source of increasing a person’s risk for high blood sugars and ultimately diabetes.
- Cay M., Ucar C., et. al. Effects of increase in cortisol level due to stress in healthy young individuals on dynamic and static balance scores. North Clin Istanb. 2018; 5(4): 295-301.
- Hippensteele A. Cortisol Linked to Higher Blood Sugar in Patient’s with Type 2 Diabetes. Pharmacy Times. Accessed 5 Oct 2022. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/cortisol-linked-to-higher-blood-sugar-in-patients-with-type-2-diabetes.