I'm sure we all can pinpoint what makes us stressed, whether it's our job, money, a relationship or a combination of internal and external factors.
Just in time for American Heart Month, researchers have released a study linking higher activity in the stress center of our brains, the amygdala, to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
In the study, 293 patients received PET/CT scans and were then tracked for an average of 3.7 years to see if they developed cardiovascular disease. During this period, 22 patients had events including heart attack, angina, heart failure, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. Researchers found that those with higher amygdala activity had a greater risk of heart disease and developed problems sooner than those with lower activity, proving that stress and heart health are linked.
Stress not only can cause various health problems, but it also could lead to a safety shortcut when an employee is feeling rushed, leading to a near-miss or injury. Stress reduction, cardiovascular health and workplace productivity also go hand-in-hand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the government-run CDC, estimates that by 2030 annual direct medical costs associated with cardiovascular diseases will rise to more than $818 billion, and lost productivity costs could exceed $275 billion.
So, what can EHS professionals do to help both themselves and employees reduce stress?
The American Heart Association lists four ways individuals can manage stress, but these four techniques also can be translated to the workplace through how a company manages its relationship and communication with its employees:
1. Positive Talk
Being positive when communicating with workers can increase employee morale and subsequently could help them control stress. Instead of pointing out what they did wrong when it comes to safety, identifying what they are doing right is just as important.
2. Emergency Stress Stoppers
Stressful situations are encountered every day not only on the clock but also on the road and in public places. The AHA has identified what it calls emergency stress stoppers, or ways to manage certain problems or issues. Once again, how you communicate and handle a situation is key to managing stress for both you and your workers.
- Count to 10 before you speak.
- Take three to five deep breaths.
- Walk away from the stressful situation, and say you'll handle it later.
- Go for a safety walk.
- Be accountable. Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry" if you make a mistake.
- Set your watch five to 10 minutes ahead to avoid the stress of being late.
- Break down big problems into smaller parts.
- Stop and think instead of jumping into action.
3. Find Your Passion
When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good, the AHA says. Finding a hobby or passion is a natural way to keep calm, and encouraging your employees to do the same could turn out to be beneficial.
Working long hours is commonplace in the United States. So, making sure employees (and you) take breaks is crucial to managing stress. The AHA says to relieve stress, relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. This doesn't mean working through your lunch or running errands during your limited free time. Exercises promoting relaxation such as yoga, tai chi and meditation could be offered through a corporate wellness program and lead to a happier workforce.
Stress-conscious EHS professionals and companies might be the key to a healthier and more productive workforce. According to the CDC, one in three adults, or 86 million people, have some form of cardiovascular disease that is preventable through lifestyle changes or medical condition management.
So, when pressure is bearing down and a deadline is approaching, stopping to think about positive communication methods and employee well-being could prove beneficial. In the end, sometimes it's better to just have a heart.