Dealing with stress in a busy life
Today, more than a quarter of Australians experience moderate to high levels of stress and anxiety, often leading to a poor quality of life. So, it’s more important than ever that people are able to take meaningful steps to eliminate their stress or at least reduce it. In this article we explain what stress is, why it affects so many people, and how they can actively deal with it to improve their private and working lives.
Coming to grips with stress
The first step in dealing with stress to understand it. Stress happens when demands or pressures on a person outweigh their ability to deal with them. It’s a biological response, a ‘fight or flight’ situation when the body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress is long term, where a person feels overwhelmed and out of control. A common reaction is to simply put up with chronic stress. But this can push it deeper and create new problems like alcohol dependency, poor diet, and mental health issues.
Causes of stress can be internal or external. Internal stressors include personal characteristics like perfectionism, procrastination, neuroticism, and thinking style. External stressors include events like the death of a loved one, financial hardship, moving house, job insecurity, and relationship problems.1
Stress can be 'good' and 'bad.' Good stress can improve a person’s awareness, focus, motivation and performance. Too much of it, however, can see the stress turn 'bad', compromising focus, performance and results. Bad stress when unaddressed can become chronic stress, which can have damaging effects on people’s lives and wellbeing, as we explain in the next section.
Stress as a living reality
Australians rate their wellbeing as fair, but statistics2 tell a different story:
- Around 35% of Australians have significant stress in their lives, 26% are abnormally anxious, and 26% have moderate or severe depression.
- Financial issues are the top cause of stress, followed by family issues and personal health.
- To cope with these stresses, 20% of people gamble, smoke and drink. Of those reporting extremely severe levels of stress and anxiety, 66% drink alcohol, 54% gamble, 47% take recreational drugs, and 45% smoke cigarettes.
It’s no surprise that Australians’ lifestyle decisions reflect the stress and anxiety in their lives. Watching TV or movies (escapism) is the most popular (85%) way of coping with stress, followed by focusing on the positives (81%), spending time with friends and family (80%), and reading (75%).
In the workplace, people may find it difficult to cope with chronic stress and anxiety due to the restrictions of corporate culture, policies, and politics, and possibly due to feelings of shame and fear of isolation. Worksafe reports that stress in the workplace has been linked with high levels of unplanned absences, staff turnover, withdrawal and ‘presentism’ (staying back at work unnecessarily due to job insecurity), poor work, and poor product quality. 3
Having discussed the causes and effects of stress, let’s look at how people can more effectively deal with it.
Dealing with stress
Most Australians believe that stress impacts their physical health (72%) and mental health (64%), but very few seek professional help to deal with it. The good news is that today people have many ways to do combat stress. First steps 4 are critical:
- Realise when stress is leading to poor functioning—it’s important to connect feelings with pressures faced.
- Identify the causes of stress—work out which stresses can be resolved practically, which stresses will get better over time, and which stresses cannot be resolved.
- Review your lifestyle—work out if there’s too much being taken on, or whether if there are things at work that can be delegated. Prioritisation is key.
Taking these initial steps can make it easier to apply more tailored solutions5 to help address stress:
- Exercise – exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. It’s important to choose a form that most suitable.
- Diet – growing evidence6 suggests that diet affects a person’s mood and that a healthy eating regimen can improve this. Drinking more water and less alcohol or coffee can help reduce anxiety and clarify the mind.
- Sleep – lack of sleep is exacerbated by stress, and vice versa. Regular and longer sleeping hours can help reduce anxiety and worry, focus the mind and improve memory, and help improve a person’s mental health.
- Change lifestyle habits – drinking alcohol and smoking can trigger anxiety and stress. People with chronic stress can benefit greatly from cutting their alcohol intake and quitting smoking and other lifestyle drugs.
- Take time out – taking time out can help achieve a better balance of responsibility to oneself and others. This can help reduce internal stress.
- Be mindful – mindfulness can help reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can be very helpful at work as it can sharpen focus, boost productivity, and enable better and more creative solutions.
- Go easier on yourself – it’s important to remember that everyone can have bad days, make mistakes, and achieve less than they had hoped for. Perspective is needed. People should be kinder to themselves and appreciate what they have achieved, rather than beat themselves up or be overly negative about themselves or others.
At VicSuper, we can help with worries or concerns about retirement. As a profit-to-member fund, we deliver great value to our members in a number of important ways:
- As a profit-to-member fund, we keep fees as low as possible and we don’t pay commissions to financial planners.
- Solid long-term investment returns – we aim to deliver competitive returns for our members.
- Award-winning value – we’ve been awarded Constar’s 5-Star Rating* for Outstanding Value Superannuation in 2020, one of only six super funds across Australia to receive this rating. We’ve also received SuperRatings’ Platinum** rating – their highest rating – seven years in a row (2013-2020), confirming that VicSuper continues to be one of the “best value for money funds” in Australia.
- High quality services – we were awarded Best Fund: Integrity by Chant West (2019)* for offering lower fees and premiums, while continuing to provide the benefits and services members really need, like quality investment and insurance, and member services and advice.
This advice has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should therefore consider the appropriateness of the advice in light of your individual circumstances before acting on the advice. You should also obtain and consider a copy of the relevant Product Disclosure Statement available at www.vicsuper.com.au before making any decisions. VicSuper Pty Ltd ABN 69 087 619 412, AFSL 237333, Trustee of Victorian Superannuation Fund ABN 85 977 964 496.
* The Canstar 5-Star Rating for Outstanding Value Superannuation was awarded in March, 2020.
** SuperRatings is an independent superannuation ratings and research company. Platinum is SuperRating’s highest rating. SuperRatings and Chant West are independent organisations. See superratings.com.au and chantwest.com.au for ratings, criteria and methodologies.
2 Stress & wellbeing: How Australians are coping with life. Australian Psychological Society Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2015 p4
6 Amine, E. et al. (2002). “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases: report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation”. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/download/en/ [Accessed on 24/11/15].