We are living in strange times. One might think that much of the population being required to stay home for several weeks would create an atmosphere of calm. But our experiences over the past few months show that, for those who are forced to stay in and those who must continue to go out to work, lockdown can be a pressure cooker experience.
Fatigue, stress, and anxiety are separate but interrelated conditions and while they are not just symptoms of the present crisis, for many they are exacerbated by it.
Over the past two hundred years of human history, people across the world have moved from a mostly agrarian lifestyle; living in small communities far outside the city, working the land and surrounded by nature—to a mostly urban lifestyle, where we are surrounded by unprecedented levels of noise and pollution, swarmed by other people, and cut off from truly uncontaminated wilderness. Whilst these conditions have become the norm for modern society, it is unsurprising that they cause us stress and anxiety, and the modern workplace is a key contributor to this effect. One recent study claims nearly half of people feel stressed at work at least once a week, and nearly one in six feel stressed at work every day. *
The net result of failure to deal with stress can be catastrophic. A few potential side effects of stress:
- Mental health problems
- Cardiovascular disease
- Eating disorders
- Skin problems
- Permanent hair loss
- Digestive problems
- … and the list goes on.
The picture is complicated by fatigue, wherein a person becomes excessively tired due to physical or mental exertion. Fatigue is not just sleepiness, it’s a deep physical and mental tiredness that can both cause and be caused by stress, as part of a vicious cycle. As well as the negative mental and physical health effects, it can contribute to loss of attention and clear-headedness: a big deal for the drivers in our industry trying to keep the roads safe, or those operating materials handling equipment. The recent relaxation of LGV drivers’ hours rules should not let us forget how crucial it is that drivers get the breaks they need to function effectively.
It is therefore important we encourage a healthy response:
- Eat well. Overeating, hunger, and poor diet can exacerbate stress, anxiety and fatigue. When your back is against the wall, getting a well-balanced meal should not go out the window, it should be a priority.
- Get enough sleep. It can be tempting to cut into sleep time in order to ‘be more productive’, but inattention, sluggishness and irritability will rapidly erode gains if this becomes a habit.
- Exercise! The fight or flight response is meant to trigger activity, so get your fight or flight on. Run, play sports, dance. This helps your body absorb stress hormones and regulate itself properly
- Meditate or practice mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness techniques have both been found to help moderate stress, as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression. To read more, visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
Resist the urge to rely on solutions like alcohol, caffeine, sleeping drugs or other stimulants, medicines and narcotics. The short-term relief they offer is married with a range of short term and long-term costs, such as dehydration, poor sleep, and health risks.
Finally, promote well-being in others. Considering what measures you can take to address and reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety in the workplace is key at moments like this. Remember, with stress costing an estimated £5 billion to the UK economy each year, successful management is a cost-saving initiative. Whether it’s reaching out with a positive message or encouraging staff to take regular breaks, we can all help support each other.