Do you think stress has become a contributory factor for heart, gastric and respiratory problems, in fact a growing reason for your doctor bills? Do you think more people around you report illnesses in their 30s that they should have done in their 70s? Do you think most workplaces treat stress only as a normal “no big-deal”, so that the pressure pushes employees to garner business results? While that helps him score a professional brownie-point, does the resultant stress get depreciated as a purely personal matter?

The WHO calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century. As per Peter Schnall’s Unhealthy Work, it is now more costly than cancer, smoking, diabetes and heart disease combined. But while we tackle the effects of stress, it may be worth tackling its triggers itself. Triggers are internal manifestations that lead to the feeling called stress when we face an uneasy external situation. Researchers attribute stress mainly to two triggers, flight to safety and mind-chatter. So what are these two triggers and what is the easiest way to tackle them in today’s workplace?

To understand flight to safety, step back to the early humans. Imagine stalking through forests when you suddenly hear a growl. What is your reaction? A sharp feeling of unease, and a need to decide quickly whether to escape or confront! This shift to a survival mode is explained medically as the chemicals that enter the blood-stream when the hypothalamus sends that message to the adrenal-cortical system. Our breathing and heartbeat becomes faster, the body feels cold as the blood-supply gets redirected to muscles that would be used for escape or confrontation, and the concentration on smaller aspects reduces as we look at the larger picture. But today’s workplace is more mental-based and does not offer scope for physical outlets in situations of unease. That is a problem because flight to safety is attuned to a physical outlet at that moment. This inability to give a physical outlet during that moment of unease starts piling excessive cortisol inside us that is unable to return to normal with metabolism, thus creating stress.

So what is the easiest way to tackle this in your modern workplace? As per Neil Neimarck, a stress researcher, our brain only recognises the physical outgo and cannot connect if it was directed at its specific cause. Hence, any physical outgo at that moment can metabolise those chemicals. Try taking a brisk walk around the office-building. If going outside is impossible, try walking briskly through the aisles a few times at that time. If you can grab a cabin to yourself, try on-the-spot jumping a few times. Try air-punching in a secluded cabin or in a washroom cubicle. Any physical exertion will do, provided it is done at that moment of unease!

To understand mind-chatter, step back to medieval times. Most people worked solitary in their trade. A black-smith worked by himself, as did a cart-puller or a fisherman. All of us talk to ourselves to greater or lesser degree. That self-talk inside one’s mind would have helped them keep alert in their solitary work. But today’s workplace is based on team-work and collaborations, and mind-chatter impedes the concentration one needs while working with a team. It occupies our minds about non-essential things, sometimes even non-existent. This buzz, especially when we need to focus on the team-members, ends up tiring us, reduces our concentration, impacts our contribution and productivity towards the team-work, and eventually starts piling inside us what researchers define as stress. Realizing this chain of events only exacerbates that feeling.

So what is the easiest way to tackle this in the modern workplace? As per Herbert Benson, a leading cardiologist, tactics like deep breathing, “switching-off” the brain for a short time, sitting still for some time with eyes closed, or saying affirmative phrases to oneself about the task can tackle mind-chatter. Most workplaces do not offer scope for a meditation-time, but a short-term relaxation tactics might do the trick. One might eke out a fixed-time each day, depending on which time works best for the individual. Making a regular habit is often more effective. Try grabbing a secluded cabin or an empty meeting-room. The washroom cubicle is often the easiest place in a crowded office.

These triggers essentially cause the cumulative accumulation of chemicals in our body which become toxic if not metabolised at that time, although they are useful during those situations. Since our workplace now is more mental and team-based, these chemicals are not metabolised in-time as they should have been. The idea is to metabolise them. While the above quick-fix solutions cannot solve the causes, they may help in metabolising when the triggers strike. That can reduce the long-term medical effects and lower the chances of chronic diseases to some extent!