Have you ever wondered why you become more physically unwell well mentally stressed? Why your employees sign-off sick for long periods during busy and stressful periods?
Most of us know that stress affects the immune system and makes someone more susceptible to infections, yet what exactly is happening to influence this connection?
When people are moderately stressed, the body produces chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines. These chemicals are responsible for activating the immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses. Without these chemicals, the body would not be bale to offer any resistance.
Moderate stress is normally helpful as it prepares the body for the coming challenge, and when the danger passes, the body produces anti-inflammatory cytokines to turn the response off.
This is the body functioning correctly.
However, when someone is suffering from high-levels of stress, the response cannot be turned off. Likewise, when a person frequently fluctuates between acute and moderate stress levels, the body can be caught in a imbalance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, resulting in further damage to the body that is called allostatic load. A high allostatic load is commonly associated with multiple illnesses, from heart disease, diabetes through to the common cold.
Even in the young, an imbalanced stress response can lead to further illness in the years to come and make them more susceptible to infections by suppressing the immune system.
It is unreasonable to suggest that employers should set out to eliminate stress in the workplace, as this would be very difficult to do and not entirely effective. However they need to consider how high stress environments can lead to illness and subsequent absence in the workplace – possibly long-term illness, which may lead to a lowering in productivity and morale as the workforce becomes increasingly depleted.