Green smoothie with strawberries in a glass

The business woman and the stress factor

In Health and Nutrition by john.hinwoodLeave a Comment

Many of us have lost the ability to work out how to have down time. Our OFF switch seems to have gone missing.


There is no doubt about it – living in the ‘modern’ world has its benefits. Not long ago, women had the homemaker role and had to wash the family’s clothes in a copper over a fire, use an outhouse instead of a toilet, and always cook everything from scratch. Women now appreciate how good it is to be able to access the internet any time and to get a virtually instant response to letters. If you have family overseas you can stay in touch via Skype and see their faces and talk to them virtually whenever you want for free, instead of saving up for the once-a-fortnight phone call. This is absolutely phenomenal!

It’s hard to imagine (or remember) that, just a generation ago, none of this would have been possible.

Today, we have the convenience of ‘labour-saving’ appliances in our homes, cars that can take us almost anywhere at speeds that would have blown our grandparents’ minds, and computers, tablets and smart phones that keep us in touch with the entire world from the comfort of our own homes or on the road.

With these benefits, however, have come some pretty amazing downsides. Modern technology has changed human society so quickly and profoundly that a person who was born 100 years ago or even less would have trouble understanding almost anything we do routinely today.

Techno stress now runs hand in hand in the high pressure business world. For a woman working in some professions, the dog-eat-dog and full-on business culture is a high stress generator. Life for some has become an exercise in survival as they work really hard for ridiculously long hours (often from 7 in the morning until 9.30 or later at night) and short to no holiday breaks.

In past times, not so long ago, once you arrived home, your job was left behind. At night and on the weekend, you were your own person. No emails followed you home; no mobile phone keeping you in touch with work at all hours of the day or night. You were your own person and enjoyed that time off – the release of doing what you wanted and only being responsible to yourself – even if only for the weekend.

Looking back, friends will share that they read at least one novel a week, took long walks, they had relaxing weekends away with family and friends, and all with no electronic pollution to deal with. Activities just don’t seem to fit into people’s lives as easily today as they did then. Even with a stressful job, people had many precious opportunities to relax and let off the steam that had built up during the week.

In a landmark paper, ‘Hard to get a break?’ published by the Australia Institute, the authors tell us that one in five workers is too stressed to take a lunch break as they are so busy. Many find it hard to make that break between work and home and between stressful situations and relaxation. And if you actually work from home – well – the travel time is fantastic but many never do manage to leave the ‘office’. Do you?

It’s no wonder that stress-related illnesses are at an all-time high as many workers are reaching the boiling point. These illnesses include (but are not limited to) heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, chronic headaches, gut issues, sleeping problems, dementia, depression and anxiety, premature ageing and even death. Many of us have lost the ability to work out how to have down time. Our OFF switch seems to have gone missing.

So it is vital that we find ways to get some relief from these pressures for our health and our sanity. How we choose to do that will probably be as unique as each of us. Maybe relaxing can be sitting down and reading, knitting or getting out on your push bike or motorbike with no particular destination in mind – just going for the ride. Do you do yoga or take the dog for a long run? Would you prefer to meditate or organise your photos? Would you prefer some escapism in front of the TV, or does exercise really ‘do it’ for you? These are all activities that can recharge your batteries and get you back to work with a clear mind and renewed energy.

In an article in the London Daily Mail Roger Dobson reported a hug or two a day may be more effective than an apple for keeping doctors at arm’s length. Regular embraces can lower the risk of heart disease, combat stress and fatigue, boost the immune system, fight infections and ease depression, according to a new study. Just ten seconds of hugging can lower blood pressure and, after this time elapses, levels of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin increase, while the amounts of stress chemicals, including cortisol, drop. “The positive emotional experience of hugging gives rise to biochemical and physiological reactions”, says psychologist Dr Jan Astrom, who led the study report published in the Journal of Comprehensive Psychology.


Drs John and Judy Hinwood are principals of the Stress Management Institute, offering Cert IV courses from Brisbane and online.

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