Home Business & Industry Stress in the UK Reaches Alarming Levels, Threatening Public Health and Workplace Productivity

Stress in the UK Reaches Alarming Levels, Threatening Public Health and Workplace Productivity

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In the UK, stress has become a leading cause of workplace absenteeism, surpassing musculoskeletal issues like back pain. This alarming trend highlights the increasing prevalence of stress and its severe implications for our health.

Pioneering research from the University of Southern California in 2022 revealed that high stress levels can prematurely age the immune system, while another study linked significant mental stress to reduced heart blood flow, elevating the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases.

Dr Lawson Wulsin, a professor of psychiatry and family medicine, believes stress should be a top public health priority, equating its danger to that of smoking. Stress isn’t just a personal health risk but a societal concern that needs urgent and comprehensive responses.

How stress affects us biologically

Our biological response to stress is designed for short-term physical dangers. This response triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, preparing our body for a fight-or-flight reaction. Ideally, once the threat passes, our body should return to its normal state. However, modern life often involves continuous perceived threats, leading to chronic stress. This prolonged state of alert can disrupt normal hormone functions and lead to severe health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.

Combating stress with lifestyle changes

According to Mo Gawdat and Alice Law, authors of “Unstressable: A Practical Guide to Stress-Free Living,” it’s often not the stressful events themselves but our reaction to them that determines our stress level. They suggest that becoming aware of everyday stressors can significantly mitigate their impact. Simple lifestyle changes, such as reducing screen time, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in regular physical activity, can effectively manage stress. Gawdat emphasises the importance of reassessing our relationship with technology and setting boundaries to reduce unnecessary stress.

Strategies for managing acute and chronic stress

The first step in managing stress is recognising it. From there, practical strategies can be applied, like questioning the validity of our stressors and seeking actionable solutions. If a stressor cannot be changed, finding a way to accept it and move forward can alleviate the mental burden. Gawdat shares a personal strategy of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, a technique that helped him cope with the tragic loss of his son.

Additionally, adopting a routine that includes stress-reducing activities, such as meditation or deep-breathing exercises before bed, can help maintain a balanced psychological state. The book Unstressable also discusses the importance of diet, suggesting an anti-inflammatory diet to combat the physical effects of stress.


As stress levels continue to rise, understanding its biological basis and learning effective management strategies are crucial. By addressing stress proactively through lifestyle changes and psychological techniques, individuals can improve their quality of life and potentially extend it. This proactive approach to stress management not only benefits individuals but can also lead to broader societal health improvements.

Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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