Stress gets a bad rap, but this unpleasant response generated by our central nervous systems helps keep us safe from danger by releasing adrenalin and other hormones that prepare us mentally and physically for a fight or flight reaction.
At the same time this is happening, the fight or flight response suppresses other reactions, getting them out of the way so our energy is directed solely to fight or flight. In other words, when we are stressed, our immune systems take a back seat.
This is how our natural physiological makeup kept our ancestors safe, and it’s still helpful and necessary in the short term. However, long-term stresses in our busy, modern world are associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer and maybe even dementia. Studies indicate that 80 to 90 percent of human diseases are associated with chronic stress.
Chronic stress and anxiety are also associated with substance abuse and addiction. Helping clients learn better ways of coping with stress is one goal of drug and alcohol treatment and rehab.
Stress and our Working Environments
Work is a negative environment if we are constantly stressed and continually bombarded by issues that demand our attention.
It may seem odd that your workplace plays a tremendous role in your stress level. We’re not talking about problems with your coworkers, employers or the daily grind, but the building itself. It makes a huge difference.
Michael Lumpkin, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Biology at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University says that a healing environment enables the body to heal itself.
Researchers agree that factors such as natural light, color, privacy and the presence of living plants affects our stress level in several ways.
The quality of light in our living and working environment affects us both physically and emotionally. Natural light has been proven to improve mood while reducing stress and anxiety.
In the working environment, employees in offices with natural (or full spectrum) light displayed increased productivity, and reduced absenteeism, as well as fewer accidents, reduced eyestrain, fewer headaches, lower turnover, better overall health and improved worker morale. Studies also found that natural light may improve problems with loss of energy and sleepiness on the job.
One study found that prison inmates with windows looking out over a pleasant view such as a mountain or meadow had lower rates of illness than those who faced a prison courtyard or other buildings. Additionally, those on a second floor with more expansive views experienced fewer sick days than inmates living on the first floor.
Similarly, studies in schools indicated lower absenteeism rates in both students and teachers exposed to natural light. Students in classrooms with natural light even achieved higher reading and math scores.
Privacy and Quiet
Since the 1990s, the trend in the working world has shifted to open floor plans, which are believed to foster employee cooperation and collaboration. However, the constant hustle and bustle and constant interruptions can drive some people to distraction.
Research indicates that workers in an open environment are interrupted every 11 minutes. Once concentration is lost, it takes more than 20 minutes to regain focus and get back on track.
As a result, some offices are providing quiet, private environments for workers, which may mean installation of sound-absorbing materials, headphones, private offices, or quiet rooms set aside where no talking or other noise are allowed. This provides a space where employees can read, recharge, concentrate, or just enjoy a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Entrepreneur.com reports that bland colors such as white, beige or grey tend to foster sadness, depression and other negative emotions, especially for women.
Many employers rely on blue and green for a happier, more productive working environment. Blue is a stable color that aids concentration, while green is calming and easy on the eyes. Others believe that yellow is an optimistic color that energizes workers and spurs creativity.
Natural vegetation in the working environment is associated with reduced stress, lower blood pressure and happier moods. Plants are especially beneficial for employees stuck in a windowless office.