Stress can be a good. It can motivate you to meet a deadline and boost productivity. It can keep your mind alert and heighten your senses when you perceive danger. Your heart beats rapidly and breathing quickens. This response to a stressful situation might even save your life. You might need that energy boost to get out of the way of an out-of-control car. And that’s good, right? Yet someone who lives in this state day in and day out is far more likely to develop health issues than someone who has the tools to deal with stress. Research has shown that healthcare costs for populations with high-stress levels are 46% higher than for those who are not stressed.
Who’s Stressed Out?
Identifying high or chronic stress in your population can help you design interventions to reduce the risk of future health problems. Health risk assessment (HRA) data can help you identify the extent of high or chronic stress within your population and its impact on your population. If a large percentage of your population is stressed out, you should look seriously at behavioral, environmental, and occupational factors that could be contributing to high or chronic stress. You should also look at other things that your population’s stress might be causing, such as sleeping too much or not enough, making unhealthy food choices, drinking too much, or not exercising.
Here are three specific examples of ways stress can affect your population.
Stress can lead to high blood pressure
Stress causes short-term spikes in blood pressure and chronic stress means experiencing those short-term spikes regularly. In some cases, a person’s body no longer distinguishes between minor or high stress situations, responding to even minor stressors with rises in blood pressure. Temporary spikes in blood pressure can harm health when they are happening consistently. The body can’t distinguish between high blood pressure from chronic stress or other factors such as smoking, inactivity, eating too much salt, drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks), or being overweight. The blood vessels, heart, and kidneys can all become damaged regardless of the cause of high blood pressure. When that happens, a person is at great risk for stroke, vision loss, heart attack, kidney failure, and more.
A health risk assessment can help you identify some reasons for high blood pressure and take action to help an individual make needed changes. To learn more about the importance of high blood pressure prevention, check out our comprehensive blood pressure guide.
Stress often means more sick days
Being stressed out can weaken and damage the immune system (the body’s emergency defense structure). While acute stress can enhance immunity, the opposite occurs when someone is under chronic stress. It actually increases the risk of illness. A lot of sick days could be in indication of high or chronic stress. Poor diet, poor sleep, and lack of exercise can also increase sick days – and all of these lifestyle factors are also tied to stress. Health risk assessment data can help you identify patterns in your population.
Stress can cause spikes in blood sugar
Stress raises blood sugar levels. In the life or death situations that our distant ancestors often faced, this all played a vital role in survival by giving a stressed individual short-term energy to fight or run from danger. However, in this day and age, chronic stress may lead to prolonged high blood sugar. Stress may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, particularly in women. Early intervention is key.
People often turn to sugary, unhealthy foods to cope with stress when they don’t have appropriate coping mechanisms. Linking stress, dietary behaviors, and rising blood sugar trends allows you the opportunity to introduce healthier choices to your population.
Helpful Stress Management Techniques
● Host fun, healthy cooking lunch-and-learns
● Offer basic yoga and stretching tutorials
● Provide a quiet space for deep breathing exercises and mindful meditation
● Encourage individuals to spend time outdoors
● Increase awareness on the importance of social connection
● Educate your population on the stress-management benefits of being active each day
● Stock breakrooms with low-sugar snacks and beverages
● Share Kelly McGonigal’s 2013 TED Talk on making stress your friend
Catching high or chronic stress early on is a crucial component of reducing the risk of health problems developing down the line. If you're ready to learn more about how HRAs can help you target interventions to help your population relax, cope, and be well, check out this guide below. It will tell you everything you need to know about maximizing preventive care with the help of our HRA.