What a week without stress could do for our bodies

07 September 2018 . United Kingdom

In the UK, more than half a million people suffer from work-related stress. Based on customers that had a health assessment in a Bupa Health Clinic last year, 59% reported that they had felt stress or strain in the past month – equating to almost 28,000 people potentially putting their health at risk.

Woman sitting in workplace

The research also found that over a fifth (21%) reported getting poor or very poor sleep on a regular basis, which is a common and possibly harmful consequence of living with increased levels of stress.

Dr Kim Glass, Lead GP, Bupa Health Clinics, said: “Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. It causes physical changes that help us to face these challenges – but too much stress can be damaging to our health. It can negatively impact sleep, diet, heart health, mental health and more – all of which are essential to living a healthier, happier life.”

Based on anonymised results of over 78,000 people who had a Bupa Health Assessement in the past year, figures also showed that almost two thirds (63%) of those who chose stress as a focus area to improve felt better able to manage their stress after attending a health assessment, while 80% reported that they had changed their lifestyle habits either a little or a lot after a full check up and coaching call.

Dr Glass added: “In a short amount of time it’s possible to relieve the feelings of stress, and the benefits both mentally and physically will be clear to see – whether you find yourself eating more healthily, being more productive at home and at work, or simply spending more time with friends. Everybody gets stressed, but it’s important to recognise in yourself when things become difficult, so you don’t take on too much and take the necessary steps that are right for you.”

Dr Glass explains the full extent to which living stress-free for 7 days can have a positive impact, both physically and mentally

Better sleep

Most people who experience bouts of stress find either getting to sleep or sleeping through the night difficult. This is because stress causes hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness. As a result, you feel unrefreshed, and this can be dangerous as consistent poor sleep can put you at risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Improving sleep is one of the top goals our customers set as a health target. If you’re heading to bed stress-free, you’re much more likely to fall into a deeper, uninterrupted sleep, meaning you will wake up refreshed, energised and ready to attack the day ahead.

Improved diet

Almost a quarter (24%) of our customers chose nutrition as a goal they want to focus on. When we’re under pressure our brains are wired to crave comforting foods so we’re likely to want to snack on chocolate and other treats which give us dopamine – otherwise known as the happy, reward hormone.

In a world without stress, we can think clearer and be more aware of our diet. We shoudn’t crave sweet treats and will feel more motivated to prepare healthy meals so our diet would become more regulated, more nutritious and healthier.

Clearer mental health

Not addressing stress can result in continued strain on the body and mind, which can contribute to mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is like a car being driven continuously in the fast lane, it will result in wear and tear on the engine. That’s the same for our body and mind when it comes to stress. If you were stress-free, you’d likely be thinking much more clearly, find yourself better equipped to make the right decisions, and have a much more positive outlook on what’s going on around you, both at work and at home. There’s plenty of supportive content online should you need guidance before thinking over next steps.

Less stress on the heart

Chronic stress exposes our body to unhealthy levels of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase the risk of heart problems. A week away from stress would reduce the strain on our heart so it’s important to consider rest and relaxation when things get tough.

A health assessment allows you to see what’s happening on the inside as well as on the outside and make necessary changes – if you’re suffering from stress, it’s helpful to check in to ensure there are no deeper health problems occurring, such as high blood pressure or unhealthy levels of cholesterol.

Increased productivity

Stress and productivity can be a vicious cycle. Take work for example: work can cause stress, which can lead to absenteeism, putting us behind and fuelling more stress. Elsewhere, you may have found yourself putting off heading to the gym, cutting the lawns, or other tasks you usually face head-on. A stress-free week is sure to increase your productivity, make challenges more achievable and leave you ready to defeat whatever task lies in front of you.

Dr Glass provides some tips on how to better manage stress

  1. Mindfulness, meditation and yoga: Some people find that meditative approaches can help reduce stress and anxious thoughts, making you calmer and helping to relax your mind.
  2. Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake: While people might turn to a couple of drinks or more coffee to help them cope through difficult periods, this will only make them feel worse in the long-term.
  3. Know your limits: It can be hard to say ‘no’ but it’s important to know when you are at your maximum – whether at work or at home. Don’t take on too much and ensure you get enough rest.
  4. Make time for the things you enjoy: You’re more likely to neglect the things you enjoy when you’re stressed. If you enjoy meeting friends for a coffee, going to the cinema, or something else – make sure you allow yourself to do so.
  5. Physical activity: The benefits of physical activity on both the body and mind are clear. Go for a run in the park, a swim or simply head out on a brisk walk to help clear and refresh your mind.

Notes to editor

About the research 

  1. In the UK more than half a million people suffer from work-related stress http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/
  2. 59% reported that they had felt stress or strain in the past month - based on 47,045 customers who responded to the question following a Bupa Health Clinics health assessment between January 2017-December 2017. 27, 840 answered “yes”.
  3. 21% reported getting poor or very poor sleep on a regular basis  - based on 52,320 customers who responded to the question following a Bupa Health Clinics health assessment between January 2017-December 2017. 10,535 answered “poor” or “very poor&rdquo
  4. 80% reported that they had changed their lifestyle habits either a little or a lot after a full check up and coaching call - based on 1,316 customers who responded to the question following a Bupa Health Clinics health assessment between January 2017-December 2017. 1,054 answered either “a little” or “a lot”.

About Bupa Health Clinics

  • With more than 50 Bupa health centres across the UK, we offer a range of trusted health services close to where people live and work.
  • Bupa clinics are open to everyone, whether you have Bupa insurance or not.
  • Our health and dental clinics offer a range of everyday health services from GP and physiotherapy appointments and health assessments to general, cosmetic and specialist dentistry.
  • Bupa’s range of health assessments give people a snapshot of their health and help them make informed decisions.
  • Our health assessments are designed to make sure people engage with their health before the assessment, and have continued support to meet their goals afterwards.
  • Your Health Assessor will also help you set relevant goals, give you access to the Bupa Boost app to keep you on track and your advisor will call you in the months following to coach and help you. You'll also have 24/7 access to a GP for a whole year for yourself and family who live with you.
  • Bupa clinics are on the high street across the country and offer: health assessments, health services like GP appointments, dental appointments including orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry, dermatology, physiotherapy, osteopathy and podiatry.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

We are an international healthcare company serving over 31 million customers worldwide. With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

Health insurance accounts for 17.9m customers and contributes 72% of our revenue. In health provision, we operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets serving another 13.6m customers. We also care for around 20,000 residents in our aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 84,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Chile, Poland, New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com.