Everyone feels stressed from time to time, especially at work. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stressed on the job. Additionally, workplace stress costs employers about $300 billon in lost productivity annually. But what is stress? How does it affect your employee’s health? And what can you do about it?

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Every type of demand or stressor—such as work, school, major life changes, or traumatic events—can be stressful. As a business leader, stress can affect not only your health, but also the health of your employees. It is important to pay attention to how you and your employees deal with minor and major stress events, so that you know when to seek or offer help.

Here are four things you should know about stress:

  1. Stress affects everyone differently.

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events more quickly than others. There are different types of stress—all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one time or short-term occurrence, or it can be an occurrence that keeps happening over a long period of time.

Examples of stress include:

  • Routine stress related to the pressures of work, school, family, and other daily responsibilities
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness
  • Traumatic stress experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where people may be in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. People who experience traumatic stress often experience temporary symptoms of mental illness, but most recover naturally soon after.
  1. Not all stress is bad.

Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival. Understanding the difference between positive stress versus negative stress is important.

  1. Long term stress can be bad for your employees’ health.

Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.

Different people may feel stress in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.

Routine stress may be the hardest type of stress to notice at first. Because the source of stress tends to be more constant than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety.

  1. There are many ways to effectively manage stress.

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to help your employees manage stress can reduce or prevent these effects. Share the following tips that may help your employees to cope with stress:

  • Recognize the Signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider to get proper health care for existing or new health problems that may be increasing your stress level.
  • Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress. Encourage your employees to take a 30-minute break (or 15 minutes twice a day) to go for a short walk around the block. To make sure they actually take these breaks is to pay them during the break time, and also make sure leaders (including you) take them as well.
  • Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities and encourage employees to participate.
  • Set Clear Goals and Priorities. Encourage leaders to help employees decide what must get done and what can wait. Help employees learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting them into overload. Ask employees to take note what has been accomplished at the end of the day, rather than what has been left undone.

While it is not possible to eliminate all forms of stress on employees, or even all of the stress associated with work, employers do have the ability to positively impact how stress affects their employees. Does your company have a fun stress-relieving technique to share? Let us know about it on Facebook or Twitter @HelpsideTeam