Workplace stress: "Health epidemic of the 21st century" 

Martina Said - 4th June 2016

Unreasonable work demands and dissatisfaction are the main causes of workplace stress – a kind of stress that has huge implications on human health as well as the cost-effectiveness of businesses. Clinical psychologist Dott. Edward Curmi outlines what causes this stress and how to deal with it.

Stress is increasingly bearing the blame for many of modern life’s perils – specifically, work-related stress. From mental health problems or cardiovascular disease to mood swings or sheer unhappiness, an increasing range of illnesses and conditions are being directly linked to high levels of stress. Indeed, stress has recently been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century”, by the World Health Organisation, and is probably one of the biggest challenges that businesses will face in the foreseeable future.

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Dott. Edward Curmi, who published his first book, Common Sense – a Better Understanding of Emotional Well-being in 2012, likens stress to our tax returns at the end of each year. “We don’t calculate our ‘stress tax’ at all, but it is essential that we do. As humans, we are prone to wear and tear, and if this is not calculated in our bill, chances are we take it for granted. That is when wear and tear takes its toll, eventually leading to burnout.”

Dott. Curmi delves into the origins of the term stress, coined by Hans Zeyle, who was a pioneering Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist. “He discovered that when you push people further than they want to go, they push themselves to do more than they can, and end up performing better. But once you push over a certain threshold, production drops below levels that were previously being achieved, due to exhaustion.” This, he adds, is becoming a far too common trait.

"We are a generation that constantly needs to prove itself, to show the world how good we are and how much we’re doing, but in doing so, we’re forgetting ourselves."

“In therapy, I see lots of people from different backgrounds, including many businessmen who seem to have it all. But yet, they’re unhappy. They live by the disease I call ‘I’m too busy’, where even a simple ‘hi, how are you?’ is met with ‘I’m too busy’,” asserts Dott. Curmi. “We are a generation that constantly needs to prove itself, to show the world how good we are and how much we’re doing, but in doing so, we’re forgetting ourselves.”

Keeping stress at bay is far easier said than done, but at face value, can be tackled by addressing a few, basic things. “I can’t emphasise the importance of exercise enough. I see clients who have made a lot of money, built a house, a business and a family, but have stopped caring for themselves.” The importance of exercise is followed closely by a healthy diet which includes a balanced intake of food, as well as sleep. “The body gets traumatised when it doesn’t get enough rest, and the mind needs sleep so that it can file the day’s events. We know through research that mental health issues often arise when there are erratic patterns of sleep.”

On a deeper level – when a healthy lifestyle alone doesn’t cut it – Dott. Curmi advises to take heed of other measures. “Learning to delegate is paramount – many people at the top have this indispensable syndrome, that only they can fix things, but they feel a huge sense of relief when they realise they can let go and empower other people to do things for them.”

There’s also having the courage to move on when the time is right. “From a young age we are told to stay with jobs that are safe. We feel we must stick to the system because that is what’s safe, but when people realise that the system is getting to them, one of the best things they can do is re-invent themselves,” he explains. “There is an element of fear tied to this, but I think people get damaged more when they are in the same position for too long without progressing.”

Through his years of experience, Dott. Curmi has come to the conclusion that money doesn’t buy happiness, only temporary satisfaction and a better lifestyle. “The more people I meet the more I realise that what everyone needs is to connect, be recognised and feel understood. These are priceless.”

He adds that what people do with their money also affects their level of happiness. Using Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates as examples, both billionaires have donated large portions of their fortunes to charity, leaving far less for their children than what they earned in the course of their lifetime. “Many people with successful businesses feel the need to give back, and this offers more than just temporary satisfaction.”

Dott. Curmi himself is an example of this. After discovering the benefits of laughter therapy during his studies abroad, he set up, together with colleagues and friends, the NGO Dr Klown at Mater Dei Hospital, dedicated to providing clown doctor services to sick children. All proceeds from his second book, More Common Sense, following the success of his first release, will go towards Dr Klown.
“With Dr Klown, we are breaking boundaries with laughter, and be it a child or a burnt-out adult, laughter is the best medicine for everyone.”

This is a snippet. Read the full interview on the latest issue of Business Agenda..


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