STRESS – the disease of civilisation

6. December 2019

What does stress has to do with your sleep?

When it comes to the diseases of civilisation, most people think that everyone is individually responsible for addressing them. They’re often associated with an unhealthy lifestyle: unhealthy diet, too little exercise, smoking, and alcohol. Often, they are even called the diseases of affluence.

The WHO has even developed a global action plan against the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles. The goal is to reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases by 25% by 2025. To achieve this, the WHO has formulated the following goals:

  • reduction of tobacco consumption
  • ban on tobacco advertising
  • reduction in excessive alcohol consumption
  • replacing trans fats in foods with polyunsaturated fats
  • restrict or prohibit advertising for alcoholic beverages and creating nutrition and exercise programmes for the mass population.

The exact causes of civilization diseases are still a matter of controversy among researchers. Not just a single factor should be responsible here. The personal lifestyle, environmental factors such as daily exposure to radiation from electronics, exhaust fumes, and genetic disposition are all likely to be the main causes of these diseases.

Stress is the most common of diseases

Stress is likely to be one of the most widespread diseases of civilization in the developed world today and is often responsible for premature retirement from work.

Too little exercise, too much work, combined with stress due to   high workloads leads to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, cavities, type 2 diabetes, and even obesity according to the WHO.

Mental illnesses are also becoming more common and severe. They   are now the top reason people file for disability. Cancers are also on the increase according to the WHO study. The WHO forecasts show that there is an urgent need to stop these diseases.

The following conclusion in the WHO study is also worth noting: while clear goals are set to combat unhealthy diets and tobacco and alcohol use, no goals, plans, or advice have yet been formulated on how to combat the most prevalent disease of civilisation: stress.

The development of stress-related illnesses

The current Psychoreport 2019 from German insurance company DAK shows that the number of reported mental illnesses has tripled in the past twenty years. Especially depression triggered by stress is on the rise.

For example, if stress is on-going and persistent, depression may develop, according to Sabine Winterstein, a specialist in occupational health management at DAK Gesundheit.

Yes, our performance-driven society is taking its toll and those affected are often silent out of shame and the fear of losing their jobs. It’s now come to this: the media is filled with advice on how to avoid or reduce stress. An entire industry has developed to address the topic and issuing battle calls against the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is a primary stress hormone that is released from the adrenal cortex and is, in fact, essential to life. The problem is, if you are under constant stress, your body will produce too much cortisol. And another problem: many do not even know that they are under constant stress and might even deny it.

What does sleep have to do with stress?

There is one irrefutable indicator of stress: sleep. The increased cortisol level inevitably leads to sleep problems and a significant reduction in the quality of sleep you get. If the cortisol level is elevated in the evening, your mind can be on constant alert.

You won’t have a good night’s sleep, will wake up more often, and then not fall asleep again. You are lacking the deep sleep that your body needs to regenerate and your stress level will be constantly on the rise.

Here’s proof: according to the health report, sleep disorders among working people between the ages of 35 65 have risen by 66% since 2010. 80% of working people are reported to have sleep problems. This means some 34 million people in Germany, as reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel, and by DAK.

DAK notes that a lack of sleep can lead to cardiovascular disease, anxiety disorders, and depression. As many as 35% of people over the age of 18 said that they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three times a week.

Recognising an increased level of stress

Our conclusion: if you’re sleeping poorly, it’s often not due to sleep disorders themselves, but instead due to stress. There is a causal relationship between sleep disorders and stress that many don’t often want to admit. And, yes, stress has become a common disease.

And what do the experts say? Jörg Lindemann from the Ulm Sleep Laboratory expresses caution: “Insomnia is often the by-product of the problems of society.”Andreas Storm, Chairman of the Board at DAK Gesundheit adds: “Many people spend the night worrying about whether their smartphones are fully charged, but fail to recharge their own batteries.”

The high demands of working life are responsible for the development of stress and burnout. What’s clear is that there is what has become an inextricable connection between the emergence of stress and the “modern” workplace in the industrial world.

And it’s not just managers and executives with a lot of work and responsibility who are affected, as many assume. No, the entire society is stressed out nowadays. An assembly line worker who has to pack a shipment in just seconds could just as easily end their day with their nerves frayed as a doctor who has to deal with patients all day. Conclusion: everyone is affected as time pressures are constantly increasing.

And it’s only getting worse, because many employees work all weekend, too, and have to be constantly accessible by email. It is not for nothing that many people are already worried today about where the digitalisation of the workplace will take us and what effect it will have on our health. And these worries are justified.

Symptoms of stress: what helps?

If you google the topic of stress, you will immediately see hundreds of articles dealing with the symptoms of stress. Nagging and time pressure are poisonous. If you’re always talking on the telephone, do a few stretching exercises, and use lavender oil to help you sleep better.

Magnesium is supposed to relax your muscles and nerves and lead to deep sleep. And when your energy stores are empty, eat an apple. No joke! Fight your constant stress with the mood-enhancing medicinal plant St. John’s wort.

In addition, you should take frequent breaks, take time for what’s important in life (including yourself), think positively, and eat the right things. And finally, there’s this advice: keep a journal of everything you do. We can’t comment on every aspect here and there are many sources of good advice out there.

Here are some good places to look: Pay attention to your well-being and your satisfaction in life, change your habits, exercise regularly, take on a hobby, and don’t forget to manage your stress. You certainly won’t get rid of all stress, but exercise can clear the head and reduce the effects of stress.

For example, a study by the Faculty of Medicine at Stanford University showed that gentle forms of exercise like yoga and meditation  reduce cortisol levels. That’s good way to start.

If you have depression due to stress, remember, depression is a condition in need of treatment and many are affected. Go to a doctor or ask your health insurance company.