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The impact of stress in Australia

5 minute read

Australians are more stressed than ever before, and our mental health impacts more than just our mood and wellbeing. Here’s how stress hits our nation's bottom line.

A big presentation at work, running late for an important meeting or trying to keep the kids entertained; stress is a relatively unavoidable part of life.

And, it isn’t all bad – in the right dose stress can provide a jolt of motivation to keep us moving along, if not excelling. However, too much stress or when it’s accompanied by unhelpful coping strategies, can cause physical and mental harm, which can in turn render us unproductive or even chronically unwell.

And the results of chronic stress don’t only hit your personal health and hip pocket, it costs the Australian economy billions of dollars every year.

The impact of stress in Australia

There is a growing body of research showing ongoing exposure to stress contributes to physical illness – from cardiovascular disease (although this link requires further research) and high blood pressure to being more likely to pick up infections and chronic fatigue. Left untreated, stress can also evolve into a mental illness such as an anxiety disorder or depression.

As you can imagine, stress and resulting side effects may in turn impact our relationships and our performance and productivity in the workplace.

Worksafe says stress has been linked with high levels of:

  • unplanned absences including sick leave
  • staff turnover
  • withdrawal and presenteeism (staying back at work unnecessarily because of job insecurity)
  • poor work and poor product quality

Cost of mental illness in Australia

Mental health research organisation the Black Dog Institute estimates mental illness costs the Australian economy more than $12 billion a year in lost productivity and the National Mental Health Commission recently estimated that the cost of services related to mental ill-health in Australia each year clocks in around $4,000 per person, or $60 billion in total in 2016.

Stress statistics in Australia

The Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society found lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms in the population. Some important findings include:

  • Younger adults (18-25) consistently reported lower levels of wellbeing, with personal finance issues, health issues and family issues the top stressors across all age groups.
  • Pressure to maintain a healthy lifestyle clocked in as the fourth most common cause of stress.
  • The majority of Australians feel that stress impacts their physical health (72%) and mental health (64%) but very few reported seeking any kind of professional help.
  • More than one in 10 Australians (12%) reported keeping up with social media networks contributed to their overall levels of stress.

It’s not just adults impacted either - a whopping 83.2% of Australian university and TAFE students reported their health and wellbeing was affected by stress, according to research conducted through headspace and the National Union of Students.

Signs your stress levels are unhealthy

Many of us can recognise when we’re under stress, but if you’re not sure, there are warning signs that it’s time to take control.

The Australian Psychological Society says symptoms of chronic stress can be physical or behavioural, and may include:

  • Heart palpitations, fatigue, sleep disturbance, insomnia, stomach upset, diarrhoea, frequent headaches, muscular aches and pains, weakened immune system or high blood pressure.
  • Worry, fear, anger, tearfulness, irritability, anxiety, helplessness, difficulties with concentration or memory, or feeling overwhelmed.

Likewise, you may notice yourself developing unhealthy coping mechanisms to counteract these symptoms - think excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, a lack of interest in socialising or not getting enough exercise.

Programs and apps to help you manage stress

While early intervention (like taking time out or cutting back on the things that cause us stress) is best, sometimes chronic stress takes us by surprise, or we aren’t sure what we can do about the causes of our stress. The good news is, there are plenty of resources out there to lend a hand:

  • The MindSpot Clinic is a free online and telephone service for Australian adults who might be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression. They also have an online screening assessment that will help you learn about any symptoms you might be experiencing and guide you on the best next steps to take.
  • myCompass helps you learn new ways of dealing with your thoughts, feelings and behaviour to better manage stress.
  • nib foundation partner, Smiling Mind has an easy-to-use mindfulness app to help you de-stress and learn relaxation techniques.
  • nib’s MindStep is a six-week phone-based mental health program designed to help those diagnosed with anxiety or depression take control of stress and other mental health issues in the privacy of their own home.

If you have concerns about your mental health, or you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling, the best thing you can initially do is speak to your GP. If seeing a psychologist seems beneficial, your GP can work with you to develop a mental health plan, which includes up to six Medicare rebatable sessions (you can then request four extra sessions if you need them).

If you or someone you know needs help, please call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

For more information on free mental health support, check out our article, 6 ways to get help for mental health – and you won’t have to pay a thing!

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