How stress distorts a healthy view of life

Previous generations may have dismissed it as a case of "swinging the lead" but stress-related illness has become an acknowledged and a feared feature of the Nineties workplace.

The price it exacts in terms of job absenteeism, disharmony in the office, strain on the health service and the increased levels of divorce is now such that employers and government officials have been forced to take it seriously.

Occupational therapists said yesterday that stress levels are being forced up by changing working patterns at a time when traditional family and community structures, which once provided advice and support, are breaking down. But the phenomenon of stress itself is nothing new.

Professor Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology said: "If people think there was no stress in the 1920s and during the world wars then they are out of their minds.

"The difference now is that it has become part of the vocabulary of modern life."

Staff who in previous generations were prepared to come to work with any ailment short of a broken limb are now keenly aware of the dangers of heart attacks and nervous breakdowns. Companies are feeling the consequent cost in both absenteeism and in litigation.

Professor Cooper carried out an economic study this year which found that stress is 10 times more costly to British business than strikes. We lose 30 million working days to stress every year at a cost of at least pounds 2bn.

The legal costs are potentially even more debilitating.

The landmark case last year of social worker John Walker, who won pounds 175,000 in damages from Northumberland County Council, started alarm bells ringing in government and industry.

Walker suffered two nervous breakdowns after being exposed to a "health- endangering workload" and was dismissed by the council in February 1988 on the grounds of permanent ill health.

The High Court ruled that an employer owes a duty to his employees not to cause them psychiatric damage by the volume or character of work they are required to perform.

Peter Goodwin, chairman of the Association of Stress Management, said there were another 400 similar cases waiting to go before the courts. When Mr Goodwin founded his association 20 years ago, occupational stress was still almost unknown. "What has changed is that people now expect a higher quality of life, and doctors are prepared to give them a diagnosis for stress-related illness."

The association has set up a series of 24-hour stress helplines for City staff and other high-pressure employees.

Mr Goodwin said that the actions of workers like Nick Leeson, the rogue trader who complained to his Barings bosses about stress before losing the bank pounds 800m, had helped to make employers aware of the potential dangers. He said the highest stress levels were found in financial services, teaching, health, publishing and among the unemployed. Traffic wardens also have a high casualty rate with an average of 30 days a year taken sick. Early symptoms of occupational stress can include irritable bowel syndrome, intense headaches and gross irritability with colleagues and clients.

The growth in stress-related illness is reflected in the demand for treatment. Michael Atherton, the director of the Relaxation for Living Trust charity, offers four-day courses in dealing with stress, which start with an understanding of the physiology involved.

He said that stress was the biological response of the body when it was in immediate physical danger. As energy levels surge, "luxury systems" like the digestive system temporarily seize up.

"Years ago, most threats were of a physical nature," he said. "Nowadays the system is fired over and again by the imagination and perception."

The course encourages people to come to terms with their stress through conscious muscle relaxation, and by making changes to their diet, exercise routine and time management.

THE TEACHER

The only way Angela Walford can get a night's rest is to sleep with a note pad by her bedside, writes Ian Burrell.

Whenever she is woken by thoughts of her workload as headteacher of a south-west London middle school she puts them to paper. Otherwise she would lay awake all night.

Her job, she says, has grown out of all recognition in a few years. The working day stretches long into the evening and she has had to buy a home computer to cope with the paperwork. A recent, highly successful, inspection by Ofsted raised stress levels to such heights that she said it took her and the staff of Priory middle school, in Wimbledon, eight weeks to recover.

It was a considerable effort in a school where the children speak 33 languages and classes have to be adapted accordingly. Now the glowing report has led to Mrs Walford, 50, being offered an extra headship at an underperforming school.

THE CITY TRADER

Marcus Clemens, 26, who works on the London trading floor for Daiwa Europe, revels in his stressful role.

"In the trading pit we just have to do our jobs right," he said. "If you over sell or under sell it can cost a lot of money so there is a lot of pressure to work hard and make the right decisions.

"My job is not a bit like being stuck in an office, but I would say that if you can't handle the stress you should get out. I love what I do, I take satisfaction from working in a hectic and pressurised environment."

Mr Clemens, who has worked in the capital's money markets since he left school at 16, commutes from Kent. "I leave home near Tunbridge Wells just after 6am each day and I'm hard at it by 7.30. That means I'm up and out of bed at 5.30am and hardly ever get home until after 6pm.

"It's a long day but I thrive on what I do. I don't think about the job being stressful. I enjoy the atmosphere and the competitive nature."

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past