Stress isn’t just about having an off day or a bad week. It’s often the result of a culmination of things that pile on excessive pressure, so much so that we suffer physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms.
We all face stress daily – we may be working in a demanding profession, have urgent deadlines to meet, an important project to complete or simply have work and family commitments to juggle. Recent studies suggest that we are all victims of a busy 21st-century lifestyle. Do you sleep well at night? Do you check your emails even at the weekend? How much time do you spend working compared to the time you have with loved ones?
A Work Family Balance Report  recently revealed that UK workers spend almost three times longer in work-related activities than with their family, with longer working hours squeezing out time available for much-cherished loved ones – and this may also mean spending more time on our own. Over-stretched and time-poor, we typically spend ten hours a day at work or commuting to work, with those of us under the age of 44 particularly prone to this lifestyle pattern.
Most workers feel their work/life balance is skewed towards work, to the detriment of their family and this imbalance, in turn, is taking its toll, with parents of children under the age of 18 feeling especially anxious.
In another study, published last month, experts also suggested that we are increasingly becoming slaves to our inbox – now even easier with our smartphones. Whatever the time of the week or day, we are one click away from opening emails around the clock and this too may impact negatively on our health.
The ever-expanding access to on-the-go communication increasingly means the lines between work and home life are being blurred – and this, too, can cause stress.
On average, adults spend over one hour of each day on email, with people based in London reporting the highest rates – 29% of users in the capital receive more than 50 emails per day and 69% leave their email systems running all day.
Those who do so, feel perceived email pressure, and checking email as the alarm goes off or before you hit the pillow can also pile on the pressure. And, did you also know that work pressure can impact on your dental health?
As well as seeking solace in some sugar-loaded comfort food or grabbing a glass or two of teeth-staining red wine, some of us may find ourselves involuntarily grinding our teeth when stressed.
Teeth grinding or clenching (also known as bruxism) is the involuntary habitual grinding of the teeth that may occur at any time – while driving, reading or even just concentrating, often when under pressure.
Grinding or clenching during sleep can mean that you are unaware of the destructive habit and it is this form of nocturnal bruxism that is the most destructive.
Dentist James Goolnik of Bow Lane Dental explains: ‘Grinding teeth is a common habit that’s often something people do while sleeping, which makes it tricky to tackle. This action can wear out the outer layer of teeth – the enamel – thereby exposing the dentine, which contains the hollow canals that lead to the nerve network in your mouth, and cause sensitivity as well as damage.
‘You can put four times the stress through your teeth when you are asleep than during the day. Some of our patients have woken with blood on their pillow and bits of teeth in their mouth. A lot of our patients are unaware they are grinding and the first time they are aware is when they have worn their teeth down to stumps!’
Bruxism not only wears down teeth, permanently damaging them as the enamel is worn away, but also increases the risk of developing other health symptoms such as headaches, TMJ disorders, facial pain and earache.
Signs and symptoms include sensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles and difficulty biting first thing in the morning, teeth that show premature wear, frequent headaches, and facial, neck or shoulder pain. The condition does not always occur in isolation either, as sleep studies have shown that those living with the disorder might also suffer from snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea – pauses in breathing during sleep.
James adds: ‘Habitual clenching tends to happen when people are either concentrating hard or under strain and may be accompanied by nail biting or cheek biting. If you’re experiencing any jaw pain or tooth wear, it’s always a good idea to book in for a check-up.’
Although there is no specific cure for bruxism, a dental team can fabricate an occlusal splint to offer relief from the disorder. This is a custom-made device that reduces the parafunction forces and protects teeth. Often just wearing the splint switches off your mind to grind.
What can also help is making some all-encompassing lifestyle changes to reduce stress in your life. So, here we look at how best to relieve any pressures – and, hopefully, avoid stress altogether.
James’ top tips to managing stress
· Firstly, acknowledge that you’re feeling stressed, then do something about it
· When work is over, switch off that mobile! Do you really need to check your email inbox?
· First thing in your morning DO NOT grab your phone. Instead, try reading or practising The Miracle Morning 
· Find time to relax every day
· Eat well by cutting out on comfort food and cutting down on alcohol. They will only fuel your stress!
· Spend more time with family and friends
· Consider yoga or Pilates as a way of ‘switching off’.