The do’s and don'ts of tackling work-related stress

Manage stress caused by your workload



S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
@ActiveLouise
Ask Louise


15 January 2021

What exactly is stress?

Work stress is a hugely significant issue. According to the UK Labour Force Survey, over 800,000 people suffered from work-related stress, anxiety, or depression in 2019/20.1 Work-related stress is undoubtedly very common but figures look set to rise further due to the pressures of the 2020 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns.

Work-related stress may cause a wide range of issues but, most commonly, we can expect to experience mood swings and loss of motivation, as well as generally being more tearful or more withdrawn.

Stress: A state of mental or emotional pressure resulting from challenging circumstances.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) encourages, regulates and enforces work-related health, safety and welfare guidelines in Great Britain.2 It has identified six key areas that, if handled well, can lead to improved health, well-being and organisational performance at work. Poor management of these areas, however, is associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased absence due to sickness.

These key areas are:

Demands - Workload, work patterns and the work environment should not be excessively challenging. Employees should not be delegated too much work and the timescale to meet deadlines should be reasonable.

Control – This refers to how much control an individual has in relation to their work and how it is carried out.

Support – Employees should be encouraged, mentored and should be provided with the appropriate resources by the organisation, line management and colleagues. Typically, people are stressed by too much criticism and not enough praise.

Relationships – An organisation should promote positive working relationships, avoidance of conflict and management of unacceptable behaviour.

Role – Employees should clearly understand their role within the organisation and the organisation itself should ensure that employees do not have conflicting roles.

Change - Organisational change (large or small) should be well-managed and communicated to staff.

We can all think of instances where one or more of these areas have been handled well or poorly during our working lives. The question is what do we do when things go wrong and we ourselves are facing a stressful situation?

My Self-Care Tip: Managing stress at work

Watch my video below for a quick rundown of stress-tackling tips to implement at work.

The key do's and don'ts of work-relates stress

When managing work-relating stress, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Don't...

1. Don't suffer in silence and try to solve your problems internally. This is likely to increase anxiety and sleepless nights as your mind goes round in circles trying to decide what to do.

2. Don't wash away your sorrows with a bottle of wine or gallons of caffeine. Also, don't use cakes and biscuits to chew on your worries. Be aware that these coping strategies are only a quick fix and, in the long term, are a damaging mix. They are likely to send your nervous system into emergency alert, for example, and upset your digestion/absorption of health-supporting nutrients. These habits also disrupt blood sugar levels and turn your chance of rest into a sleepless test.

3. Don't focus on your weaknesses and limitations. We all have areas that we are confident in and can therefore excel. Equally, though, there are many aspects of life that make us nervous and undermine our self-worth.

4. Don't let stress get out of hand or leave it too long before you tackle it. Stress that is left untreated can lead to more serious anxiety and depression.

5. Don't put yourself in situations that have caused you stress in the past.

6. Don't do nothing and pretend it's not happening. This will quietly but certainly eat away at self-esteem and self-confidence.


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Do...

1. Do find someone to talk to before your stress levels increase, such as your line manager, HR manager, a colleague, a family member or friend. If you'd prefer to discuss it away from work, a GP or even a counselor or Life Coach may be an option. There are always solutions and an objective person is more likely to help you find them.

2. Do up your exercise routine and drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Having a break between work and home can often help you to switch off and nervous energy, in particular, can be burned up by aerobic exercise. Whether you choose a trip to the gym, dancing, a run or even a kickboxing class to vent your frustrations, your body, mind and emotions will thank you for it. Yoga, meditation or a massage may be equally or more beneficial if tension is running too high.

3. Do take time to get to know yourself well (with the help of a career coach or HR if need be) and stick to your strengths as far as possible while acknowledging and taking steps to improve your weaknesses.

4. Do learn to recognise your stress symptoms and the possible causes. Are you obsessing about a problem, not sleeping properly, withdrawing or avoiding people, feeling unwell, upset or angry and taking it out on yourself or those around you?

5. Do learn from your past mistakes and move towards doing more of the things you know you are good at and where you have naturally built up confidence. We are unique as individuals with lots to offer and we work at our best when doing what comes naturally to us. Be honest about your skills and get to know what you truly need and value in a work environment.

6. Do create a plan of action (with help from whomever you choose to talk to) with simple steps to follow that will take you forward in a positive and stress-free direction. Where stress and worry can leave us feeling powerless, taking action helps us to build self-esteem and feel in control of where we are going.

Zones

There are 3 zones in which we typically find ourselves at any one time:

Comfort zone - Where life is easy and comfortable at best but we may feel bored and stuck in a rut at worst.

Challenge zone - Where we continually aim to stretch ourselves in small ways or to the limit of our capacity.

Panic zone - Where we have pushed ourselves too far and cannot cope.

In an ideal world, we should aim to move between comfort zone and challenge zone, regularly, stretching ourselves to grow and change in positive ways. However, if we move from comfort zone to panic zone, we will retreat dramatically into comfort zone feeling too afraid to try again.

So, how do we stop stressing at work?

Ultimately, we have 3 choices:

  1. Remove yourself from the situation and leave the stress behind.
  2. Change the situation by talking to others and taking steps to implement the change needed to relieve the stress.
  3. Accept the situation as it is.

Note: There is no right and wrong answer, it is simply a matter of finding which way works best for you!

Useful sources

Need further help? Check out the following resources:

 

Originally published 7 April 2015 (updated 15 January 2021) 

References

1 https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf 
2 https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm 

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