Stress: 'a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances' (according to an online dictionary) seems to be an ever increasing phenomena. We hear it so often these days that we don't give it a second thought, unless of course we fall prey to it ourselves or are close to people suffering its effects.
Given that we spend more time at work, with work colleagues than we do at home with family or friends, it is no wonder that statistics relating to work stress are so significant.
Out of 1,241,000 cases of work-related illness in 2013/2014, 39% were attributed to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The total number of working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety was 11.3 million in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case of stress, depression or anxiety. That is almost one month per person lost to business and to the poor health of the employee.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness in Great Britain) has identified six key areas if handled well, lead to increased health, well-being and organisational performance. Poor management of these areas however, is associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased sickness absence.
These key areas are:
Demands - in terms of workload, work patterns and the work environment to include a job not being sufficiently challenging or interesting as well as having too much work and not enough time to meet deadlines.
Control – in terms of how much say the person has in relation to their work and how it is carried out.
Support – in terms of encouragement, mentoring and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues. Typically people are stressed by too much criticism and not enough praise.
Relationships – in terms of an organisation's promotion of positive working relationships, avoidance of conflict and management of unacceptable behaviour.
Role – in terms of whether employees understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
Change – in terms of how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated to the 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.
The 6 key do's and don't's
Don't: suffer in silence, sit and worry alone and try to solve your problems internally, reprimanding yourself for not having all the answers. This is likely to increase anxiety and sleepless nights as your mind goes round in circles trying to decide what to do.
Do: find someone to talk to before the stress levels increase, ideally your line manager, HR, a colleague or a family member, friend, GP or even a counsellor or Life Coach if your prefer to discuss it away from work. There are always solutions and an objective person is more likely to help you find them.
Don't: wash away your sorrows with a bottle of wine or gallons of caffeine or chew on them with cakes and biscuits. Be aware that your quick fix is in fact a damaging mix which is likely to send your nervous system into emergency alert, upset your digestion and absorption of health supporting nutrients, disrupt your blood sugar levels and turn your chance of rest into a sleepless test.
Do: up your exercise and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Having a break between work and home can often help you to switch off, and nervous energy can be burned up by aerobic exercise.Whether you choose a trip to the gym, dancing, a run or even a kick boxing 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.
Don't: focus on your weaknesses and limitations. We all have areas where we are confident and can excel and those that make us nervous and undermine our self worth.
Do: take time to get to know yourself well (with the help of a career coach or HR etc if needs be) and stick to your strengths as far as possible while acknowledging and taking steps to improve your weaknesses.
According to a seminar I once attended, 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.
Don't: let stress get out of hand or leave it too long before you tackle it. Stress, left untreated, can lead to more serious anxiety and depression.
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?
Don't: put yourself in situations that have caused you stress in the past.
Do: learn from the past mistakes and move towards what 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.
The following may be helpful...
The National Careers Service
Humanist at Work - Work Values Inventory
Work values test - find out what make you happy or unhappy in your work or career
Don't: do nothing and pretend it's not happening. This will quietly but certainly eat away at self esteem and self confidence.
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.
Ultimately we have 3 choices. We can either:
Remove yourself from the situation and leave the stress behind. a decision to leave and leave the stress behind.
Change the situation by talking to others and taking steps to implement the change needed to relieve the stress.
Accept the situation as it is.
There is no right and wrong answer, it is simply a matter of finding which way works best for you.
We would love to hear your stories about situations that have caused you stress at work and how you have resolved them.
Useful links and resources:
Health Positive - Ways to manage work stress for women
NHS - Beat Workplace Stress
Health & Safety Executive - Work related stress - together we can tackle it
Health & Safety Executive - Stress-related and psychological disorders in Great Britain 2014
Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service