We have all experienced stress at some point in our lives — the heart starts pounding, the breath shortens and we sweat it out. As the lines between our personal and work lives continue to blur, a lot of this stress takes place at work and we often end up taking it home with us.
While research suggests that some pressure can give us that extra little nudge to take action, no one should have to suffer from stress. Yet, a whopping 595,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/2018 according to a Labour Force Survey (LFS). This in turn led to a total of 15.4 million lost working days.
We can become so used to experiencing stress in our day-to-day lives that it just becomes the norm sometimes. Other times, a specific event causes the stress and spills over into other areas of our life.
According to the LFS, primary causes of work-related stress involve workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change. Additional research by Mental Health.org shows that younger people have higher stress related to the pressure to succeed, as 60% of 18-24 year olds cited this, compared to only 17% of 45-54s and 6% of over 55s.
Whatever it may be, understanding what causes stress allows you to change your response to the situation.
To lessen stress in the workplace, it’s important to understand how it affects you first. Ask yourself how you know and how you feel when you’re stressed out. Identify the sources of the tension by thinking about the events or situations that trigger negative feelings. It could be anything from your family and work to health or relationships. Try to be honest with yourself and explore what the real root issue is.
The reflection process doesn’t stop there, as you should continue to learn your stress signals. What is it that happens to you when you’re stressed? Do you retreat into yourself or lash out? Does it become more difficult to make decisions or concentrate? Can you feel angry, frustrated, irritated, overwhelmed or out of control? You could even have physical symptoms such as low energy, headaches or muscle tightness in some cases.
Recognise how you deal with stress and how your behaviour is affected. For example, do you find yourself indulging in unhealthy behaviours such as drinking alcohol, overeating or over-exercising? Do you have coping mechanisms in place that help you, such as moderate exercise, socialising with friends, taking part in a hobby? Are there specific situations that result in specific behaviours for you?
Self-awareness is very important when it comes to battling workplace stress, as once you become conscious of the signs set out above, you can turn negative feelings into positive ones.
If you answered the questions above and feel like you understand your stress signals more than before, it’s time to take action to help you unwind and destress for the long term. Beyond quick fixes, the five steps below are meant to give you long term solutions and lifestyle changes.
Take some time over the coming weeks to reflect on what you’ve learnt about how you react in stressful situations, and what you can do to minimise the impact of stress on your life. Write in a stress journal, answer the questions we asked in this blog post and try out some of the five steps to work towards having a stress-free workplace — and let us know if you see any improvements.