I recently spoke with a friend of mine on how they were getting on at work. This particular individual is someone who gets stressed quite easily. The little things quickly turn into big things and before you know it, they’re feeling overwhelmed, out of their depth and struggling to cope. This can happen on a daily, weekly or even hourly rate for them. To my surprise, they turned around and said – ‘I’m doing quite well at the minute. In fact, I think this pandemic has made me stronger, better able to cope’. We got talking about stress and they shared that they’d recently read somewhere that a little bit of stress is good for us. That we all need a little bit of stress in our lives from time to time. It helps us to get things done.
Be under no illusion, stress is not our friend and in no way does a little bit of stress simply pop in and pop out to help us through each day. Stress can gradually creep into your life quietly and unassumingly. That little bit of stress you might feel at the start of a working day or a particularly busy week can very quickly escalate into something much bigger if it’s left unrecognised or unmanaged for any period of time.
You see stress does come and go throughout our daily lives. Any number of things can appear stressful, depending on what else you have going on. For example, there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. These include:
· being unable to cope with the demands of the job in hand
· feeling unable to control the way you do your work
· not getting enough support or information through
· are having trouble with relationships at work or feeling bullied
· don’t fully understand the role itself or your responsibilities
· not fully engaged when the business is undergoing change
The HSE have outlined some of the signs to watch out for when looking for stress within teams or individuals. These include higher staff turnover, sickness absence and decreased performance as well as taking more time off work, mood swings, a loss of motivation, commitment and confidence.
Now let’s throw in some personal life stressors here too including: child-care, caring for elderly parents, financial worries or woes, relationship problems or breakdown, physical health concerns/conditions, climate change, a global pandemic! The list goes on and on. And although you might think climate change is not at the very top of your list of priorities right now, it is sitting there, in the back of your mind perhaps rattling around with a few other big-ticket items you’re not quite ready to address just yet.
In amongst the big, we have the little and the mundane. But collectively, these can start to add up and cause you no end of stress overtime. We gather our stressors in what’s called a ‘stress container’. You only get one container and you don’t get to compartmentalise. So how can we counteract all of this? What can we do to ensure our container doesn’t overflow too often, and when it does, how can we get better at coping?
Think about your coping strategies. Are they helpful or unhelpful? For example, burning the candle at both ends to catch-up on countless emails / deadlines or even social events will only ever lead to burnout in yourself. Alcohol or drugs might play a part in leading to short-term relief, but we know the long-term effects of substance misuse can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.
Resilience is defined as ‘the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape’. Think about some of things you can do to help yourself back into shape. What might help to keep you on track? Here are a few evidence based tips in what’s known as Five Ways to Wellbeing. And below, a few tips of my own:
· try switching off the news, turn off the tv and do something else instead
· try putting your mobile phone on airplane mode or do not disturb from 8pm onwards
· try new activities, meet new people, create a sense of purpose and belonging
· try to give thanks and be grateful. By default, we tend to focus on the negative. Let’s draw our attention to the positive
And what about my friend who appears to have turned a corner when it comes to managing their own stress container? It was during the first lockdown that they learnt to appreciate the great outdoors and now regularly get outside for a brisk 20 minute walk each day. There are many great benefits to getting back to nature. They’ve also managed to cultivate and maintain really good relationships with people they can trust. A problem shared is a problem halved after all. A study by Age UK showed that when people shared their worries with others, it actually helped to improve their situation overall.
If you’d like to hear more about how we can help you manage workplace stress a bit better or simply improve the mental health and wellbeing of your people, why not give us a shout. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.