18 million lost working days – Dealing with stress

Stress - 18 million lost working days

You might want to put some soothing music on because today we are talking stress.

Work-related stress is surprisingly common. It’s that horrible response to the pressures and demands of our jobs that many of us face from time to time. We all experience stress in different ways, and that makes it quite hard to measure. But the Health and Safety Executive produces a yearly Labour Force Survey that looks at this subject. Their report for 2019/2020 is sobering.

It reveals that 18 million working days were lost, and over 800,000 workers suffered due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In fact, over half of all work-related ill heath instances were reportedly down to stress.

We can’t blame it all on COVID either. Whilst it has, of course, impacted massively on our lives, these statistics were collated mostly before the pandemic really hit the UK. The HSE believes that COVID, whilst being a contributory factor to stress, is not the underlying cause. So it’s not something that is likely to resolve itself once we are all back to a more normal life.

Stress inflicts mayhem on your body

You’ve probably experienced that panicky, overwhelmed feeling when you have so much to do you just don’t know where to start. That’s caused by hormones flooding our brain, resulting in a racing heart, faster breathing and higher blood pressure. It’s the body’s natural response to a threat. And it’s useful in short bursts, causing us to jump back from the kerb as a car mounts the pavement, for example.  

But when we face chronic stress, day in day out, it takes a heavy toll, affecting our hearts, our immune system, sleep patterns and digestion. And it really can turn our hair white. Left to fester, it can result in burnout, where we dread getting up in the morning, feeling we are exhausted and have nothing left to give.

Some stress is good

Of course, we all experience stress, and some of it is what’s known as ‘eustress’ or good stress. This is what keeps life interesting. It’s the excitement we experience when up against a challenge, rather than something we perceive as a threat. In these cases, stress can be a motivator and even an enjoyable experience.

Dealing with stress

Some stress is unavoidable, so the trick is to learn to manage it and prevent it escalating to burnout.

The HSE has identified six key work-related areas that cause stress.  

Demands – not being able to cope with the demands of the workplace

Control – not feeling you have control over how you complete your work

Support – feeling that you do not receive enough information and support

Relationships – feeling you do not have good relationships with other colleagues

Role – not fully understanding your role or responsibilities within the business

Change – not being informed of changes within the company and so you feel disengaged

Being aware of these, and developing strategies to address them can really help you deal with the day to day stresses of the workplace. Many of the above issues can be helped with proper communication. It’s important to discuss your worries with your manager and ask for help. If possible, go into the conversation with some suggestions about what would help you to feel better. If you don’t feel your manager is taking the matter seriously, take your concerns to the HR department.

Working to building strong relationships with your co-workers can really help you to feel supported, that you have a network around you, and will make your work day more enjoyable.  

Taking short breaks away from your desk throughout the day allows you a do a mini reset of your brain, so instead of picking up the phone to a colleague, get up and walk over to them. And of course, exercise is proven to help our mental wellbeing. You don’t need to spend hours pumping iron to get the benefits. A short walk during your break or lunchtime will really help to calm you and give you an endorphin boost.

Many of us find it hard to say no, but don’t take on extra work or responsibilities if you feel you are struggling to deal with what you already have.

Keep an eye on your eating habits, as ensuring you eat a balanced diet is helpful. There is research that suggests that proper nutrition can help improve the symptoms of anxiety. And the great news is that chocolate is one of the foods thought to help!

Get enough sleep. We need to rest our bodies and reset them for the next day. Good nighttime habits, according to the National Sleep Foundation, including banning electronic devices from your bedroom and avoiding caffeine and alcohol for a few hours before bedtime.

Given that our response to stress depends on whether we perceive the situation as a threat or a challenge, our perceptions can affect the way we respond to stressful situations. With that in mind, we’d like to end with a Buddhist quote that we really like.  

“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.”

If you can achieve this mindset, you will go a long way to managing your stress.

What’s your experience of workplace stress? Have you any tips to pass on for dealing with it? Do let us know in the comments below.

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