MHAW - Identifying and dealing with stress in the workplaceWatch
Many people deal with stress every day in their workplace. Traditionally, workplace stress was something that was thought to be only experienced by executives in high-power jobs with lots of responsibility, but more recently, it has become prevalent in almost all roles. It is thought that around 37% of all sickness absence is due to stress, with an annual cost of 5.2 billion pounds.
Most students also need to work part-time alongside their studies, and some have work as an integral part of their degree. More and more university courses are introducing placements into their courses, and students are encouraged to also attend voluntary work during their studies. There is very little recognition of how the stress that can build up in each of these roles can impact upon the other. It is very easy to tell students to put their academic responsibilities first and to avoid taking on too much, but for most, working is a necessity. It is also important to work to a certain standard to maintain job security.
Surely I should know whether I feel stressed or not?
There are numerous things which can trigger stress in the workplace, some more obvious than others. The real risk is when these things build up and start to have an impact on your wellbeing and performance at work. You might start to experience things like:
- Being snappy or short with colleagues or customers
- Getting easily annoyed at small inconveniences that normally wouldn't bother you
- Replaying scenarios or situations over and over in your head
- Feeling unusually tired or fatigued
- Making repeated silly mistakes
- Experiencing headaches or blurred vision
- Skipping lunch or feeling that you aren't hungry when you know you should
- Loss of interest or motivation in your tasks
- Wanting to spend your breaks alone if you normally enjoy company
- Avoiding small-talk with colleagues
Generally, one or more of these things happening out of the blue would be enough to make you concerned about your health (physical or mental), however unfortunately when dealing with stress, these tendencies can become habits and can slowly occur over weeks or even months.
So maybe I am stressed, how do I deal with it?
How you deal with your stress very much depends on what is causing it, and whether you are able to identify the cause. Often, the things we think are causing us stress (difficult customers, issues with colleagues) are not the true source of the stress.
Sometimes, the things causing stress are not things we can remove from our lives. Instead, we need to learn to live alongside them but find ways to limit the extent that they impact us on a daily basis. Here are some suggestions of common causes of stress, and ways in which you might deal with them:
Change in your personal life
Change can cause tremendous amounts of stress, whether this is changing your course, moving house or being impacted by family changes such as a new baby or a divorce. Change is an essential part of human life and impossible to avoid. Change can be very unsettling and can completely take over your thoughts. Speaking to your manager/employer about the changes you are experiencing can help them to understand the stress this is causing you. Sometimes, it is a good idea to take some personal/compassionate leave during times of change to allow yourself to experience the stress in a controlled way, without conflicting priorities. It is also important to recognise that a period of change is always temporary, and that this will soon become ‘normal’.
Bereavement and Grief
Things such as bereavement and grief can cause stress even months or years later. For many people, this is not something they will ever fully recover from, so your focus should be on giving yourself time to process and minimising the impact it has on you whilst you are at work. Talking is often one of the best ways to process your grief, as can finding out more about the person who has died, or finding ways to celebrate their life and pay tribute to them. Sometimes, the stress associated with bereavement needs professional input from a GP or counsellor to help process your feelings.
Academic pressure is something all students experience a one point or another. You may need to consider your working hours and how many hours you actually need to work, as opposed to how many your employer would like you to work. Also consider whether you could get more pay for fewer hours elsewhere. Utilising your free time more effectively can also help. Learning to sometimes say ‘no’ to social events sometimes and spending less time in front of the TV/console can also help free up some time in your schedule. If you get a longer break at work, consider doing some revision during this time. It’s also a good idea to have a conversation with your manager about your academic commitments. Some may be able to give you some time off around exams or allow you to revise during quieter periods. You may also be able to change your shifts to give yourself more of a reliable routine to allow you to fit in regular study time.
Who can I go to for help and support?
Absolutely everyone experiences multiple types of stress at times in their life. Chances are, many people are feeling the same way as you. Talking about your stress and experiences dealing with stress is one of the best ways of getting ideas for dealing with stress. Sometimes, it can be hard to admit to feeling stressed, as some people do wrongly admitting to feeling stressed with weakness or being unable to manage. Posting on online forums or groups can give you a degree of anonymity which may make it easier to discuss.
Your manager or employer also has a responsibility for your wellbeing, which includes management of stress. Some employers also have employee benefits which include telephone/online counselling and stress advice. If your employer doesn’t currently offer this, why not ask whether it is something they would consider? Stress should be important to them, as stressed employees are more likely to be less productive, less motivated and are more likely to be absent due to stress.
Universities and colleges also offer lots of support for stress, even if it is related to your work rather than academics. You could discuss your feelings with the student support service who can signpost you to other local services or the university counsellor.
Seeing your GP may seem like an extreme option for stress, however it is now something that GPs treat very regularly. They may be able to offer referrals to counsellors, or, if necessary, can make a psychiatry referral or consider medication. This is a good idea if you have tried other options and are still struggling to make sense of your situation or if your stress is seriously impacting you at work or academically.
Where can I find more resources?
There are also lots of organisations which can help you identify and manage your stress. Some of the best ones are:
- Mind, who have some great resources and also a helpline https://www.mind.org.uk/information-.../#.WvraeYgvyUk
- The Stress Management Society have loads of high quality resources http://www.stress.org.uk/
- HSE offer some workplace stress risk assessments and management plans as well as lots of interesting statistics, which may be good to share with your employer http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/
- Moodjuice offer a self-help guide to stress which you can print and complete http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/stress.asp
Things that mitigate stress are feeling a sense of control and competence; feeling as though you make a positive impact in your work. Its how we manage to balance regular stress points. But sustained stress in an environment which is oppressive or leaves you little freedom of autonomy exacerbates stress and it is hard to swing it the "right" way.
I speak out about this a lot in relation to how health and mental health workers are expected to push and push beyond their boundaries and limits- yet when this culture burns them out, it also blames them for burning out! Actually wrote about it for uni too
You can also share your own experiences of stress and how you perhaps coped with it here...