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Coping with Stress in the Workplace

Stress in the workplace can seep through every aspect of our lives. Relationships, financial responsibilities and those who surround us can also cause us stress impacting situations and interactions. However, we are given little chance to learn to cope. Last month we focused on how to spot the signs of stress in yourself and your team, and offered tips on how to manage it. Here we bring a summary of what we shared in our #WellnessatWork series.

Very often, we do not realise the levels of stress we live with until it is too late and our coping abilities are pushed beyond our limits. As a result, stress starts to manifest as a wide range of difficulties – from strains on our relationships and a negative outlook on life, to health problems such as migrane and tension headaches, chronic heartburn, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, muscle tension and more. Stress also manifests itself in your work and workplace. Other signs are subtler; finding that you mumble to yourself more often, clenching your teeth, becoming increasingly intolerant and short tempered towards others and snapping to those closest to you.

Stress will always be a part of life but how we deal with it can change. We are all able to develop a set of coping strategies for those situations that tend to cause us stress or push our limits. Generally, we already possess these skills and use them in other aspects of life – this is about honing in on them and learning how to apply them to protect long-term emotional well-being and your relationships with those around you.

In small doses, stress can help you rise to the challenge, but too much of it can damage your body and mind.

What is stress and how does it affect you physically?

At it’s simplest, stress is your body’s physical response to mental or emotional pressure.

It can be helpful to see it as an equation: Resources – Demands = Stress.

When your demands are larger than your resources, you are left depleated, meaning you are likely to feel stressed.

When you are stressed, and your body believes it is under attack it turns to what is known as ‘fight or flight’ mode. As a result, a mix of hormones and chemicals are released into your body so that you prepare for physical action. Subsequently blood might also be diverted to muscles, causing loss of concentration or becoming less able to digest food.

When the threat passes, your body usually returns to normal, but if you are continually under pressure this might not be the case.

What are the symptoms of stress?

It is very common to hear, or say “I am so stressed”, but sometimes it is hard to clearly pinpoint and notice the symptoms in yourself until it is too late. Before long, you realise stress is affecting you and your quality of life quite seriously.

Signs of stress include:

  • Changes in behaviour; drinking or smoking more, or taking up either if previously not the case
  • Overeating or decreased appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns; finding it hard to fall asleep or having disturbed sleep
  • A racing heart
  • Shaking, chills, or hot flushes
  • A tingling sensation in your arms or legs
  • Butterflies in your stomach or feeling nervous going to work
  • Cancelling things you like doing
  • Avoiding responsibilities or things you know you need to do because you are tired or because you do not have the energy
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Problems having or enjoying sex, or a decline in sex drive
  • High blood pressure
  • Feeling unwell or falling ill more often, including muscle aches, indigestion, headaches, diarrhoea or constipation
  • Strain on your relationship, finding that you argue more often with your partner, or are short-tempered with people in your family

If you nodded as you read through some of these, you may be experiencing stress and it is important you do something about it. The long-term effect of stress can be chronic illness, lasting impact on relationships, depression and anxiety.

Dr. Ali Shakir, our resident psychotherapist and member of the Stress Management Institute says: “Don’t keep it to yourself. If you are experiencing stress, you must be open about it. It is a very common occurrence and not something to be ashamed. Trying to conceal it just adds to your stress level and prevents anyone being able to support you in the ways you need.”

He adds: “You might be thinking “if others can deal with it, I should be able to”. But how do you know your colleagues aren’t also dealing with stress? You are not alone in this and need people by your side, especially at home.”

“Stress happens when your demands are greater than your resources. Therefore, the goal is to reduce your demands and increase your resources.”

“Think about the clutter in your life. Are there things you do that someone else should or could be doing? Things that could wait? Or things that you have been doing on autopilot that might not fit your life currently?”

“Think about your resources. These are people, time, money, skills. If you have a little extra money, would you consider, for example, hiring a cleaner once a week to free up a weekend day?”

“If you have people around you willing to help with things, why aren’t you asking them to do so? What is making you take on more than your fair share? Do you think your colleagues work as hard as you?”

Dr. Sharkir concludes: “It is worth taking some time and reflecting on these questions – listing the demands on you and thinking about your resources.”

There are other easy things you can do to remind yourself that you matter, which cost little or nothing. Here are a few further ideas and tips:

  • Self-massage is an effective and really pleasant way to unwind. Use a nice-smelling oil and massage your own hands, shoulders, face and feet.
  • Burning incense or using an essential oil diffuser can help take your mind off things. Studies show that smelling something like lavender can change our whole mood!
  • What makes you feel like you are being successful at ‘adulting’? A clean room? Cooking? Whatever it is, find time to do it. You’ll feel powerful!
  • If you have no time or energy for housework, focus on dishes and laundry. Having clean clothes and plates can be enough sometimes to reduce a sense of feeling overwhelmed.

If you feel that you require professional help, or your organisation would like to put in place a well-being strategy for your staff, reach out to medical specialists. Your health is our paramount concern, contact us to discuss.

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