Most of us know what stress feels like. The Mental Health Foundation says 74% of people in the UK report having faced problems in their personal lives or at work during the last year that left them feeling unable to cope. Fortunately, there are remedial steps that can be taken.
At the end of a disturbing year when financial and economic worries have been unusually high, Stress Awareness Day 2022 that takes place this year on 2 November, will focus on how life’s pressures could affect almost all of us, and importantly, how they can be managed before becoming more serious problems.
As explained later, although it might seem inappropriate, laughter is said to be one of the best medicines!
The good, the bad and the harmful
Stress is described as the feeling of being under excessive mental or emotional pressure. The body’s response is to release hormone messengers such as adrenaline and cortisol. These trigger the “fight or flight” response, a natural defence for dealing with perceived threats and risks.
Crucially, stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the event has passed.
Stress in limited amounts can be useful. It motivates us towards urgent action that can be channelled into completing important tasks. On the positive side, it can evoke vibrant feelings of being alive and excitement — good and creative stress.
However, too much stress often has negative effects that are powerful enough to change our moods, the way the human body functions and even how we develop and enjoy relationships — particularly when it creates sensations of being out of control, anxiety, irritation and low self-esteem.
Experiencing stress over extended periods can also lead to a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion generally known as burnout.
Before looking at the symptoms and causes of stress — plus NHS top tips for coping with and limiting everyday stress — it is important to note that employers have the same responsibilities for stress with their staff as all other health and safety issues.
This includes conducting stress risk assessments that might focus on:
- inadequate managerial support
- tight deadlines
- too many responsibilities
- role uncertainty
- the possibility of workplace violence.
Key signs of stress in a workplace environment can include:
- an increase in unexplained absences and sick leave
- mediocre performance and time-keeping
- poor decision-making
- a lack of energy and motivation
- uncommunicative or moody behaviour.
Stress wears people down over time and workplace familiarity can make it difficult to spot indicators, particularly if the causes lie in personal or social problems away from work.
However, there are things that companies can do to help manage and reduce stress at work. They include the following.
- Offering workplace support — Encouraging regular breaks, holding debrief sessions after stressful periods, highlighting support services, and training managers to be stress aware and offer help.
- Positive culture — Making it clear that mental health is of equal importance to physical health issues that can be discussed openly with no sense of guilt, shame or inadequacy.
- Encouraging exercise — Not necessarily strenuous but enough to release the endorphins that combat stress naturally.
- Encouraging socialising — It is important not to push employees too much who are uncomfortable in the company of too many people.
- Encouraging mindfulness — If suitable, this can help employees deal with stress, however it is no substitute for real changes in the workplace.
- Flexible working — Where this is viable, it has proved to help alleviate stresses experienced at home and as such can be part of an improved work-life balance.
- Return-to-work interviews — The goal after a worker absence is to pinpoint problems and, where possible and relevant, workplace adjustments that can make the situation easier.
Top tips for dealing with stress and burnout
The NHS is a leading authority on stress matters, the warning signs of stress or burnout, probable stress causes, and stress support services for sufferers.
It also recommends some early-stage straightforward tips that can take the strain out of stress before it turns into more entrenched problems.
- Split big tasks up into smaller easy-to-handle chunks when starting a new task seems overwhelming and difficult. And give yourself credit for completing each chunk, it advises.
- Allow yourself some positivity — take time out, it says, to reflect on the good things in life, adding that remembering what went well plus three things to be grateful for each day is a good habit to cultivate.
- Try some self-help CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). To help here, the NHS provides short video guides and practical strategies designed to deal with worries, anxieties and unhelpful thoughts, demonstrate new ways of working through problems and build resilience.
- Be more active to “burn off nervous energy”. This alone will not make stress disappear but it can make it less intense.
- Do not suffer alone — talk to someone. Trusted friends, family and colleagues plus helpline contacts can assist where people are struggling.
- Plan ahead — the aim is to form a plan that counters stressful periods of specific days and events. Creating a to-do list, eg of journeys to be made and items to be taken helps, says the NHS.
Stress or burnout signs
Identifying more detailed signs of stress is important too. The NHS includes the following.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Suffering from racing thoughts or concentration difficulties.
- Being irritable.
- Feeling constantly worried, anxious or scared.
- Experiencing a lack of self-confidence.
- Having trouble sleeping or feeling tired all the time.
- Avoiding things or people associated with problems.
- Eating more or less than usual.
- Drinking or smoking more than usual.
For help in dealing with stress, the recommendation is to call NHS 111 or talk to a GP.
It is also possible to refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service with or without a referral from a GP.
Talking therapies or psychological therapies are confidential treatments delivered by trained and accredited NHS practitioners that can help with common mental health disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.
The mental health charity Mind also offers online help, as do the Mental Health Foundation, the Samaritans and the Stress Management Society.
Observing National Stress Awareness Day 2022
A number of very practical suggestions have been made for celebrating National Stress Awareness Day on 2 November this year.
They include “not worrying” by preparing carefully to make the most of a care-free and stress-free 24-hour period with no negative vibes. As an alternative, everyone should set out to do things they genuinely enjoy.
The real aim of stress management and reduction is to eliminate stress from your life completely. With this in mind, the day is described as an opportunity to discover where most of your stress originates and why it happens, as a first step to banishing it.
Laughter is the best medicine
A final and extremely positive recommendation is to laugh for the entire day! This will take some planning. However, that is the point.
Detailed preparations will be necessary to spend time with family, friends and colleagues on activities that will make everyone either giggle or enjoy a deep belly laugh. They can range from parties and best (worst) joke contests to watching humorous movies.
Stress Awareness Day 2022 on 2 November will focus on how accumulating pressures at work and home can affect almost all of us and importantly the ways in which stress can be managed before becoming a more severe problem.
There is good, creative and motivating stress but also negative stress which leads to unhappiness, poor work performance and damaged relationships. Record numbers of people now report being under pressures they sometimes feel they can scarcely cope with.
Which makes knowing how to identify the signs of stress or burnout and understanding the probable causes extremely important. Employers also need to be aware of their responsibilities.
There are numerous online sources of freely available help, support and information. This includes top tips from authorities like the NHS and mental health charities that can take the sting out of a condition that makes life a misery for millions.
(This post is originally from Croner-i)