April is Stress Awareness month which is used as an opportunity to share information to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures of stress. Why is this so important? Research carried out by the Health and Safety executive in 2017/18 found that 44% of work related illness and 57% of working days lost was caused by work related stress, depression or anxiety.
What is stress?
Stress isn’t always and doesn’t need to be seen as bad in many situations. It really depends on the situation, person and how they react to the stress as to whether it is an issue or not, in the same situation one person may feel stressed whilst another thrives on the challenge. For some people stress can be motivating, ie it can inspire them and at the right level they can get more things done. As with many things it is knowing what it means to you, how you react to it, what triggers your stress and how you can manage it that is important.
Why has stress become such a problem? In the very distant past when we faced a situation that was dangerous our stress response would kick in with fight or flight however, whilst these situations could have been life and death dangerous they occurred infrequently which gave our bodies an opportunity to recharge. In modern times more situations are being regarded as ‘dangerous’ by our bodies so our stress responses are happening so much more frequently and our bodies have less opportunity to recharge and this can impact our health.
Experiences of Stress
I have suffered from stress on and off for many years and I am aware that it originated from my childhood and is centred around who I am (my limiting beliefs) and how I react to different situations. My particular symptoms have included having a never ending ‘to-do list’ going on in my head, feeling overwhelmed, taking on other people’s problems as my own, working longer hours than I needed to and not asking for help. This had such a negative impact on my health including poor sleep.
The main area it manifested for me was at work and my friends suggested I leave my job as it was making me ill. I am so grateful that they cared to try to get something to change but what my own experiences and reflections have shown me is that doing that would simply mean taking the beliefs, causes etc with me to the next job. I needed to get to the root of the problem and understand why I reacted the way I did; it was me that needed to change rather than the job.
That’s not to say that is always the case and it can be about the work environment, line manager, workload, taking on new responsibility etc which can be out of your control causing the stress and I am sure some of these factored into what went on for me over the years. However, what we do have control over is ourselves, how we react and act (which includes getting help when we need it).
What does stress mean to you?
Know your warning signs for stress whether it is lack of sleep, mood swings, feeling irritable or impatient, headaches etc so that you can act faster to check in with yourself to determine what’s causing you stress and take action to deal with it.
What does stress mean to you? If you are suffering from stress, what’s the first thing you can change to help reduce the stress? Start small; if you are already feeling overwhelmed you don’t want to add to that by setting yourself huge goals to achieve too soon.
- What are you saying yes to that you don’t need to?
- Who can support you with this? Doctor, family, friends etc
- What support does your company have for you? (If you don’t want to speak to someone at work check if they have an employee assistance programme – they are also sometimes attached to private healthcare schemes).
Getting support is such an important factor in helping in times of stress but we often forget to as for it. It may not be obvious to other people that you are looking for help so let them know. We often feel that we may be putting on people if we voice our need for help, or are afraid to admit we don’t know something, yet we are often willing to help others when they need it. When we do ask we find ourselves with lots of volunteers offering help, even if it’s putting you in contact with someone else if they can’t help you themselves. Quite simply, people like helping other people.
In my Facebook group we are looking at this topic more during April. Feel free to join the group to share tips and questions on this and other topics about wellbeing at work.