April is Stress Awareness Month which is about increasing awareness about the causes and cures for stress. For some people stress can be motivating, ie it can inspire them and at the right level they can get more things done. The same level of stress can have a negative impact on another person, affecting their wellbeing. 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.

I have suffered from stress on and off for many years (at times unfortunately joined by anxiety and depression). Whilst at its worst it manifested itself at work I know that it very much came from earlier in my life and is centred around who I am (my limiting beliefs) and how I react to different situations. I would have a never ending ‘to-do list’ going on in my head, I felt overwhelmed, would take on other people’s problems as my own, worked longer hours and didn’t ask for help. This had such a negative impact on my health.

My friends who saw it in me suggested I leave my job as it was making me ill and 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 it was me that needed to change rather than the job. I was the one who chose to get into work early and worked late (there were a few times I was asked to work late but not many) and I rarely spoke up when I was swamped with work.

I was offered time off in lieu (TOIL) for the days when I worked at a weekend with an office move but I didn’t take it – I didn’t manage to take my holiday days so I was never going to ‘find time’ for the TOIL days!!! It’s crazy now thinking back on it but I was so absorbed in my long term habit of people pleasing along with other habits and I couldn’t really see what was going on that I would have simply taken this to the next job if I had left. Any of this familiar with you?

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).

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).