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/ Overview / Blog / April 2018 / National Stress Awareness Month: How much stress is enough?

National Stress Awareness Month: How much stress is enough?

30 April 2018
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Islington-based service, Get Back on Track offers support to those who are stressed at work


The clients that we work with as part of the Get Back on Track service, often report that they feel stressed at work. Indeed, we work with many people that are experiencing problems at work that have affected them to the extent that they have been signed off work by their GP.

So as we near the end of National Stress Awareness Month, we thought it would be fitting to take a look at stress and some of the approaches to dealing with it in the workplace. 

How often have you heard someone say that they “had a stressful day” or maybe that someone was “really stressing them out” or any number of variations on that theme? 

The term is now so woven into our everyday language that one might argue we have stripped it of its significance and devalued just how much “stress” affects us in day-to-day life.

The paradox of course is that a degree of stress can actually be helpful, both in how it can motivate us, give us clarity and how it can give us the focus to succeed in what we do.

It is important then to strike the right balance between helpful stress and that which is detrimental to our health.   

One context where this paradox is often most apparent is the workplace. Certainly the pressures on today’s workforce are many including the accelerated pace of our working lives and blurred boundaries between home life and the workplace.

Moreover, there are longer working hours, low job security whilst bullying and mental health issues arise from stresses in the workplace.

But when we talk about stress at work, it is helpful to think about it as a set of factors that inform the quality of the work that a person performs.

The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Management Standards cover six key areas that if not managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates. The Management Standards that they highlight are: 
 
  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

Most people that experience stress in the workplace can probably identify with one or more of these factors at work.

There are however, ways that we can combat stress, or at least tools that we can utilise to alleviate the amount of stress that we experience.

Of course, there will be times when stress has reached the point that it becomes necessary to consult with a GP or other medical specialist and they might prescribe a course of medication or talking therapy. 

If you think that this might be the case for you, you should consult an appropriate medical person for advice. There are approaches that we can all adopt to help in weakening the grip of stress:

No matter what happens, you’ll get through it
This might seem an obvious point to make but when you’re in the midst of a difficult situation at work, you can lose sight of this point and feel like it has become your whole world and that it will always be the same.

The human ability to acclimatise  is such that we can adapt to a variety of very difficult situations and become so accustomed to it that we lose sight of just how bad it is, and that can ultimately obscure our ability to transcend these situations.

For today’s generation, the changing face of the workplace means that the likelihood is that we will not remain in one particular job for decades at a time, or much less that we will hold just one job for the entirety of our career.

This presents an advantage however, which is that we can embrace this increased degree of flexibility and realise that we won’t be in the situation forever. Ask anyone that managed to extricate themself from a toxic job, they will often look back on it and wonder how they ever stayed as long as they did.

When work takes over… take back control
The pernicious thing about stress is that it can start to consume everything, which is to say that even when you’re not in work, you can keep thinking about it long after you have finished for the day and it can lead to worry and can otherwise ruin the precious time that you have away from the workplace.

Part of what is required is to take steps to compartmentalise your life so that you ensure that workplace worry doesn’t encroach on the rest of your life.

The difficulty for some people is that their mood is so low and they are so anxious that the last thing that they want to do is to engage in the activities that they might normally undertake like sports, hobbies, socialising and family time.

The problem is that when we withdraw from our personal lives, the void is often filled by work because you have more time for worry and anxiety about work.

There is a case then for ensuring that you take the right action to maintain the things that you would normally do.

Certainly when we’re not in the mood to do these things, it can feel like it is a mountain to climb. The issue is that as you become more withdrawn from the things that you enjoy, the path to recovery will become that much more difficult.

This is the time when you should pay attention to your situation and trust yourself that sometimes you need to do things even when you don’t feel like doing it and the things that you used to enjoy can become enjoyable once again.

If you’ve ever had a substantial break from doing exercise, that first day back can seem daunting and off-putting but that feeling is temporary.

See the patient in bed that needs your help
The one responsibility that we often fail to see in life is the duty to take care of ourselves. Imagine seeing yourself in a hospital bed and you are also the doctor whose care you are under.

If someone in your family was unwell and needed your urgent help, you wouldn’t hesitate to do anything that you can to help them get better, right?

Why then do we not extend the same courtesy to ourselves? This is a point that you will have heard countless times, but a healthy diet, exercise and fostering a sense of self-compassion is crucial. Granting ourselves time is not a selfish endeavour, no matter what your responsibilities are in life.

Know that if you don’t look after yourself, you will render yourself unable to look after others anyway. What do some of the most successful people do that makes them successful?

Well, one thing is that they have a morning routine so that they can set aside some quality time for themselves. Typical morning routines usually feature meditation — particularly meditative practices that instil a sense of gratitude or kindness to others.

Exercise is the perfect way to set the tone for the day by releasing all the feel good endorphins, added to which, it frees up your time in the evening to spend it with your family or friends.

Making a commitment to get up a little bit earlier to focus on these things can be well worth the commitment.

Journaling is another practice that allows you to put down on paper any thoughts that you have, which allows you to leave those thoughts on the paper and focus on the more productive things that you have to do that day.

The following article has useful advice on how to schedule wellness into your everyday routine.    

The helping hand
Perhaps if the issue is that you can’t stop focusing on what is wrong with your situation and you are frustrated because you don’t know what to do, you could re-direct your frustration towards helping other people.

Research shows that helping others has a correlation with making us feel good about ourselves. It doesn’t mean that you have to immediately leave your home and undertake missionary work in some far-flung corner of the globe.

There are very small things that you can do that help others including things like telling someone that you are grateful for something they did for you.

If you give it some thought, there is an infinite number of things that you can do like this. Next time you do something, observe how you feel after it and see what happens.

Need support with stress?
Get Back on Track is a free service for anyone whois registered with an Islington GP and has been signed-off work because they have been experiencing problems at work.

If you think that you would benefit from support fromGet Back on Track, you can call us on 0800 389 0177 or you can email us at getbackontrack@nhs.net
 

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