Managing work related stress

Written by
Carol Stewart

22 Sep 2016

22 Sep 2016 • by Carol Stewart

Is all stress bad?

Whilst we tend to think of stress in a negative way, not all stress is bad.  In fact, moderate stress can actually make us perform better, help us to be more alert when public speaking and in interviews; it provides that exhilaration we get when competing in dangerous sports; and it is a survival mechanism when we are faced with dangerous situations, helping us to respond accordingly.

However, when stress is excessive or prolonged, it can lead to illness.  It can cause us to become physically and emotionally exhausted and lead to fatigue or anxiety.

There are many factors contributing to the excess stress in our life.  Stress in our personal lives can impact our work lives and likewise, stress at work can impact our personal lives.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2014/15, work related stress accounted for 35% of work related ill health and 43% of days lost.  That is quite a significantly high number of people absent from work due to work related stress and is a cause for concern, considering the amount of time we spend at work every day.

The HSE identified 6 primary sources of stress at work, listed in the table below: 

Often times the symptoms of stress can creep up on us and take a stronghold before we even realise it.  The signs may be there but because of the busyness, pressures and demands of our roles, the warning signs are sometimes overlooked.

Spotting the signs of stress

Some of the early indicators of stress include: -

  • Loss of motivation/confidence
  • Mood swings
  • Increased emotional reactions
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Increased usage of mood enhancing substances (alcohol, drugs, food etc.)

This list is neither exhaustive or prescriptive and if you think that you might be stressed, rather than letting the symptoms escalate, causing you to crash and burnout, do something to minimise the stress you are under at work.

Regular self reflection and keeping a check on your emotions and feelings will increase your self awareness, making it easier for you to identify when your stress levels have reached a dangerous level.


Identify and address the source of your stress

Using the above primary sources of stress table above, identify where the source of your work related stress lies.  Once you have identified the source, you can then look at how you can manage things so that you minimise the impact that it has on you.

What can you do to address this?  Do you need support from someone else?  If so, who can support you with this? What aspects of your work can be delegated? What can you stop doing that is unnecessary?  Just because something has always been done or done in a particular way, it doesn’t mean that it is efficient and effective.  However, when you are experiencing high levels of stress, you are less able to think creatively and identify solutions.

Ask yourself what needs to be done to remove or reduce the impact that this source of stress is having on you.

Manage your emotions

We are often led by our emotions which, if we are feeling anxious, overwhelmed and under pressure can cause us to think and behave irrationally, not see things clearly and as such, not properly managing our workloads. 

Learning to manage your emotions will help to remove the anxiety you feel about your situation and make it easier to manage the source of your stress.  In order to manage your emotions, challenge your thoughts and beliefs about your situation, rationalise them and change them to something that is more helpful to you. 

If you are constantly in firefighting mode, it is difficult to think rationally about the problem and you are more likely to respond reactively rather than proactively.

Managing your emotions effectively, will enable you to rationalise your thinking and respond to your situation from a more solution focused perspective.  It is then easier to make decisions and choices that reduce both the negative impact of stress and the source of it.

Get support with this if you find it difficult to do on your own.

Get the balance right

With competing pressures and demands, it is essential that you get the balance right if you are to avoid undue stress.  The 24/7 culture we have adopted through the advancement of technology and global working makes it more difficult for us to switch off from our jobs.  However, doing so is essential in order to be at peak performance when you are at work.

Getting the balance right is essential for maintaining a quality life, for which work is one aspect.  What this balance looks like will be different from person to person and needs to be looked at holistically.  If there is an imbalance in one area of your life at the cost of another that is impacting your quality of life, do something about it.

Having an awareness of the impact of the excess pressure on you will enable you to take action before it takes a stronghold.  Self awareness comes through self reflection.  Make regular time to self reflect so that you notice the physiological, emotional and mental changes that are adversely affecting you when they arise and so that you can nip it in the bud.

Stress, if left to manifest in an unhealthy way and go unchecked can lead to illness, disease and can even kill.  Stress is a fact of life but it is how we respond to it that will determine the outcome.  You can choose how you respond.