Work-related stress remains one of the highest causes of work-related ill health in the UK. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about extra challenges and uncertainty to people’s lives. This resulted in an increase in stress factors and stress levels. According to new research from the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults in the past year have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of stress.
A little stress is beneficial, even necessary. We function well with a little incentive. But high levels of stress, and multiple stressors, can result in lowered wellbeing. And this lowered wellbeing leads to illness, poor mental health, and time off due to burnout.
What is stress?
Stress is the adverse reaction that people have to excessive pressure or demands that are placed on them.
Pressures, expectations, deadlines, the need to produce results and adapt to change are all part of our professional life. A certain amount of pressure can help us perform at our best and make us feel motivated and challenged. However, these periods need to be balanced with periods of relaxation where we can feel refreshed. It is when pressures are continuous, without respite, that stress can occur and have physical and psychological effects.
What are the causes of stress?
Stress is usually caused by a combination of factors, which together can feel overwhelming. These could be personal concerns such as family or relationship problems, financial difficulties or ill health.
At work, it could be caused by overwork, feeling unvalued, having little or no control over your working day, an unclear job role, or relationship difficulties with colleagues or managers, which may involve bullying or harassment. Factors such as noise, lack of space and heat can also contribute to feelings of stress.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response to pressure. This response can produce physical and emotional responses and can be caused by a host of different situations or life events. Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope.
Common symptoms of stress can include:
Lack of concentration or focus
Increased reliance on unhealthy coping habits such as alcohol, smoking and caffeine
Aggressive outbursts or becoming short tempered with others
Heart palpitations or shortness of breath
Fatigue and low mood.
To help prevent or reduce stress, you may find the following tips helpful.
Understand what is truly important in your life. Take time to relax and enjoy other interests outside work.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat properly. Drink plenty of water. Exercise regularly, especially when things get busy.
Have a ‘to do’ list and set priorities. When setting work priorities, talk with your manager if you have any question or concerns.
Recognise your limits, accept what you cannot change and learn to adapt.
Talk to others, by discussing stress and your feelings about it, you open the door for conversations that break the stigma.
Seek training, e.g. in stress management, personal development, mindfulness etc, to help you do your job better and manage any issues.
What if I have a problem at work?
It is good to talk and it is important that you share any concerns you have. The earlier a problem is tackled the less impact it will have. Ideally you should talk to your manager or HR team if you have a problem. Your employer may also have an employee assistance programme or occupational health provider that you can use to help address any workplace stressors.