HSE (the Health and Safety Executive) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them”. A bit of pressure can be a good thing as it can motivate us and improve our performance. But when this pressure gets too much and turns to stress in the workplace, measures must be taken to reduce the amount of pressure to avoid long term health issues.
Why do we get stressed?
On a biological level, stress is the body’s reaction to a life-threatening situation. Now how can it be life threatening when the boss yells at you or you are worried that you won’t finish your project on time? To understand this better, we have to go very far back in time. When we first emerged as humans we lived in groups in order to survive. Being on your own meant certain death. So, anything that could cause us to be thrown out of that group was literally life threatening. Unfortunately, our bodies haven’t evolved in the same way as our behaviour has.
Many of us are now quite happy to live alone, but the basic instincts are still there. So, to use those two examples again, when the boss yells at you for doing something wrong, you feel a) threatened to be yelled at and b) are worried that you’re going to be thrown out of the “group”. And if you’re worried you might not finish your project in time, you might lose your job – hence, have to leave the group. We are not aware that this is what’s going on inside, but the stress hormones still activate whenever anything feels threatening, whether it is actually threatening or not.
What can we do about stress in the workplace?
So, what can we do about this? First of all, we need to accept that stress exists and that we are hard wired to react in a certain way. But we don’t have to let it take over our lives. There are things we can do about it.
We need to recognise when we are stressed and actively seek help to support us. According to HSE, employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. Here is a link to the risk assessment form from HSE.
So, if you are suffering from stress in the workplace, speak to a manager about measures that can be taken. If the above-mentioned yelling boss is the problem, it might be worth sending him on a training course to improve his leadership skills, for instance.
On a personal level you might want to think about the following strategies
- Work on your time management skills
Going on a time management course can be hugely beneficial. You might only have to make a few small tweaks, but they can make a big difference to your productivity.
- Find time to rest, relax and recharge
Take that lunch break, don’t continue working over lunch with a sandwich next to you. Go outside if you can, away from your workplace to refresh during the day. Try not to work at weekends so that you can switch off completely. Weekends were invented for a good reason. You might want to try mediation or mindfulness exercises.
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are no long-term solution
It’s best to avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol if you’re feeling stressed as relying on these substances will only make things worse in the long run. You are only adding to the stress to your body. Opt for healthy eating instead.
- Make time for family and friends
Meet up with your friends and family regularly. This can give you a different perspective, and you get support and advice you might need.
- Don’t look for conflict but stand firm if you have to
Most people rather avoid confrontation and that’s a good course of action for most situations. But sometimes it is necessary to stand firm, defend your ground and clear the air. It helps to work out built up tension from unresolved issues.
Or you could try one or more of these 123 Proven Ways to Reduce Stress and Relax that we have found online.
How can the Work Well Practice help?
We can help with a variety of approaches. When you invite us, we can conduct a wellbeing audit for your business and follow it up with an action plan. Of course, we are happy to follow up and make sure everything is being implemented. We also run a variety of seminars and workshops ranging from healthy eating, to stop smoking and resilience building (to HSE management standards).
We can hold the workshops either on or off site. To see a list of all available workshops, click here.
If you would like an informal chat or more information, please contact Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org , or phone on 075 222 777 22.
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Disclaimer: As with most practices, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any existing mental health conditions or past trauma, you should discuss these with your GP or mental health professional and these should also be disclosed prior to enrolling in a class.