April is Stress Awareness Month, and in 2022 it seems more people than ever before are feeling stress. Research from the Mental Health Foundation has found that in the last year 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. And the Stress Management Society has found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.

As we spend on average a total of 92,00 hours in the course of our life at work, it’s no surprise that a lot of this stress relates to a work environment. Our latest article looks at ways on coping with stress at work, and recognising it’s causes, and taking steps to look after your wellbeing to deal with the work pressure you may find yourselves under.

What is stress?

Stress describes a person’s physical or emotional response to the demands or pressures of daily life. Common causes of stress include work, money, relationships and illness. Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It’s very common and in some circumstances can be motivating to help us achieve things in our daily life, and can help us meet the demands of home, work and family life.

But too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.

Managing and coping

It’s helpful to learn how to manage stress caused by work. If you often experience feelings of stress, you might be at risk of developing a mental health problem like depression or anxiety, and stress can also make your existing mental health problems feel worse.

  • Understand more about stress. Recognising the signs of stress and learning about the causes of stress is good place to start.
  • Figure out what you find stressful and helpful. You could make a Wellness Action Plan to map out what causes you stress and what keeps you well. Once you know what’s best, talk to your employer. They may be able to make some changes to help you.
  • Learn different coping techniques. Everyone deals with stress differently, so take time to find methods that work for you. Use them as soon as you start to feel pressure building.
  • Try practising mindfulness. This practice is about focusing on the here and now. It might help you to find calmness and clarity to respond to stressful situations.
  • Look after your physical health. Eat well and try a gentle activity like going for a walk or doing a chair-based exercise.

Stress Policy

A stress policy will apply to everyone in the company and managers are responsible for implementation and the company is responsible for providing the necessary resources. The Health and Safety Executive define stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. This makes an important distinction between pressure, which can be a positive state if managed correctly, and stress which can be detrimental to health.

An example of a work stress policy will include:-

  • The company will identify all workplace stresses and conduct risk assessments to eliminate stress or control the risks from stress. These risk assessments will be regularly reviewed.
  • The company will consult with Trade Union Safety Representatives on all proposed action relating to the prevention of workplace stress.
  • The company will provide training for all managers and supervisory staff in good management practices.
  • The company will provide confidential counselling for staff affected by stress caused by either work or external factors.
  • The company will provide adequate resources to enable managers to implement the company’s agreed stress management strategy.

Accessing support

It’s helpful if employers create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about mental health and often the first port of call can be HR and some organisations also have employee assistance programmes (EAPs) which offer free advice and counselling.

All employers have a duty of care to ensure the well being and safety of staff and good practice will include:-

  • Treating mental and physical health as equally important
  • Making sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they’re having
  • Encouraging positive mental health, for example arranging mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors

All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety at work and in our personal lives. For further information on coping with stress at work, please contact us here.