April is Stress Awareness Month, when we raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress pandemic.
HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Everyone experiences stress, it is a normal part of life, but left unchecked it can have serious consequences on our relationships, jobs and overall wellbeing.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened your body engages the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. This is the body’s way of protecting you.
However, when you are constantly reacting to small or large stressful situations, without making physical, mental, and emotional adjustments to counter their effect, you can experience stress that can harm your health and wellbeing.
While too much stress can cause minor problems, such as sleep-loss, irritability or headaches, it can also contribute to potentially life-threatening illnesses, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, three in four UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the past year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
This means millions of us around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress that is damaging our health. But stress isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns, despite it being a significant factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Workplaces and work can be stressful, driven by such factors as working hours, job demands, flexibility, role variety/repetition, shift patterns etc. When you consider stress in the workplace, it might be affecting your own or your employees’ health more than you think.
All employers have a legal duty to protect employees from work-related stress by doing a stress risk assessment and acting to tackle or remove any identified risks.
So, understanding and recognising the nature and causes of stress can help you effectively manage stress at work. Bear in mind tertiary interventions, such as helplines, are only a small part of the solution – to truly address stress at work, employers need to focus on primary factors that address the sources of work-related stress.
During stressful times or situations, people often blame themselves for their inability ‘to handle it’. Often managers do not understand the normal progression of stress-producing situations and expect employees to immediately return to full productivity after a stressful event. It doesn’t happen.
Managers need to understand that adjustment to change is an individual experience and provide support to a wide range of people experiencing diverse feelings. That said, 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.
Employers need to understand the importance of reducing stress in the workplace; most known stressors are things the employer could improve or remedy. Granted, employers can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job, but they can take steps to identify, manage and reduce work-related stressors. Keeping stress in check could create a healthier, and safer, workforce.
This April, I challenge you to take a positive step towards reducing stress at work. How? By putting in place a workable approach to identifying and managing stress at work – one place to start is getting managers to build employee ‘wellbeing’ into their day-to-day and 1-2-1 discussions with their teams and by making your first response the intervention of the manager. Now exhale.
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