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April 25 2022
Image credit: Newscast Online
Avoiding the issue of stress and its resulting mental health issues is never a good idea, and this is something that Nicky Lidbetter of Anxiety UK emphasised to us: “Anxiety can lead to avoidance as we go out of our way to escape triggering these stress symptoms, such as calling in sick to work or putting off sending that important email. Ultimately the control we feel from avoiding the problem is only temporary and can make it harder to deal with any issues when it comes to eventually facing our fears. It’s best to find solutions to our stresses quickly rather than waiting until they feel uncontrollable.”
So, what can we do? Once we have realised the importance of combating stress and preventing any escalation towards more severe mental health issues, how do we ensure our working lives are as stress-free as possible? Of course, the workplace can never be wholly without stress but there are a number of things that we can do to make things easier for ourselves.
Talk about it
As detailed below, there are a number of things we can to do to help ourselves and to prevent stress from impacting our lives, but for those that are worried about the issue, the best and first thing to do should be to start a dialogue. Finding someone to talk to is advice that Samaritans – an important organisation that provides a confidential place to turn to for those in need – highly recommends. Speaking to us about the issue of stress in the workplace, a topic that is very important to them, Samaritans advised:
“One of the key things we're encouraging people to do if they are experiencing workplace stress is to talk about it. Sharing anxieties with a colleague, friend or family member and being listened to can make a huge difference to people.
“Obviously, Samaritans is also there for people if they'd like to talk in confidence. We receive a call for help every 6 seconds, responding to more than 5 million contacts annually. Anyone can contact Samaritans any time for free on 116 123. The number is free to call and will not show up on phone bills. Alternatively, people can email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of their local branch where they can talk to a volunteer face to face.”
The Wellbeing Project also understands the importance of talking with others, including experts, when suffering from extreme or prolonged stress: “Each person is individual and if anyone is concerned about how they are feeling over a period of 2-3 weeks or more, we always advise that they consult their GP or a medical professional. Many organisations also offer extensive support through their Employee Assistance Programmes, such as access to confidential helplines and counselling.”
Anxiety UK and Nicky Lidbetter suggest speaking with your employer and escalating the situation if you are worried about the issue: “Have a conversation with your manager about finding a way to manage your level of stress. Focus less on the complaints you may have, and more on proactive solutions. You may need further training or find ways to reprioritise your workload and responsibilities.”
Consult a GP
As The Wellbeing Project importantly touches on above, consulting a GP to help you through stress and related mental health issues is a crucial step. Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, GP and Managing Director of Your Doctor – a private GP service mostly based out of Wexham and Tring that enables patients to explore all of their health concerns – spoke to us about Your Doctor and how contacting a GP can help those suffering with stress and poor mental health at work:
“If patients are suffering from stress or mental health issues, it often affects them in a number of ways. Poor sleep, poor concentration, increasing anxiety, and mood swings to name a few. These factors will ultimately lead to strain on your relationships and at work. Stress and poor mental health affect your work as it leads to substandard work, missing deadlines, poor communication and can be a risk to your long-term health and it some cases could lead to you putting work colleagues at risk. By contacting a GP, you can start to create a long-term management plan for ongoing treatment and support.
“The first important step is to recognise that you are stressed and that your mental health is affected. Seeking help is one of the first steps that you take on your road to recovery. Your Doctor will help to support you, guide you through any treatment and get you back to wellness. Exercise, good sleep and a healthy, balanced diet as well as reducing stress factors are the vital foundation stones for both physical and mental health.”
Get help from a life coach
Earlier we brought you some words from Life Coach Directory member Amanda Green on identifying the causes of stress. The Life Coach Directory connects individuals with professional life coaches in their communities and utilising such a person can be of great benefit in dealing with stress. We were delighted to hear from the team at Life Coach Directory about how their members can help:
“A life coach can help with stress management by helping the person understand why they're feeling stressed and to help understand how they can manage the pressure by modifying their thoughts. Exploring personal stress levels help individuals identify where they may be overwhelmed, which helps them understand their threshold. A professional life coach can help people understand this threshold and offer pressure-management techniques to practice.”
Participate in workshops
The Wellbeing Project offers workshops designed to help combat the effects of stress, helping individuals to overcome the issues. The Wellbeing Project spoke to us about how helpful these sessions can be: “In our workshops which focus specifically on stress, and how to ‘stress less’, we look to build an understanding of the stress response and what steps you can take to manage this. When someone has experienced prolonged or repeated pressure, they have sometimes also gradually stopped doing the things they enjoy, or the things that make them feel good about themselves.
“This is one of the key take-away actions we encourage in our workshops – building rituals into our daily life to offset pressure and ‘reset’ our perspectives. Something as simple as some deep breathing, a short walk in the fresh air, listening to music or enjoying a conversation with someone who makes us laugh can be enough to reset our system and allow us some vital moments to recalibrate and recharge. We won’t always be able to remove pressure, but we can choose to punctuate our day with positives which help to boost our physical, mental and emotional energy.”
Ensure a healthy work/life balance
Having a thriving career can be a great thing, not only monetarily but in terms of providing structure and drive in our lives outside of the family sphere. But working yourself to the bone is never a good idea, spending more hours than you need to at the office can have a hugely detrimental effect on your mental health. So it’s important to secure a healthy work/life balance to ensure there is more to your world than your career. By taking up hobbies, carving out time to spend with family, and ensuring that your evenings are periods where you can relax and unwind after work are essential. Not only will a more balanced approach to life reduce tension and stress, but it will also help ensure less days are taken off work due to unchecked stress and anxiety.
The team at Forth spoke to us about this very topic and understand the importance of a good work/life balance, noting the role that employers can help play: “Switching off from work these days is increasingly more difficult as technology has eroded work/life boundaries. It is, therefore, more important than ever that employers play an active role in promoting good mental health and setting up measures to help employees manage work-related stress and improve their overall well-being.”
And Nicky from Anxiety UK told us that utilising allocated holiday and enjoying hobbies is a key ingredient in looking after your mental health: “Making sure you have a healthy work/life balance is also important. Sometimes work can leave us feeling burnt out and struggling to switch off from ‘work mode’. It’s important to take time to recharge; use your holiday allowance to recover and reset. If you aren’t able to take time off, participating in your hobbies outside of work will provide a boost to your mental health. Explore your interests and enjoy the company of friends, to remind yourself that you are more than just your job. Establishing boundaries in regards to habits like checking your work email out of hours will enable you to focus on other parts of your life.”
Understand the importance of time management
Image credit: Newscast Online
In the workplace, it can become difficult to stay on top of tasks, assignments and important deadlines, even when you are efficient at organising your time. So if you are a person that has failed to master time management, stress is something that you can very easily find yourself facing. If you don’t know how to plan your time well, the tasks ahead of you can appear to be daunting and as a result, you will burden yourself with stress that can easily be avoided. If you take the time to organise your working day, make a plan for what needs to be achieved before the day is done, noting down deadlines that need to be met, you can start to see what can feasibly be achieved with your available time. Mastering time management, knowing what to focus on and when, and creating an effective schedule, will help you to become much more proficient at planning ahead, and as a result, will help make managing your stress a much easier task.
There are a number of tools and resources available for those that want to improve their skills in this department. Mind Tools is an extremely helpful online resource that has provided a toolkit for helping individuals in areas such as team management, decision making, and, indeed time management. Areas that that Mind Tools advise focussing on are:
Beyond utilising the advice from resources like Mind Tools, there are also tools like Liquid Planner, a project organiser that can help you to focus on priorities, adapt to change, and visualise your resources. A dynamic project management software like Liquid Planner is designed to help eliminate the workplace stresses previously discussed so could prove to be helpful for you and your colleagues.
Avoid vices like smoking and drinking
Many people resort to various vices as a way of coping with stress but in fact, this can have a detrimental effect. Smoking and drinking, to take two examples, are often viewed as ways of managing stress at work or at home but research shows that these can make matters worse, by increasing feelings of anxiety. Nicotine for instance, creates a feeling of relaxation but only on a temporary basis which can then lead to withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol can be equally dangerous when used as a tool to deal with stress and to reduce anxiety as it can actually make one feel more anxious in the long term and exasperate existing mental health issues.
Those that exercise regularly will be aware of the great help it can provide in alleviating stress. Taking the time after work to partake in some light exercise will not only help take your mind of stressful matters but will help you unwind after a long day. Merely getting some fresh air, perhaps walking home from work, or walking the dog, can prove to be hugely beneficial. Exercise is not something that comes naturally to many people but in the present day, it’s never been more convenient or easy to make time for it. Personal trainers are in great supply and people like At Home Fitness can even come to your home or office. Online personal trainers are now even a commonly used practice. Experts like Scott Laidler can help transform your fitness by helping you to craft a custom training program and meal plan to improve your physical health.
Nicky Lidbetter of Anxiety UK acknowledges the importance of a healthy lifestyle in avoiding stress, suggesting some more options for how to do so: “After a long day at work it will be tempting to grab a quick fast food dinner and fall asleep on the sofa in front of the television, but it’s important to keep to healthy routines and make sure you’re eating right and getting enough exercise. A low-intensity activity like yoga can be done at home and will incorporate some of the breathing exercises we recommend for people experiencing anxiety.”
Advanced breathing techniques
If running or lifting weights isn’t something that you find appealing, there are a number of fantastic alternative options to helping relieve stress, such as yoga, Pilates, meditation, and advanced breathing techniques. Sudarshan Kriya is a powerful rhythmic breathing technique that de-stresses and draws you into a deep state of meditation, and more can be read about the benefits of Sudarshan Kriya over at The Art of Living UK. A representative from The Art of Living UK spoke to us about how they see the issue of stress in the workplace:
“The workplace is faster, more demanding and uncertain than ever before. Add to this the complexity of interpersonal interactions and corporate politics and the workplace can become a source of stress for so many of us. One thinks of changing the situations and people around us to be able to minimise this stress and this is not always possible to achieve. We don’t always control the environment or the colleagues we work with.”
The Art of Living UK suggests that breathing techniques, practices of silence, and introspection can be very beneficial in dealing with stress and as such, told us a little more about how Sudarshan Kriya can help:
“It is very difficult to control the mind with the mind. The people and situations we don’t want to think about are the ones we think about. In fact the harder we try the worst it gets. Remember those nights when you tried hard to fall asleep? However, breath can prove to be an effective tool to manage the mind. We have all probably told someone at some point to just take a few deep breaths to gain control over the situation. Researchers have found that there is a direct link between the breath and the state of mind, and using the right breathing techniques can leave us with a mind that is present, focused and resilient. Sudarshan Kriya (SKY), taught by the Art of Living is a powerful breathing technique that makes use of this correlation. Research has shown that it helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression and improves wellbeing, optimism, mental focus and immunity.”
Think about your life goals
As mentioned previously, stress can be part and parcel of work-life, especially in high-pressure careers, so if you are suffering from stress and know that it is your vocation which is at the root of the issue, it’s important to think seriously about if this is the right job for you. Think about your goals in life, what’s important to you, and if you can feasibly maintain your current position and a healthy mental state. If not, and you’ve realised you could be just as happy doing something with a little less pressure, think seriously about making changes to ensure a healthy future.