National Stress Awareness Day: Are you suffering from workplace stress?

07 November 2018

Today is National Stress Awareness Day. It helps raise awareness in our workplaces and communities and is a reminder that stress can have serious implications on our mental and physical health. It’s also an opportunity to check in with ourselves and ask “Am I feeling stressed?” and if so “Do I need to get support”.

Workplace Stress

Many of us believe that we thrive on stress. While demanding workloads, tight deadlines and high pressure environments can be very exciting and energising, being stressed for long periods of time is not good for our health. That’s because stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and others) over extended periods of time, more than 24 hours, start to have a detrimental effect.

Short bouts of stress hormones are actually good for us. They increase brain function, heighten our senses and increase alertness. It’s for this reason that many people find they’re really productive when they’re under pressure. If you’re feeling stressed because you need to get a report finished by a 5pm deadline, that’s probably OK because the stress hormones will help you focus and get the job done. But if you’re feeling stressed day-in-day-out, that’s not good. Overexposure to stress hormones, especially cortisol can disrupt your body’s processes and puts you at risk of numerous health problems including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and poor memory and concentration.

If you’re regularly suffering from any of these issues, and haven’t identified an underlying reason for it, consider whether stress could be a factor.

What Can You Do?

If stress is having a detrimental impact on your health, it’s time to get help. These days stress is a problem for many people. It’s a reflection of our modern ‘always on’ world, where we’re bombarded with information and demands 24/7. The theme of this year’s National Stress Awareness Day is ‘Does Hi-Tech cause Hi-Stress?’ in recognition of how we’re all affected by this relatively new ‘always on’ culture.

There’s no shame in saying that you’re feeling stressed, whether because you’re inundated with emails or because you’re finding other aspects of your job demanding. Your line manager or HR manager will be fully aware that workplace stress is an issue for many employees: particularly in the healthcare sector.

They will be supportive because your mental and physical health is important to employers as well as your friends, colleagues and family. If they can offer help and support, they will! Speak to HR, occupational health or your line manager to let them know how you’re feeling and explore with them ways to reduce your stress levels at work long term.

In the short term it may be possible to lessen your workload or make other changes that will provide you with some space to make a full recovery. Your employer may also offer an Employee Assistance Programme that provides access to practical support, helplines and also face-to-face counselling (if necessary).

As a starting point there are lots of self-help materials available that offer practical tips for coping with stress. Ask your HR department about these. It’s important to recognise that in many cases it won’t be possible to remove stress from your working life completely, so as individuals we all need to learn ways to cope with stress in a healthier way.

Practical steps such as eating healthily, getting some exercise and making time to relax and switch off from work, will help build resilience and a healthier body and mind. Spending time outside of work doing the things you enjoy and in the company of supportive family and friends will create more balance in your life. Help from your employer and colleagues will give you the tools to deal with stress in the workplace and ensure it doesn’t affect your ability to do your job or your job satisfaction.

Next steps…

In summary:

Get help early – if you think you’re suffering from workplace stress speak to your employer today.

Ask about Employee Assistance Provisions – from self-help leaflets to face-to-face counselling, find out what’s available.

Tell your friends and family – talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling, it’s important to have support outside of work as well as within your workplace.

Make healthy changes – are you eating healthily, taking regular exercise, and ensuring that you get time to relax after work and family commitments? If not, make some changes to build a healthy body and mind.

Switch off your mobile – if you can, switch off your phone for a few hours. At the very least have time out from social media and other digital technology to give yourself a break. Even when it’s entertaining, constantly consuming information creates stress. Also make sure you’re not using screens before bedtime, the blue light emitted from screens can delay the release of melatonin (which induces sleep) and can upset our body’s clock.

Have fun outside of work – try to make the most of your time off by doing things you enjoy. If you’re finding it hard to motivate yourself, ask your family and friends to help.

To find out more about Employee Assistance Programme and the support they offer, click here.

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