Back in April, as the country went into a national lockdown, we were just beginning to comprehend the potential impact the coronavirus pandemic could have on the world. We marked Stress Awareness Month and discussed how important it was to address any stress and anxiety that may be brought about by the outbreak of this new, unknown virus. Little did we know that 6 months or so later, things would be just as difficult, if not more so, for so many people, both in the UK and globally.
Stress and mental health issues have never been more significant than now, and the challenges they present to millions of people never more serious than in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. These new challenges are of utmost concern for employers as well as individuals, as growing evidence shows their effects.
Recent research shows that almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020). Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults experiencing some form of depression felt their wellbeing was being affected, with 84.9% stating this. (Source: Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain. Office for National Statistics, June 2020).
What do we mean by ‘stress’?
It is such a widely used word, but ‘stress’ – in its literal sense – is the body’s way of responding to excessive, or too many pressures – and when this becomes overwhelming, stress occurs, as the body experiences the fight or flight, or stress response. This means that stress is not good for you and is an unhealthy state of body or mind – or both. Stress can be debilitating, and can cause and/or aggravate health problems. And since stress is a normal part of human life – nobody is immune to it – it’s important to arm ourselves with knowledge so that we recognise the signs ahead of when stress is going to rear its ugly head. The problem can be that sometimes we don’t even see it in ourselves if we are inwardly (or ‘blindly’) stressed.
International Stress Awareness Week, (2nd – 6th November) – organised by The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) – brings together many countries from around the world and unsurprisingly, the theme this year is “managing stress and mental health issues in the age of COVID-19”. During the week, there will be the first ever online global stress and wellbeing summit and anyone can register and attend the various interactive debates, webinars and workshops focused around guidance on stress management, mental health and employee wellbeing.
There are many free resources on the ISMA website here which you can download and make use of in your setting, as part of team or individual meetings.
Try some of these stress busting tips too, which you can either discuss in team meetings, or one-to-ones.
Time is of the essence
In general, we waste a lot of time doing the least important tasks, especially when stressed – so try to prioritise your day in the morning and get the most important tasks done first – easier said than done in a busy setting, but if you leave the least important ones until last, you may find that they disappear off the list completely!
Do not put off the unpleasant tasks – avoidance causes a great deal of stress. Give unpleasant tasks a high priority and do them first.
Fruit, veg and exercise!
A healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep means that our body will cope better with stress. Relaxation also helps your body return to its normal healthy state. Good relaxation techniques include breathing exercises and massage.
Don’t over commit
We can cause ourselves a great deal of stress because we do not want to let people down, which results in us doing more than we should.
Delegate and be assertive so that you can say ‘no’ without feeling guilty yourself, or upsetting or offending others.
Discover the root
Take time to discover what is worrying you and try to change your thoughts and behaviours to reduce it.
The stress test mentioned in the pink box can help with this.
Try to avoid conflict and look for a resolution to a dispute where both parties can achieve a positive outcome.
Find out what the real cause of the problem is and deal with it.
You can’t always change things
Changing a difficult situation isn’t always possible.
Try to recognise and accept things as they are and focus on the thigs that you do have control over.
Recharge those batteries
You will perform more effectively during work if you take regular 10 or 15 minute breaks during the day although that’s not always possible.
Just as important is at least one annual break of one or two weeks.
Be a social butterfly!
The down time that we have with friends helps us relax and it boosts the immune system that is often depleted during stress.
See things from a different perspective
If something is bothering you, try to see it differently. Talking to a friend or colleague or a family member will help you see things from a different and less stressful perspective. You may also need to consider professional help in order to achieve the desired outcome and prevent ill health and/or burnout.
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants – too much and the body reacts to this with the stress response, increasing or even causing anxiety symptoms. Alcohol is a depressant, so steer clear when going through a stressful time.
The Stress Management Society has devised a stress test which you can take and also share with colleagues. You will be asked a series of multiple choice lifestyle questions around common stressors and at the end of the test you will be given a score and a personalised report, together with recommendations. These could be ideal to use in your staff reviews and one to-ones. You can take the test here.