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It’s November, it’s cold, and the nights are drawing in. We have rising inflation, insecurity in financial markets, higher mortgages and energy bills, and a cost-of-living crisis not seen in a generation. Key workers are striking, there’s a war in Europe destabilising energy and fuel supplies, and to top it all, Christmas is just around the corner…. could we be any more stressed?!

Of course, as with all things, perspective is everything and we, at Parenta, like to see our glass as always half-full rather than half-empty, so we understand that it’s not just all about WHAT happens to us that is important – but rather HOW WE DEAL WITH WHAT HAPPENS TO US, that defines whether we sink or swim in any situation.

Most of us understand this perspective most of the time, so if we accidentally drop our phone and smash the screen, we may well be upset and annoyed, but the clear-thinking individual will soon realise that the screen can be replaced, and perhaps the phone was insured, or even better – could be upgraded! That person is able to cope, and although it’s annoying, the event does not derail them unduly.

Now contrast this with a person who is extremely stressed, perhaps by their job, their relationship, their children or just “everything”. Their stress levels are already on high alert, with the stress hormone, cortisol, coursing through their body, waiting to send them into fight, flight or freeze mode any moment in a bid to protect them from an immediate danger. When this person drops their phone and the screen smashes, it may just be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ as their stress levels hit crisis point. When this happens, their body starts to shut down its non-essential functions, such as logic, reasoning and communication, to focus on fighting, fleeing or freezing to ‘survive’. They may go into a red mist following an amygdala hijack where they find it difficult to talk, process what is happening correctly, or even hear what is said to them. Or they may just burst into tears and give up altogether.

The problem here is not the event itself, but the level of stress that the person is under to begin with, and whether there is any room left in their metaphorical ‘stress bucket’ at that time. If there is, the person is usually OK, and finds ways to cope. If there is not, then there is a problem which can ultimately place that person at high risk of significant illness, a breakdown, or worse.

Raising awareness of the stress problem

International Stress Awareness Week was created in 2018 by ISMA, the International Stress Management Association, to raise awareness about stress prevention and runs from the 7th – 11th November. It is a great time to stop, take stock and take steps to prevent the ill effects of stress in ourselves, colleagues and employees.

In 2018/19, 12.8 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Great Britain, affecting 602,000 workers. The majority of work-related stress related to workload (44%) whilst lack of support (14%), bullying (13%) and changes at work (8%) were also cited as reasons. Public services and education were in the top 3 industries affected, so these professions are at higher risk of workers suffering work-related stress.

Symptoms of stress

The main symptoms include:

  • Anxiety, nervousness and fear
  • Mood swings
  • Increased fatigue
  • Reduced focus and concentration
  • Lack of confidence
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Increased reliance on alcohol and substances

This is not an exhaustive list, nor are these exclusively work-related, but they are symptoms to look out for, and there are several stress tests available online to help people monitor their own stress levels on a regular basis.

What can be done?

There is a lot that can be done to alleviate work-related stress, and help people build resilience to other stresses without too much time or money (we don’t want to increase employers’ stress levels either) and there is a lot of useful information online for employers and workers alike to help people help themselves. This year’s theme is “Working together to build resilience and reduce stress”, so why not implement some of the suggestions below this November, to offer a helping hand to those who may need it?

1. Communication
Most people who are at bursting point due to stress, feel that they have nowhere to turn and there is little that can be done about their situation. They feel helpless and unable to cope. Communicating and talking things through can often bring people ‘back from the edge’ if they feel their voice is being heard, or that there are solutions that they may have missed. Make sure you offer opportunities for staff to talk to you and other colleagues and keep lines of communication open, encouraging people to talk openly about their mental health without fear of reprisals.

2. Workload support
Offering support about workload is vital to reduce workplace stress, since the majority of workplace stress results from work overload. If workload demands are unreasonable or unachievable with the time and money available, then it is time to think again. It is time to:

  • Give clearer instructions about what is a priority and what can wait?
  • Hire more people?
  • Reallocate shifts?
  • Redefine or redistribute responsibility?
  • Delegate?
  • Introduce flexible working?
  • Restructure?

3. Stress management training and toolkits
Holding a workshop or completing some training about how to manage stress can help people identify the physical and emotional symptoms early, before it is too late. ISMA offer training in this area, but there are many other related organisations that offer free information and toolkits too, such as:

4. The little things
Little things can mean a lot in the workplace and can often make the difference between someone feeling valued and cherished or taken for granted and overlooked. To promote the former, think about whether you could:

  • Set up a quiet or relaxation space?
  • Allow people to take some ‘time out’?
  • Offer yoga or mindfulness classes?
  • Run staff social events?
  • Say “thank you” more often?
  • Set up a staff voice?
  • Finish early one day a week?

Stress can be a killer – but you can make a difference this Stress Awareness Week that might just save someone’s life.

https://isma.org.uk/isma-international-stress-awareness-week 

The 2022 hashtags are:
#InternationalStressAwarenessWeek 
#StressAwarenessWeek
#NationalStressAwarenessDay
#StressSummit2022

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