We all experience stress at various points in our lives – before exams at school, moving house, before a sporting event, deadlines and presentations, tricky relationships – and a small amount of stress can actually be a good thing. Stress can energise and focus you, raise performance, and make you feel raring to go! However, too much stress – especially if it goes unchecked over time – can be extremely debilitating and lead to further health issues, such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and stomach complaints, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
As such, it is important to be able to recognise the signs of ongoing stress in yourself and then take some action to reduce that stress. If you have a position of responsibility at work it’s equally important that you can recognise the signs of stress in others and know how to help them.
The symptoms of stress can vary from person to person, but common symptoms could include:
- feeling grumpy and short-tempered with others and/or emotional
- being anxious, nervous, constantly worrying and possibly dreading work or certain situations
- feeling depressed, unable to enjoy yourself or disinterested in life
- finding it hard to make decisions
- avoiding situations that are troubling you
- biting your nails
- unable to concentrate
- eating too much or too little
- drinking alcohol or smoking more than usual
- feeling restless, like you can’t sit still or like your thoughts are racing. You might feel that you can’t switch off.
Physical signs could be:
- breathing difficulties and hyperventilation
- panic attacks
- muscle tension
- blurred eyesight or sore eyes
- problems getting to sleep or staying asleep
- tired all the time
- grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
- chest pains
- high blood pressure
- stomach problems
Practical Steps to Reducing Stress:
Seek medical advice. If you are experiencing any of the physical signs of stress then your first action should be to seek medical advice from your GP as soon as possible.
Work out your the causes of stress. Identify what causes you to feel stressed and what helps you to reduce your stress levels. Talking to a friend or perhaps a professional coach can help you work through this, as can keeping a diary of ‘stress triggers’ and stress releases.
Talk to your employer. Once you’re clearer on your personal pressure points, do speak to someone at work and ask for help. Stress is sadly a common workplace issue. According to States statistics, 5000 days a year in Jersey are lost to stress (and stress is probably under reported). It is certainly a problem that employers simply can not afford to ignore (both financially – the impact on productivity is huge – and legally).
Most employers will want to work with you to help you feel better, whether the cause of your stress is work-related or not, and working with your employer to make adjustments to your role or workplace (such as reducing your workload or enabling you to work flexibly) is usually the quickest and most effective way to reduce stress.
Discover your personal coping mechanisms and build them into your every day life. Experiment with different coping mechanisms as soon as you feel your stress levels rising. Be disciplined and make sure you prioritise these coping techniques so that they become a part of your every day life. Different techniques work for different people, but examples that are proven to help reduce stress levels include:
– Talking and sharing your worries with friends and colleagues. There are lots of support groups for various mental health issues available on social media, many of them very well informed, but real conversations with real friends will always be more effective at combating loneliness and giving you a boost. If you lack the right friends to turn to, then charities, such as Mind, offer excellent support services that you can use for free. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
– Seek a better balance at work and don’t live for work. Simply working longer and longer hours ‘to get things done’ is not a productive work approach and one that will only contribute to your stress levels.
Instead, get some help with how you manage and balance your workload. Keeping a log of how you spend your time at work can be very revealing about how how much of your time is spent dealing with unimportant distractions and putting things off, or doing work that you could be delegating to someone else.
You might also find that you spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with urgent work, such as fixing problems, crisis management, urgent deadlines, etc – which are hugely stressful activities. By prioritising and scheduling time for activities that are important, but not urgent, such as project planning, building relationships and developing strategy, you should find that the number of urgent tasks drastically reduces – and so does your stress.
– Take the time to look after yourself by eating well, exercising regularly, finding time to do activities you really enjoy and getting enough good quality sleep. There is lots of good advice freely available about looking after your own well-being, so do use it to find ways to improve in each of these areas.