The medical profession of the 21st century has been able to identify and diagnose the symptoms of stress more accurately than ever before and the number of people being diagnosed is on the increase. It is also able to identify some of the root causes and offer advice and help to reduce stress levels and help sufferers find coping techniques.
Modern life has, unfortunately, presented us humans with a specific set of conditions that conspire to promote stress.
In the workplace the effects of stress can cause depression and ill health for the individual and affect the health and safety of those working around them. As employers we must act as soon as possible to reduce the effects of stress and, where possible reduce the causes of workplace stress. But first we must understand what stress in the workplace is.
Stress is caused by our body’s defence mechanism, the release of powerful hormones, when in an effort to achieve specific goals we meet with some form of obstacle that prevents us reaching whatever goal it is. In the workplace it is often the build-up of emotion bought on by the perceived pressure to overcome an obstacle, achieve a goal, and to repress the urge to scream out loud that increases a person’s stress level. ‘Caught between a rock and a hard place’ is a common expression that clearly describes how we feel when under stress, when the threat or stressful situation passes our bodies normally return to normal and we feel better.
There is unfortunately no cure for stress, it is a fact of life that the body will always respond with the flood of hormones when it feels threatened, if it didn’t we would probably not have survived as a species and be able to achieve the advances we have, a little bit of stress is a good thing. We can, however, manage stress in the workplace by the ways in which we control the triggers (stressors) or the reaction we allow ourselves to display and the way in which we promote the recovery from a period of stress and avoid adopting unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol and substance abuse.
It is common to find a management culture that relies too heavily on achieving targets, sometimes to the detriment of personal life, and the workforce (and management) are pushed too hard to achieve. Target driven management cultures can incorporate stress relief as a target. Try including one or more ‘stress busters’ in each day, you may find it will help all of your employees (and yourself) and promote healthier working relationships.
One healthy option is to pause, take a breath to be better prepared to face the stressor or avoid it totally. I hope to give you a few pointers here in how to manage stress, be better prepared to face stressful situations and help you to have a better day.
Personally as a married father of 6 (including twins under three years old), home owner and full time consultant, I have my fair share of stress and often think there is no way I could cope with any more. When I start to feel this way I look at my day and try to plan in 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation as soon as possible, and try to do one of these simple things:
Grounding: kick off your shoes (and socks) and walk in the grass barefoot for a few minutes, taking deep breaths and just looking around at the world, taking in the wonders of nature and your surroundings. Sounds a bit fluffy and not always practical so I consider other options for instance, when forced in doors, the same sensation of grounding can be achieved by standing barefoot on a shaggy rug (you’ll always find one near my office). The same modern life presents great access to ‘virtual’ outdoor experiences (try logging onto a nature web cam or a virtual fireplace and watching the screen, imagine yourself there).
The Power Nap: Take 20 minutes, no more, with your eyes closed, in a quiet room, lying down if possible and you will ‘wake up’ feeling refreshed.
Connect with people: Get in contact with a friend, relative or colleague and talk through your problems or just have a darn good gossip with them, the diversion will give your mind time to reset your body, you never know you might even have a good laugh and find out something new.
Re-assess your goals: Look at your end result and break the task down into small achievable steps, make a note of each little win, look back in a while and see how much you really achieved. It will be more than you think.
Help someone out: being a good Samaritan really has its own reward. Find something you can do and offer that help to someone else, anyone. The feeling of wellbeing and self-esteem gained by helping someone else achieve something is really heart-warming.
Get a pet: Some workplaces are fortunate enough to be able to allow cats and dogs. Stroking a pet or taking it for a walk has an amazingly therapeutic effect. Watching fish in a tank can also be very relaxing if cats and dogs aren’t allowed.
Mindfulness: Something a little more challenging is to meditate for a period of time. Those of you with smartphones may be aware of Apps that guide you through a meditation. Really try to connect with yourself and find that inner calm place. Do it on your commute to and from work, but not if you’re driving!
Disconnect and take a walk: Turn your mobile device off, step outside, take a walk around outside take in the sights and breathe in air. Don't forget to let someone know where you are going and for how long, so they don't stress about where you have gone.
If you find these don’t work for you then contact your GP or a medical professional. Many health experts such as Public Health England and NHS Choices offer advice and support for sufferers of stress and stress related problems.
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