Managing work-related stress is no easy thing

Better minds better living with Dr. Yansie Rolston Monday, June 5 2017

THE fast-paced evolution of technology has revolutionised the world, affecting almost every aspect of our lives for better and for worse. There’s no denying that it has provided solutions which mitigate stressful situations.

Those of us who grew up before mobile phones and wifi know that our parents would stay awake frantic with worry when we stayed out beyond our 11 pm curfew. Nowadays that worry is easily alleviated by an unwelcome phone call while you’re out having fun, as they question you about where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, and what time you will be home.

However, modern technology has also led to the lines between professional and personal/leisure time being blurred and an increase in work-related stress. The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as “the reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures, arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected with their job, but find difficulty, strain or worry in doing so”, and research indicates that it is one of the biggest health problems in the workplace and has a significant impact on productivity.

Almost on a daily basis we hear people say “work is stressing them out”, but I was very taken aback when participants at a recent workshop indicated just how mentally and physical unwell and close to breaking point they felt as a consequence of unhealthy working environments and unrealistic expectations of their employers.

Some felt that workplaces were using austerity as an excuse to shirk their responsibilities for staff welfare, to give them unreasonable workloads, set unachievable targets, and embark on a culture of bullying and harassment. There is no denying that improving profitability, cost reductions, and increasing job pressures will be part and parcel of austerity measures, but researchers have found that these circumstances heightens the prevalence of mental and physical ill health in the workplace.

It’s clear that the saying “leave your stress outside the door when you come to work”, isn’t a realistic strategy, and managing workplace stress is no easy thing but it is often a symptom of an organisational problem and not individual weakness.

Stress is powerful, and it can be a killer –I’m not talking about the day-to-day stresses of life, but acute and chronic stress that initiates the “fight or flight response” causing stress hormones to flood the bloodstream; heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure to increase; and muscles to tense. Obviously, not all work-related stress will cause such drastic responses, but too much stress over time can undoubtedly create havoc on the body and mind, which can lead to mental health challenges or worsening of existing conditions.

You probably have those mornings when the thought of going to work fills you with dread; when you do as much work on holiday as you do in the office; when you experience an anxiety attack as soon as you get to the office door; have overwhelmed feelings of angst or anger; or an inability to concentrate – they are all indicators that it’s time to monitor your stress levels.

Identify your triggers and observe how you react to situations – pay attention to your emotions, and then choose how to respond.

Aim to be more emotionally resilient so that you are better able to adapt and bounce back when faced with challenging circumstances, and Take measures to ensure that you are getting adequate sleep and exercise, and maintain a healthy diet. The late comedian George Burns who lived to be 100 once said: “If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoid worry, stress and tension. And if you don’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” For those organisations where staff welfare is shortcoming I’d like to leave you with a quote from John Ruskin – social thinker. “In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have a sense of success in it.” Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at yr@ efficacyeva.com

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