Before we discuss what it means to manage stress, do we all agree on what stress is?
Stress: A Definition
Mind.Org offers an insight into what stress looks and feels like. It says:
"There's no medical definition of stress, and healthcare professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress, or how to deal with them. But whatever your personal definition of stress is, it's likely that you can learn to manage your stress better by:
- managing external pressures, so stressful situations don't seem to happen to you quite so often
- developing your emotional resilience, so you're better at coping with tough situations when they do happen and don't feel quite so stressed
Is stress a mental health problem?
Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem for you.
Stress isn't a psychiatric diagnosis, but it's closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:
- Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
- Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, healthcare appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.
This can start to feel like a vicious circle, and it might be hard to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.
Why does stress affect me physically?
You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach.
There could be many reasons for this, as when we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. If you’re often stressed then you’re probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could affect your health in the longer term."
5 Common Examples Of Stress At Work
Let's consider a few examples of work-related stress which might sound familiar to you, your friends or someone in your family.
Scenario 1: Working long or too many hours
Ruth works an 8am-4pm shift while most of her colleagues work 10am-6pm. The director of Ruth's company asked if she was willing to start earlier to ensure that someone was in the office to man the phones across their 8am-6pm opening hours, which she agreed to as it allowed her to spend more time with her family in the evenings. Meanwhile, the director arranges a weekly team meeting (which Ruth must prepare for and participate in) on a Friday afternoon, starting at 4pm as this is when the phones are at their most quiet. Ruth is told that she must attend this meeting, yet is not offered any overtime expenses. Instead, the director buys some cans of drinks and some snacks to make the meeting feel more social. All of Ruth's colleagues are paid up to the end of their shifts at 6pm.
Scenario 2: Unrealistic demands
John works for a busy IT firm, answering phone calls and logging support queries for his technical colleagues to work on. John also answers queries by email, which must receive a response within 2 hours. In addition to this, John is given a multitude of other deadlines, such as taking mail to the Post Office before 1pm, producing weekly analytical spreadsheets for each customer, ordering supplies, completing the online food shopping order and much more. Despite all of the deadlines that he must meet, John has no additional help and must work take his lunch hour whilst he goes to send the mail. In the meantime, he returns to his desk to find dozens of emails needing a reply instantly.
Scenario 3: A lack of support
Sharon works as a graphic designer in a small firm. Because they are so small, most of the design work gets thrown her way. She enjoys the challenges but struggles to meet the deadlines and feels she is set up to fail. Sharon would like to speak to a Human Resources member to verbalise her concerns and make it clear that she feels her expertise is being abused, however, the small team of four does not have an HR department and she therefore feels she has no control or say in how the work is distributed or managed for fear of losing her job.
Scenario 4: Confusion over one's role
Simon has just been promoted to Manager of Ambient Produce at a supermarket, where he has worked for 7 years and completed management training under their watch. Three months in, a new member of staff is outsourced to manage the shop floor, and who seems to think that Simon works for him. Simon's manager has stated that this is not the case, however, the team member continues to give him orders and is clearly unaware of who he was brought in to manage ad what job he was intended to fulfil.
Scenario 5: Work interfering with home life
Yann works as a colour expert at a busy-town centre hair salon. Already working regularly at the weekend and not having much time to spend with his young children, Yann is called two or three times a day on his mid-week day off to ask if he can fit extra clients in by coming in on one of his days off or by working a longer shift. The frequent calls interfere with him doing the school run and other family-orientated activities but he does not feel he can switch his phone off or ignore it because it is his personal number which the nursery have on their files. Yann has asked his boss to only call him in the case emergency, but with different receptionists and stylists working daily, this message is not always passed on. What's more, his number is passed around for others to call and text him so he feels there is a lack of privacy and no confidentiality with his details.
Looking To The Positive
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, we hope that you managed to find a positive outcome. However, if you are in the midst of a stressful situation or you finding this stage in your life quite challenging on your mental health, then we hope these tips can help you.
Managing stress is, as it suggests, the action of taking control of your feelings and looking to find a solution or maintaining a positive outlook. In order to manage stress, you must first of all identify the root of the stress, pinpointing exactly what it is that is causing you to feel so negative. This could be one awkward situation at work, or it could be a series of family conversations that have made you feel under pressure - whatever the cause, there's always a solution!
Take these DIY suggestions below, which could encourage you to look on the brighter side and keep negative feelings at bay!
Look for an opportunity
If you're faced with a tricky situation or you feel under pressure, try to think about one positive aspect to your conundrum. How can you take what you are feeling and turn it into an opportunity?
Live in a positive environment
If you are exhausted by all of the pressures that social media, LinkedIn, emails and even television place on your daily life, then why not eliminate these? Take a leaf from some other European countries whose workers switch off all of their work gadgets from the moment they leave the office until the moment they step back in. Who wants to read an email from work when there is absolutely nothing they can (or should!) do about it until the morning, leaving to worry unnecessarily and possibly ruin their whole evening?
We are probably all a bit guilty of living in the fast lane nowadays, what with so many things around us to occupy our minds. But, sometimes, our mind and body need us to just take a break and slow down. Do nothing for a little while. Why not book a retreat to the forest and spend a long weekend relaxing in a log cabin with no correspondence with the outside world?