Is stress at work making you unhappy?

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There’s Good News As Well As Bad News!

In this blog I hope to address the issue of stress in the workplace in the hope that it will help people to recognise stress before it results in feeling unable to cope. I also hope to show people how they can not only take steps to avoid undue pressure at work but also what to do if it’s already becoming problematic. So there’s good news as well as bad news!

The Bad News

Stress is known to cause high levels of absenteeism at work, some of it long-term, and to reduce productivity. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development stress has become the most common reason for long-term absenteeism, above back problems, cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Work brings structure to our lives, creates relationships and provides satisfaction. A certain amount of pressure can help us. Many of us perform better under pressure. However, if the workload is too high, deadlines are looming and support, resources and understanding are in short supply, the pressure can become stressful. Fortunately, poor working conditions may be in the minority but difficult colleagues, unrealistic expectations, long working hours, lack of proper breaks, bullying and harassment are among factors may cause additional stress.

Pressure in itself is not necessarily bad for people ; some people thrive on it, but it becomes stressful when it exceeds a person’s ability to cope. However, stress triggers a physiological reaction in the body commonly known as the fight or flight response and can sometimes result in panic attacks. Hormones are released that increase the heart rate and raise the blood pressure; breathing accelerates, the heart goes into overdrive and we become hypervigilant; it can feel highly unpleasant and sometimes frightening when we experience this reaction. Many situations can set off the fight or flight response and if we are experiencing additional pressures such as family demands, financial worries, separation, moving house etc. we become vulnerable to reaching the stage of no longer feeling able to cope.

It’s important to recognise symptoms of stress and to tackle it as early as possible. Allowing the pressure to build until we struggle to cope makes it much harder to resolve the negative impact which can be psychologically, emotionally, physically and behaviourally damaging. People react differently to stress and there are many variables that determine at what level someone may become unable to cope.

Symptoms of stress include loss of concentration, loss of motivation and commitment, irritability, aggression, withdrawal and mood swings. People may begin to feel less self-confident, disappointed with themselves, anxious and perhaps depressed. Physical symptoms include indigestion, headaches, chest pain, insomnia, muscle tension and back pain. Unhealthy behaviour patterns may develop concerning eating, sleeping, sociability, smoking and alcohol intake.

The Good News

There are many steps we can take to avoid or address stress may include saying ‘no’ to unreasonable workloads and deadlines with a clear explanation of the rationale. Other steps are developing relationships at work to create a support network, working reasonable hours, taking regular breaks and using your full holiday allowance. Maintaining a healthy work/life balance, improving the working environment where possible, eating a healthy diet and taking walks for fresh air and exercise are also beneficial.

Exercise may sound boring to some people but it helps reduce stress hormones and stimulates the release of endorphins causing us to feel good. There are many ways to get good exercise and doing it with a friend or a group can be more fun. Five good exercise sessions a week are recommended combined with controlled breathing and good relaxation techniques. Controlled breathing and relaxation techniques blog coming up soon, so watch this space!

Stress sufferers may choose to talk to a trusted colleague or friend for support before talking to a manager. It’s important to talk about our difficulties, and how we feel, in a calm non-confrontational way. Managers have a duty to help resolve the cause or problem. Most companies have policies for dealing with bullying and harassment. In extreme cases union or legal representation may be advisable.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, and perhaps depressed or anxious, don’t suffer in silence or feel that your problems are too insignificant to warrant getting help. If you’ve already spoken to a friend or perhaps don’t have anyone you can trust to talk to, seeing a professional counsellor may help you. It’s good to talk so that you feel less alone and a professional can help you to put some coping strategies in place.

gerri@gerricrossleycounselling.co.uk 07758 468 231 @gccounselling

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