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It’s not surprising that post the pandemic, work related stress, depression and/or anxiety was higher than the 2018/19 pre-pandemic levels. A 2021 survey conducted by the Labour Force showed that the number of new UK work-related stress cases was 451,000, an incidence rate of 1,360 per 100,000 workers (HSE: Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain). Stress and anxiety also accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases, making it the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK (Mentalhealth.org).
Not only has the pandemic likely exacerbated existing challenges but research shows that it has also severely affected people’s resilience and now more “people are resorting to potentially harmful ways of coping, including increased alcohol consumption, substance misuse and over eating, putting their mental and physical health at greater risk” (Mental Health foundation: Resilience across the UK during the Coronavirus pandemic).
It’s therefore more important than ever for employers and HR functions to monitor employee stress levels and ensure they have an effective framework in place to detect early signs of distress. This can significantly help to prevent and/or lessen challenges before they escalate.
At Search, we have a number of strategies in place to ensure employees feel comfortable in speaking up about how they’re feeling. Jillian Fleming, HR Manager at Search says:
“We’re committed to talking openly and honestly at Search, encouraging managers to have an open door policy and regular communication lines with their team members. Even if people seem fine, you may find that a brief, informal chat could unearth issues that weren’t previously obvious. It’s key that employers provide employees with as many opportunities as possible to share thoughts or concerns. This will go a long way in developing trusted relationships and respect.”
This mental health awareness week, take some time to reflect on your situation, work-life balance and your approach to health. Stress can have detrimental affects on your physical and mental wellbeing, sometimes leading to chronic long term health challenges so proactive management is key. Below are some steps you can take to help you identify early triggers, combat stress levels and create a positive working environment.
Figure out what makes you stressed
How can you manage this? What coping techniques work best for you? Everyone deals with stress differently so find techniques that work to keep you calm and motivated when you feel the pressure mounting.
Some useful strategies;
· Review your work-life balance – Post Covid-19, more of us are working remotely which can often make it difficult to set boundaries for when work stops and life starts (especially in the evenings!). Set these boundaries and stick to them – it is so important to give yourself time to unwind.
· Add structure - Adding some structure to your diary, where you have commitments outside of work to look forward to, can help to prevent you from working long hours and create boundaries for a fulfilling work and social life.
· Practice meditation or yoga – Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help to activate a state of restfulness and counterbalances the body’s fight or flight hormones.
· Manage your time and plan ahead – When you manage your time effectively and plan your workload you’re less likely to feel stressed. Good time management is essential for handling heavy workloads and can help to reduce long-term stress. It helps to increase productivity, creativity and puts you in control of your responsibilities.
Prioritise a healthy lifestyle
Poor health habits can add stress to your life and affect your ability to manage it, it’s therefore essential to take time out to focus on your personal wellbeing and understand what makes you happy.
· Build in regular exercise – Exercise helps to balance the nervous system and increases blood circulation helping to flush out stress hormones. Even an average paced, 20 minute daily walk can make a difference.
· Monitor your water intake – Your adrenal glands produce extra cortisol, the stress hormone, when you’re stressed which often results in reduced electrolytes in the body. Drinking water can help to replenish electrolytes and reduce the physiological impact of stress.
· Ensure you have enough sleep – Sleep is a powerful stress reducer, it can calm and restore the body, support memory, retention and improve concentration. When you’re well rested your able to problem solve more effectively.
· Take a holiday – Changing your environment or just simply taking a break can reset your stress tolerance by increasing your mental and emotional outlook. Take a break from the laptop and phone and reconnect with nature.
· Do something you enjoy regularly – Whatever it is; reading, listening to music, getting creative, engage in activities that create happiness. Research shows enjoyment can reduce stress by almost half whilst also reducing your heart rate.
· Connect with people – Spend time with people in your life that make you happy or who are important to people, it’s well known that talking face to face with people helps to reduce loneliness and releases those ‘feel good hormones’.
Work smarter, not harder
Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! Know your deadlines and communicate with your team so you don’t get bogged down by several unnecessarily difficult tasks at once. It’s also a great idea to put easy, ‘mindless’ tasks on your to-do list that you know will get done. Completing any tasks, easy or hard, will make you feel positive, lowering stress levels (NHS).
Ask for help
Your superiors, HR team and work friends, are all there to help you. If you’re feeling like stress is getting in the way of your work and affecting your mental health, talk to someone. A brief, informal chat can help you realise that you’re not alone and that there are a number of people who want to support.
Remember, stress isn’t always bad!
Stress can be energising and exciting; it can make you feel motivated to complete work to a high standard (NHS ). It’s just important to understand and recognise the difference between good and bad stress and where that boundary lies.
With the majority of our time spent at work, it’s essential that we take the time to prioritise our health and manage the implications associated with stress to maximise our enjoyment in and outside the office.
Check out our other helpful blogs you can read this Mental Health Awareness Week:
Further resources and advice for managing stress at work: