Recognising & Coping with Stress at Work
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this year’s focus for Mental Health Awareness Week (14th – 20th May) is stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.
Here at Careers, we want to make sure that students are prepared in all ways, including mentally and emotionally, when you graduate and enter the workplace. This week we’ll be posting tips, resources, links to websites, facts, figures, and blog posts from fellow students and alumni about stress, mental health, and work.
By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.
How does stress affect us at work?
Work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, more so than debt or financial problems.
The link between stress and work has been established for a long time, but recent studies suggest that stress and related health problems are on the increase, particularly amongst younger people.
The Mental Health Foundation carried out a survey of more than 4,500 people regarding stress at the workplace, and found that millennials – those aged between 18 and 38 – felt more under pressure at work than the previous generation, with more than a quarter (28%) stating that working through stress was expected in their job. This is compared with just 12 per cent of those aged between 53 and 71.
Similarly, about a third of millennials (34%) said that they felt stress made them less productive at work versus around a fifth (19%) of their older counterparts.
Overall, the data also revealed that across both generations just 14% of people said they were comfortable speaking to their manager about their stress levels.
AM I STRESSED?
Stress is a natural reaction to many situations in life, and we all experience stress differently. A moderate amount of stress can help us perform better in challenging situations, but too much or prolonged stress can lead to physical problems and more severe mental illness.
If you are experiencing the following symptoms for a long time, and feel they are affecting your everyday life or are making you feel unwell, you should speak to your doctor;
- feelings of constant worry or anxiety
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- difficulty concentrating
- mood swings or changes in your mood
- irritability or having a short temper
- difficulty relaxing
- showing disinterest
- low self-esteem
- eating more or less than usual
- changes in your sleeping habits
- using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to relax
- aches and pains, particularly muscle tension
- diarrhoea and constipation
- feelings of nausea or dizziness
- loss of sex drive
The Mental Health Foundation have produced a stress-level test, using the evidence-based perceived stress scale. Test your stress here.
Maintaining good mental health at work
Reducing stress and maintaining good mental health overall is important in the workplace. There are many things you can try to reduce stress before it starts to impact on your mental health:
- recognise the signs of too much stress
- identify what it is that you find stressful at work
- organise and prioritise your workload
- take your lunch breaks seriously – try to eat lunch away from the desk
- talk to your manager about how you are feeling – you may be able to reduce your workload, set realistic targets, etc.
- try to maintain a good work-life balance (see below)
- if you don’t feel supported at work, or if you feel as though you can’t talk to your manager, contact human resources or your trade union
- see if your organisation has an employee assistance programme, which can give you free advice and counselling
Maintaining a good work-life balance is easier said than done, but there are a few small things you can easily do to try and improve your mental wellbeing:
- take short breaks throughout the day as well as at least half-an-hour away from your desk at lunch:
- if the weather is nice, go for a walk or eat your lunch outside
- try to make lunch a social hour with friends and/or colleagues if you feel good around other people
- take time off if you need it; this can help you feel refreshed and actually increase your productivity in the long term
- use your holiday entitlement
- if you return to work after a period of sickness, talk to your manager about a ‘phased return’ to ease you back into things
- don’t let work be your life
- don’t forget about all of your other hobbies and interests
- meet up with friends who you don’t work with
- meet up with friends you do work with, but don’t talk about work!
- do something at the end of each working day, such as tidying your desk or making a list of what needs to be done tomorrow
- when you get home, try to relax!
we want to hear from you
For confidential support with mental health or suicidal feelings, call Samaritans on 116 123.
If you are experiencing problems that are affecting your studies or general wellbeing, get in touch with the University’s Counselling and Mental Health and Wellbeing services.