As part of Stress Awareness Month, we highlight the symptoms of stress and the importance of creating a work culture supportive of mental health.
As national restrictions begin to ease once again, there is a collective feeling of cautious optimism after what has been an extremely turbulent and challenging year.
No workplace has been unaffected by the pandemic, whether industries have continued to operate throughout, have furloughed the majority of their employees or been forced to close altogether, all workers have had to adapt in an ever-changing climate. The furlough scheme has provided much-needed financial protection for so many businesses, however with the scheme scheduled to cease at the end of September, there are further unknowns as to what the future holds for business owners and employees.
This lack of control and uncertainty can sometimes become overwhelming and we are seeing the impact of such excessive mental and emotional pressures, otherwise known as stress, on many people.
Symptoms of stress
Whilst some amount of stress can be useful to aid productivity and motivation, giving us that extra nudge to complete an upcoming deadline, too much can create a huge strain on both the mind and body. It can manifest itself in a number of ways, causing more problems mentally and physically.
Common signs and symptoms of stress include headaches, muscle tension and stomach problems, as well as changes to behaviour such as becoming more irritable, sleeping less and eating more or less.
Does any of this sound familiar?
How to manage and reduce stress
Whether you are experiencing these symptoms or recognise them in someone you know, it is important such thoughts and feelings are acknowledged in order to recognise when stress is causing us problems. At this point, identifying the root cause(s) can help provide clarity about what changes can be made to lessen some or all of the stress.
Feelings of a lack of control are understandable, particularly in the context of an ongoing pandemic, therefore it is really important to focus on what can be controlled by means of practical solutions.
There are also several, small lifestyle changes that can help protect you from stress. Eating healthily, exercising regularly and adopting a healthy lifestyle are all proven to help overall wellbeing, but they can also help to protect against feelings of pressure and overwhelm.
It is also vital to make time for relaxation and create a restful environment for good-quality sleep.
Healthier workplaces can help
Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, mental ill health cost the UK economy over £34 billion each year, with the largest part of the cost caused by presenteeism: those who are working but are unwell, significantly reducing their ability to do their job effectively and creating potential physical health problems in the long term.
Although it may not be work-related stress causing people difficulties, workplaces can be a significant source of mental and emotional pressures.
Employers who commit to investing in workplace wellbeing, including mental health, are more likely to benefit from a healthier, happier and more present workforce as their employees feel more valued, motivated and productive.
Often it is small but impactful changes that can help. At a time when more people than ever before are working from home, it is important employees feel connected with their colleagues. Encouraging workers to talk to each other on a team and company-wide basis can help build relationships and inspire people to share their experiences and concerns. This can help to relieve some feelings of stress and increase self-confidence and overall job satisfaction.
Another way of ensuring people feel valued is to use the ‘Ask twice’ technique; ask a colleague how they are and more often than not you will be met with “I’m fine.” Asking the same question again can help to provoke meaningful conversations about how someone is truly feeling at that time.
Be kind to yourself
The ‘be kind’ movement has gathered momentum over the past year and being kind to ourselves is crucial in preserving mental health.
Feeling worried and stressed is an entirely appropriate reaction to many life situations, including an ongoing pandemic. It is important to remember that having a bad day is a universal experience and there is no failure in feeling this way.
Being accepting and kind to ourselves can go a long way in alleviating some of the mental and emotional toll.