Anxiety, Mental health and wellbeing, General

16 January, 2012

Work related stress & how to manage it

Reports are indicating that many people are experiencing high levels of work-related stress. What does this mean for employee mental health and what can we do about it?

Employees are working longer hours and harder than ever before. They are faced with increasing demands and are working in increasingly competitive environments. Some workers are accepting work stress as a normal condition and often simply forget or get used to feeling such distress.

There is a difference between work place pressures and work-related stress. We must acknowledge that day-to-day pressure is often part of a person’s work life. But pressure can maintain productivity; stress does not.

Mind UK published some stark results from their survey of 2,050 workers, surveyed across the United Kingdom during the recession in the early 2010s.

  • 50% of workers had lost sleep because of work.
  • 50% reported low morale in their workplace.
  • Almost 30% reported working longer hours.
  • One in five reported that work stress had made them physically ill.
  • One in four had cried in their workplace as a direct result of work stress.

The initial response a person will offer the stressed worker is one of sympathy. This often develops into an acknowledgment of their difficulties. These conversations often end with a comment that they are lucky to have a job. This response is of little short-term or long-term use to someone who may be so stressed that they risk becoming mentally or physically unwell. This response also promotes a passive attitude towards managing stress and attempting to resolve the difficulty.

So what can be done?

Firstly we must acknowledge that work plays a central role in our wellbeing. Work is an important source of esteem, identity and fulfilment. It provides opportunities to interact socially and professionally with others. Lest we forget, it pays us too.

Secondly, if you are experiencing stress in your workplace or work life, you need to be honest with yourself. Is this coming from an aspect of your home or social life? Are you bringing it into your workplace or are you bringing it from your work life into your home?

By acknowledging your work stress, you can then begin to take responsibility for it. This process will begin by building your awareness of how stress affects you, where it’s originating and how you can begin to control it.

Identify how stress affects you

Identify how stress affects you

Stress can affect individuals in different ways. It can affect your physical or emotional health and change your day-to-day behaviours. Typically, a stressed employee can have difficulties functioning in a work environment.

It is important to be aware of how stress affects you. When you begin to notice these symptoms, it is time to take action.

Physical signs

Headaches, fatigue, perspiration (sweating), muscle pain, weight changes, chest pains, tummy pain and changes to your bowel habits.

Emotional signs

Feelings of negativity, depression, hopelessness, mood swings, increasing irritability and having a "short fuse".

Behavioural signs

Changes in your eating and sleeping habits, withdrawing from friends and family, increased use of cigarettes and alcohol.

Have you noticed any of the following signs?

Have you:

  • Had too many things to do at once?
  • Been unable to decide on where to start or how to prioritise your work?
  • Been forgetful about arranged meetings or deadlines?
  • Had difficulties managing your time?
  • Not taken breaks or lunch?
  • Brought work home, or worked longer hours than others or than expected?
  • Felt afraid to make a decision?
  • Felt overwhelmed and tearful?
  • Thought about work tasks during your leisure time or woken up thinking about work during the night?
  • Been beginning to feel less confident about the work you do?
  • Feeling irritated by colleagues or demands that would not usually bother you?
  • Had difficulties concentrating?
  • Had increasing difficulties saying no to additional or unreasonable demands?
  • Felt increasing difficulties asserting yourself?

If you have noticed any of the above signs over a two to four week period, you may be experiencing work stress and need to take action to manage this.

Identify where the stress is coming from

Identify where the stress is coming from

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a series of documents relating to workers' health. It has identified that work-related stress emerges from either your work content or your work context.

Work content

The tasks involved are meaningless or monotonous; there’s an unpleasant workload or an unpleasant pace of work; hours are unpredictable; shift patterns are antisocial; and your ability to participate in and influence decisions is minimal or does not exist.

Work context

Poor interpersonal relationships, few opportunities for development, poor status, poor pay, unclear roles, poor leadership and a blurred interface between home and work life.

Identify what you can do about work-related stress

Identify what you can do about work-related stress

You can both use self-help strategies and seek external help to manage work-related stress.

Self-care to manage work stress

  • Try to make your environment more comfortable; request items that will make your work easier.
  • Schedule and take regular breaks.
  • Leave your work station and move around.
  • Focus on eating nutritious food; avoid high sugar contents.
  • Schedule your annual leave in advance; try to take a break every quarter.
  • Separate your technological link with work: make a plan around not checking emails and messages and stick to it.
  • Confide in a trusted colleague and, if possible, your line management.
  • Practice assertive communication in work.
  • Develop and maintain some work-life balance.
  • Take regular exercise.
  • Breathe; take deep breaths regularly.

External help for work stress

  • Many companies use the services of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs); find out if your employer has one.
  • Many companies have a Humon Resources (HR) department, which will have policies on dealing with workplace stress. Consult with your line management about this or contact them directly.
  • Consult with your GP; they may recommend a counsellor or other healthcare professional who can help.
  • Seek out an occupational therapist, who can help you improve your participation in work and help you maintain your work-life balance.
  • Talk to your family and trusted friends, letting them know what’s troubling you.
  • Engage in yoga, tai chi, or mindfulness classes to slow down and learn to breathe.

Remember, you are not alone.

Remember, you are not alone.

Managing your work stress is a process that will take some time. It is important to remember that changing your work habits will take planning.

If you worried about your mental health or require some guidance and support, you can talk to an experienced mental health nurse in our Support and Information Service. This service is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excepting bank holidays); if you get in touch outside of these hours and leave a message, you will be contacted on the next working day. You can contact the service by calling 01 249 3333emailing or using our online contact form.

Learn more about workplace stress and burnout

Read and listen to more information about preventing burnout in the workplace below.

Remember, you have a right to work without experiencing mental health stigma or discrimination. You can learn more about your workplace rights here, or see what life without stigma at work looks like here.

Learn more about workplace stress and burnout