Stress in the workplace

April 28, 2017

Stress is an ever-present part of daily life, with the causes of that stress varying from interpersonal conflict, financial issues, the state of the world/politics and the workplace. In the UK alone, 440000 people between 2014 & 2015 reported symptoms of work-related stress, which can take both physical and psychological forms. Physical symptoms include random pains and aches, headaches, dizziness, tiredness throughout the day, heart attacks and unusual eating habits, such as eating too little or too much.

Psychological symptoms can include irritability, avoiding situations where you must confront the stress (talking to certain people at work, for instance), low self-esteem and possibly a dependency on substances such as alcohol or nicotine.

The symptoms are quite easy to misdiagnose, such as the various psychological effects of stress are also symptoms of major depressive disorder, a common illness throughout the world. Nevertheless, they’re a significant barrier not just to their work lives but their daily lives. Given a bad enough stressor, people can ‘snap’ at others, or even suffer a panic attack.

The reasons that people can suffer bad levels of stress at work can vary: your employees could be overworked, the work itself is boring, highly demanding, unpleasant or dangerous, external factors related to work such as not being paid enough to support themselves or their family and personal conflict between other workers and their supervisor.

Stress in the workforce is something that businesses are legally bound to reduce and prevent. The Health & Safety At Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations includes provisions on ensuring that business owners and superiors will minimise stress in their workforce, and there’s a history of employees pursuing lawsuits against some companies that ignore these regulations.

Unfortunately, these measures won’t be enough to stop every worker from feeling stress. The best ways to reduce stress in an individual worker would be to optimise your workload, such as time management planning, take your breaks when allowed rather than working through them, refusing overtime when it’s not needed, leaving the building during lunch hours, meditation or even use some of your holiday days to unwind and disconnect from work for a couple of days. Other things that can be done is make sure you get good sleep by removing negative factors such as drinking caffeine before bed, viewing a bright screen and so on. Indulge in your hobbies whenever you can in your free time, especially exercise as exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on mood and mental wellbeing.

Stress is a serious issue both in the UK and abroad. Both your mental and physical health will deteriorate during a prolonged period of stress, possibly ending in getting fired after snapping at a co-worker or taking it out on family members. If you’re working for a living, it’s difficult to tell what counts as ‘healthy’ stress that motivates you to work and ‘unhealthy’ stress that distracts you from working and harms your wellbeing. In any case, the NHS treats stress related illnesses and can identify the issue long before they become a serious illness, so consult your GP if you feel many of the physical and mental symptoms mentioned above.

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