Helping to reduce work related stress

green blog healthy happy familyIt’s pretty well known that each year in the UK 1 in 4 people will face a mental health problem of some kind.

Stress is one of the most common, and it can be caused by a lot of different influences. Relationships, work and money worries are right at the top of the list. Stress is essentially the feeling of being under unusually great pressure, and the physical and mental reactions we have to that pressure are wide ranging.

There are times when stress can be helpful – sometimes a bit of short lived stress is just what you need to successfully meet a deadline or make it through a challenge such as giving a public performance. Lots of people find that they produce their best work in the run up to a deadline when they start to really feel the pressure. Stress becomes an issue when it doesn’t cease, or when it is being caused by something which shouldn’t be happening, like workplace bullying.

Harmful, on-going stress in the work place can be caused by a range of issues which may require different approaches to resolve. Causes include a constantly overwhelming workload, bullying or difficulties with colleague relationships, insufficient support from managers or employers, and a lack of understanding or training around certain aspects of a role.

If you feel under significant pressure at work on a regular basis it can start to take its toll on your overall mental well-being, and ultimately it can lead to exhaustion and burn out. So it’s important to recognise the symptoms and work towards a solution. Some of the most common symptoms of stress include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduced appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Headaches
  • Difficultly sleeping
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fear

There are steps you can take to reduce stress and help yourself feel better, and sometimes you may also need to speak with your employer or manager so that they can make changes to reduce your stress. It’s also a good idea to visit your doctor, who will be able to advise you and if necessary even sign you off work for a short period to help you recover.

If your stress is being caused by an unmanageable workload it’s important that you do what you can to maintain a work/life balance and try not to let your work come home with you. If it’s impossible to stay on top of your work within normal hours then this is something you need to raise with your manager. Similarly, if one of your challenges is that you haven’t been properly trained on aspects of your role, you should speak to your manager or HR department about getting access to appropriate training, or changing your role to reflect your skills and abilities.

Workplace bullying can be a serious cause of stress, and it is something which must be addressed. Bullying will be against your employee policy, and if the victimising is based on things covered by the 2010 Equality Act (e.g. age, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs etc.) then you should be protected from this behaviour bylaw. Raise any workplace bullying with your manager. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so (or your manager is one of the problem colleagues) then you should meet with a representative of your HR department who will be able to help resolve the situation confidentially.

As well as getting to the root of what is causing your stress, it’s important that you take steps to help yourself relax and switch off from work. For example, it may help to implement a routine at home which helps you set time aside to take a break from work pressure. This could include allocating specific times in the week to sit and read or do some exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and exhaustion so it’s well worth finding space in your life to play sport, go for a run or even just take a long walk.

Getting away for short break – even if it’s just a long weekend – can also make a huge difference at least in the short term. It’s essential that you give yourself a break sometimes, which is why many employers will actively encourage you to take some holiday if you haven’t done so for several months.

There are a few different options for giving yourself a break from work stress. One suggestion is to get outdoors for a few days. Being outside and doing physical activities can be a great way to totally get away from your work environment. Something physical which takes you outside your comfort zone will help you switch off, and the endorphins released by doing exercise can help to fight the unhelpful adrenaline caused by constant stress. For example, a weekend spent cycling in Cornwall or a kayaking break in Scotland might be just what you need to shake off some stress and take control of your life again.

Another option is to just go for the full pampering experience. A spa break aimed specifically at rest and relaxation is a solid choice for stress busting. Getting massages, skin treatments and generally allowing yourself to be looked after for a weekend can help with a lot of the effects of stress. It relaxes you and can help with some of the physical symptoms like dry skin and muscle tension too. One option would be to take a weekend cruise. You can get access to spas and other therapies while on board a luxury ship, which also offers the chance to get some sea air – another great stress remedy. Have a look here for more info.

It’s important to remember that although stress can sometimes be helpful and positive, when it becomes the norm it is a physical and mental health risk. It’s important to make your employer and doctor aware if you feel that your stress levels are getting out of control. Take action yourself and ask for help to resolve the problem. There should be a happy medium between helpful pressure at work and the kind of pressure that can ultimately be damaging. And it is in the interests of your employer as well as yourself to make sure you get this balance right. Otherwise in the long run your work and your health may suffer.

For more information on how to deal with stress and anxiety, have a look at the resources on