More people are signing off work with mental health problems here than in any other country in the developed world. More than one in five of us have taken time off due to stress, whilst almost a third of us feel stressed at work all or most of the time. Work-related stress is the number one cause of staff absenteeism.
I come from a journalism and publishing background myself and am therefore no stranger to long hours, insane deadlines and dealing with more work than one person can feasibly manage.
But, work stress can be managed and I have several years experience – both in private practice and in working for the occupational health division of a major healthcare company – in helping people lead more effective working lives.
One definition of stress is, ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances,’ and, when it hits it can come in many guises:
Anxiety is all about threat and danger, where the fear that you feel may be out of proportion to the actual threat itself. When it comes to work, people can make themselves anxious about anything: the workload, office politics, reviews and appraisals, deadlines, you name it.
Another consequence of work stress is depression. People can depress themselves over pretty much the same things they can make themselves anxious about but, instead of being worried, they feel hopeless, helpless and without support.
What with a difficult daily commute, people often blow their stacks before they even make it to the office. Once there, the added pressure of a rude boss or colleague, the unfair request to work late again, the feeling that you are being taken advantage of can all add to the mix. But, whilst feeling frustrated is appropriate, blowing your stack is not.
When the pressure gets to much, people turn to unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol and drugs, even food and gambling. Once you are taught how to deal with the pressure more effectively, you no longer need such destructive crutches.
CBT’s unique view of things: that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturb you has a very clear benefit when it comes to work. We’re not ignoring the influence that work has on your health and wellbeing, in fact CBT actively acknowledges that the more pressured the job, the more is can affect you. However, that pressure can still be managed effectively and healthily – which is better for both you and your employer.