Work stress can come in a variety of guises, be it long hours, a workload that’s far too heavy, deadlines that are way too intense, interpersonal difficulties, performance expectations, sitting still for too long and doing repetitive things, the threat of redundancy, and more; the list goes on. And the impact of it on the working nation’s health is undeniable.
According to The Labour Force Survey 2011/12, around 22.7 million working days were lost last year because of work-related illnesses, whilst a recent study of over 3,000 people found that one-in-three said their stress was work-related.
Stressed out workers are more likely too feel irritable, experience mood swings, feel unable to cope and generally lead less productive working lives.
As a former journalist, I am no stranger to deadlines, pressure and performance expectations; as a therapist, I’ve been working in the occupational health branch of a major medical company for nearly five years, seeing people for a wide range of work-related problems.
Work stress itself can lead to a multitude of disorders including anxiety, depression, anger management issues, panic attacks, insomnia, alcohol and drug problems, tension headaches and migraines, even repetitive strain injury (RSI) and musculoskeletal problems, such as back and neck pain.
In fact, a recent report suggests that almost a quarter of workers have been living with daily aches and pains for up to two years, while the TUC estimates that around 200,000 people take time off work each year because of RSI.
The Healthy and Safety Executive (HSE) define stress as, “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work,” while the British Standards Institution (BSI) says, “Stress manifests as a physical, psychological or social dysfunction resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap with the requirements or expectations placed upon them.”
Technically, stress is the manifestation of the flight-or-fight response, a much-needed safety mechanism that helps alert you to danger and take the appropriate action. However, it’s meant to be a one-off reaction to specific challenges and pressures (running away like hell from a hungry lion or challenging a knife-wielding maniac, for instance).
Sadly, modern life is a never-ending series of threats and pressures; the chemicals associated with the fight-or-flight response are constantly dumping toxins in the body, creating physical and emotional ill health.
But, there are things you can do to restore the balance and become a healthy and productive working member of society once more.
- Meditation is an excellent stress buster
- Find a cognitive behaviour therapist or clinical hypnotherapist (studies have show both are highly effective in the treatment of work stress)
- Learn to manage your time more effectively – we waste a lot of time on unimportant tasks, so keep a ‘to do’ list and prioritise your day
- Adopt a health lifestyle – find time for exercise and eat well, these two things can work wonders
- Don’t bottle things up, it’s good to talk, especially to your line managers, it’s what they are there for
- Remember The Serenity Prayer, ‘grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” – some stressors can be challenged, others avoided and some simply need to be accepted
- Try to see things differently and adopt a rational thinking style, again both CBT and hypnotherapy can help you in this
- Take time out to relax, even if it’s just half an hour a day; make time for yourself
- Make time for your friends too
- Don’t take on too much, if you feel overburdened, say so