Your team is more likely to meet its goals if they are happy, healthy, and engaged. Although it’s impossible to eliminate stressful situations, there are some steps you can take to prevent stress and help others deal with it effectively.
Studies show that 13.7 million working days are lost yearly in the UK because of work-related stress and depression, costing £28.3 billion yearly (NICE). Most of us will experience stress and anxiety at some point in our lives, as it is a natural human response to threats, and experiences will manifest differently for every individual. That is why it is so important that we treat every person from an intersectional approach when providing support for employees’ wellbeing.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
- Stress: usually a response to many causes, such as a tight deadline at work or arguing with someone, and usually disappears or reduces once the situation has been resolved.
- Anxiety is typically described as apprehension or dread when there is no real threat and is disproportionate to the situation. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed.
When it becomes persistent/out of proportion/debilitating, anxiety is often experienced alongside other conditions – depression, suicide, etc. In some cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder and can affect day-to-day life. (GAD, Panic disorder, Social Anxiety disorder, Phobias, OCD, Health anxiety, Skin picking, Hair pulling, PTSD).
It is essential to understand that anxiety is normal and that anxiety is one word for many different experiences – some mild, some severe and is a natural response to pay attention to, not to feel shame about, yet to take seriously. Anxiety can be managed with professional help, lifestyle changes, and coping strategies. It is essential to seek help as soon as possible if you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
How can we manage stress and anxiety at work?
Workplace stress can feel isolating, but it is a collective experience (oxytocin = the connecting hormone) even while it’s a unique feeling. The opportunities within workplaces and families to acknowledge and plan for stressful times are critical.
Separate the Stress from the Stressors
The stress response has been genetically built-in since the beginning of time. Early humans lived off the land and were vulnerable to the climate and predators, requiring them to have an alert system and hyper-ability to defend or flee the scene since their survival depended on it.
Stress cycles were frequent, and the reaction to them was very physical in nature. However, it is critical that humans always complete the stress cycle, bringing the body back into its resting state – thus resolving the stress they experienced.
An example of this would be the celebration, feasting, and rest that followed a challenging hunt – where there was a clear conclusion and resolution of the stressful event.
Whereas, with today’s lifestyle, the physiological stress response is the same, but our stressors are different. We aren’t fighting back physically or running for our lives, but we are more cognitively triggered by deadlines, childcare challenges, commutes, financial pressures – and the list goes on.
These stressors run continuously through our daily lives, overlapping and repeating almost seamlessly. We often only truly achieve restoration during vacations, when we exercise/ meditate, etc. But generally, it’s difficult to remove our body and mind from these situations – and frequently, we don’t get closure, and the stress cycle doesn’t get resolved.
The Stress Cycle
What can we do at work collectively to complete the stress cycle?
- Planning: when you know stressful times are coming up, plan for it together – acknowledge and give everyone a chance to be seen, heard, and supported in the process – acknowledging that each group/individual will have a different need in the process;
- Action: the plan might be the same, but the experience is different. Becoming more specified for each stressful experience at work and the individual impacts it may have on each demographic within your organisation, i.e. single-parent families;
- Regulation: Build in regular moments to restore and rebalance;
- Reflection: Complete the stress cycle together – finish together and acknowledge the end of the period with a rewarding solution, like an office massage or mindfulness workshop to help calm the nervous system.
What are some of the leading causes of stress at work?
A recent study conducted by CIPD research shows that poor management is the main reason for workplace stress. Heavy workloads due to poor management are the leading cause of stress, while management style is the second most common reason. Other sources of workplace stress include organisational changes, pressure to meet targets, lack of clarity about expectations, and lack of support from managers.
As a manager, you play a crucial role in reducing the causes of stress and helping people manage stress factors related to returning to the office and hybrid working post-COVID-19 pandemic, including anxiety and difficulty coping with change. Actions such as getting to know your team better, leading by example, reviewing workloads, and preventing potential issues can create a happier and healthier work environment.
Based on research and data gathered from our WorkSpa clients, it has become more evident that managers need specialised support in identifying signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress and training on conducting early interventions by developing confidence in having efficient and open conversations about mental health.
Based on our findings, we have developed a WorkSpa Stress Awareness Programme that focuses on four key topics;
- What is Stress versus Anxiey?
- Supporting Stress and Anxiety in the Workplace and understanding the stress cycle and curve.
- Understanding and Preventing Burnout
- How to Have Constructive Wellbeing Conversations.
Our team of expert consultants and experienced psychotherapists provides evidence-based information to equip employees with the tools to recognise signs.
Alongside our programme, we also recommend;
- A team of mental health first-aiders that can provide a safe and supportive environment at work for employees who need emotional support. This can help alleviate any unease an employee may feel about bringing their needs to work and allow them to feel more authentically supported.
- When employees suffer from stress and anxiety, offering flexible working options can help. This is not only a legal obligation in the UK, but it also increases employee productivity and efficiency levels.
- It’s crucial to ensure that workloads are manageable and realistic to eliminate the negative effects of stress caused by excessive pressures. Managing anxiety can help increase productivity, reduce turnover, and decrease the chances of human errors.
- Learning stress-reducing practices and incorporating them into the workday and team culture. Thinking about solutions that calm the nervous system, such as massage and mindfulness, can also help promote wellness.
If you would like to learn more about our Programmes, get in touch with our team.