A certain amount of stress is beneficial within the workplace, but occasionally stress can spiral out of control, making it very difficult to function. Everyone reacts to stress in a different way meaning that it’s important, as an individual to recognize when you need to take steps to alleviate the amount of pressure you’re under.
What is stress?
Stress is very difficult to define, as everyone reacts differently and can cope with different levels before health is affected. Primarily stress causes your body to enter “fight or flight” mode, which is what our ancestors relied on to escape from predators and fight in battles. When our body enters the fight or flight mode hormones and chemicals – mainly adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol are released. Our bodies response to this burst of chemicals, include a rapid heartbeat, a rush of energy and blood flow is diverted to our muscles, in order to run away quickly from the sabre tooth tiger!
Problems start to occur when high levels of stress are sustained. Our body simply cannot function effectively in a constant state of high alert. High cortisol levels can become detrimental to our health. Because our blood is diverted to muscles, brain function can be affected causing brain fog and forgetfulness.
If you work in a high pressure environment stress levels can rise very quickly, especially if you don’t get chance to destress at any point during the day. Stress can escalate until you feel as though you are on an emotional rollercoaster. If your workload is too high you may feel overwhelmed and spend unproductive time flitting from one task to the next. Your psychological health and physical health can be affected and pressure felt within the workplace can affect your personal life too.
Signs and symptoms
If you find yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms you should seek help to lower stress levels, or look at self help options. The signs and symptoms can vary in severity in different people.
- Problems concentrating
- Irritability and aggression
- Digestion problems
- Disinterest and apathy
- Reliance on alcohol and drugs in order to cope
- Lower immunity – meaning that you seem to pick up viruses and infections easily
How to combat workplace stress
There are many options available, so try not to internalize how you are feeling. Everyone feels pressure from stress at some point in their lives, so don’t feel embarrassed about having to seek help. Each year in the UK around 30 million work days are lost due to stress related conditions and injury, therefore your employer will be keen to ensure that you don’t join the statistics.
Often we are reluctant to pass on tasks to others within the workplace, because you feel it’s quicker to do it yourself, you don’t want to look a failure or there is no one else trained to do the tasks. It is a simple fact, however that you cannot do everything! Prioritize your workload and make the tasks that only you can complete a priority for the day. You will probably have many other tasks that others can do for you. It is worth sharing your skills, so that others can take over when you’re not there, otherwise work will just pile up to impossible levels every time you take a holiday!
To lower stress within the workplace caused by an overwhelming amount of tasks that need completing, you could research if any of the tasks could be outsourced. For example outsourcing tasks such as telephone support by hiring an answering service would eliminate the time taken to answer the overwhelming amount of telephone enquiries received by businesses and workplaces everyday. Other tasks you could consider outsourcing include IT support, administration and accounts.
It is important to share how you are feeling with colleagues and bosses. Sometimes the act of sharing your stress can have a calming effect. A good listener really helps and they may be able to offer solutions and advice. Take regular breaks and try to spend this time chatting with colleagues rather than checking social media and emails.
Share your concerns with bosses, they will be happy to help and may relieve you of tasks that are causing stress.
Involve family and friends, they will be much more understanding of your behavior – especially if you have been irritable, if they know the reasons behind it.
Stress ha a habit of spiralling out of control if you internalise everything. Speak out and accept any support available. If you are still struggling, seed medical advice.
When stressed our natural choice when it comes to diet is to grab a takeaway. Although initially comforting and satisfying, it is detrimental in the long run. A better option would be to consume a well balanced diet containing all the essential nutrients necessary for our bodies to function properly. Try to eat regularly to keep blood sugar stable. A drop in blood sugar can cause irritability. Eating too many starchy and fatty foods can make you feel tired and lethargic. Try to keep hydrated and don’t rely on caffeinated drinks as these can cause dehydration and cause anxiety. Water and fruit juices would be a much better choice.
Omega 3 found in oily fish, nuts and seeds is an effective nutrient for lifting mood and promoting brain function.
Exercise is a great way to release stress. Fast aerobic exercise will help burn off the hormones released in the “flight or fight” response, they will be replaced by endorphins which result in you feeling fantastic.
Exercise can also be a great way to meet people socially, in order to take your mind off worries.
There are many exercises, therapies and activities specifically designed to lower stress levels. These include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and visualization. Research what is available in your area and sign up!
If your stress levels become uncontrollable, seek medical advice. There is always a solution.