Stress is a tricky one, because it is there for a reason; a good reason. Without any stress at all we’d be jelly, the benefit of stress is that it’s a motivator. It can spur you to achieve great things or even just to tick off everything on your ‘to do’ list. However, stress is far better known for its negative side. When most people think of stress, they think of it as something that overwhelms, and leads into anxiety and panic. And it’s true, if stress gets to a certain level, it has the exact opposite affect of the plus side of stress – you become frozen and it prevents you from carrying out all your tasks and can badly affect your health, both mental and physical.
There is stress all around, but work is where most of us encounter it. This can be a double whammy, you can feel as though your colleagues, managers, bosses or the whole organisation is piling up the stress on you, but that, due to lingering stigma about mental health issues in the workplace, you can’t actually talk about it to any of them. This is obviously a great shame because we spend a lot of time at work, and talking about our difficulties is the route to solving them.
Everyone has bad days, days when the stress gets the better of you and makes you feel tired, irritable or unmotivated. But if you expect yourself to carry these emotions around day after day, and endure stress for a long stretch of time it can have a really big affect on your life.
Ten signs that the amount of stress you have at work is becoming problematic
- You begin to doubt yourself, and your self-confidence is badly affected
- You find concentration on the task in hand increasingly difficult and your productivity dips
- You feel negative about every aspect of your work, have completely lost all the interest or passion you used to have in it, and find it hard to access any success or positive things about your job or workplace
- You become very sensitive to the comments and views of others in your workplace, and feel criticised or attacked rather than heard and supported.
- You can at times be snappy and or short-tempered at work or when you get home and have not been able to leave the stress behind you.
- It feels difficult to regulate your feelings and your mood can swing in a second, and you be tearful or aggressive
- You start having nights when you can’t sleep and mornings when you feel you cannot get up.
- Your appetite becomes erratic and you have days when you eat too much or too little
- The easiest way to tune in to stress is to listen to your body, which could be experiencing headaches, stomach aches or aches and pains like those you get with a cold or flu.
- You stop chatting at work, feel you have to keep yourself to yourself and avoid the water cooler, tea room kettle and any social situations
What to do?
You might have read the list above and thought it was completely, ridiculously obvious. But stress makes it hard to think clearly, and these signs are surprisingly hard to identify when they are actually happening to you. On their own they are quite commonly experienced symptoms or things in your life so it can take a while for the penny to drop and to realise that together they are a response to the stress in your workplace.
Once you have identified that your stress levels are having a bad affect on you, the most important thing to realise is that there is help at hand. You might feel that everybody has this and you just have to get on with it, but in the long run that attitude will actually just make things worse for you. It is, as the slogan goes, okay to not be okay sometimes. Our counsellors at the Awareness Centre often report that their clients are amazed that, once they start talking about their stress, how much support they receive from family, friends, colleagues and even their bosses at work.
And counselling can be particularly helpful with work-related stress because it is a neutral space in which you can talk to someone who is not part of your working world. So that you can think together about what is going for you, the difficulties you are having and how to recognise them and develop coping strategies for them without any fear of repercussions or judgment.
Self-care is also important, here are six things you can do to help yourself get through this time when you are unhappy at work.
- Make sure you eat well. The temptation is to not bother with food and/or reach for something fatty or sugary, tune in to this and try to make your diet more balanced. And remember to drink plenty of water (most headaches are caused by dehydration).
- Curb your instinct to stay at your desk through lunch breaks and, even if only for five minutes, get outside for a walk and have a moment to yourself.
- Keep to a reasonable timetable and try not to put in too much time after your regular working hours. Even if you are overwhelmed with projects and deadlines, keep the boundaries and take the breaks.
- Make a conscious effort to stay connected with your loved ones. Talk to them about what’s going on. They most likely don’t understand the situation you are in, but you do not have to be on your own with it.
- As tired as you feel, try to factor in some time to exercise. It is counter intuitive but regular exercise does increase energy, reduce stress, and boost your wellbeing
- Treat yourself to a treatment or therapy, such as a massage or aromatherapy, that will help you to relax.
If you feel you would like some support or need a safe space in which to open up about your stress at work, then therapy could be a good option for you. Just call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] for a confidential appointment.