Understanding work-related stress

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What is work-related stress?

Work-related stress is when work demands and pressures become more than an individual has the capacity or capability to cope with. An employee’s performance, behaviour, work relationships, and motivation can all be affected as their mental and physical health takes the strain.

Of course, everyone is different and will respond to pressure in varying degrees. What stresses one person may not affect another. Factors such as age, ability, skills and experience may influence whether an employee can cope with the demands of their work. Resilience also plays a key role in how an individual deals with stressful situations, and if they have any other pressures in their lives at the same time.

Recognising the symptoms of work-related stress

Recognising the signs of work-related stress and dealing with it quickly will help to reduce the negative impact that stress has on our mental and physical wellbeing. Ignoring the signs can put employees at a greater risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. We all have the occasional day when work is very busy and we feel stressed. However, work-related stress is when stress becomes a regular occurrence that starts to affect our overall physical and mental wellbeing. Recognising the symptoms if you, or an employee, are struggling to cope with pressures at work will help to alleviate and manage stress before it becomes too much.

Mental and emotional symptoms

Some of the more common mental or emotional symptoms include difficulty in concentrating, lack of motivation or commitment to work, finding it hard to make decisions, low mood and feeling depressed and/or anxious, emotional and sometimes tearful, mood swings, feeling aggravated, irritable or angry, difficulty in relaxing and switching off, and loss of confidence.

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms can include raised heart rate or palpitations, a dry mouth, feeling tired and lacking, in energy, diarrhoea or constipation, loss of appetite, feeling sick or queezy, muscle aches and pains, headaches, tightness in the chest or pains and difficulty sleeping. 

Combating work-related stress

  • Get support. Stress is not a weakness and can happen to anyone. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is important to talk to your line manager or someone you can trust. It will give them the chance to help and prevent the situation from escalating. Good employers should have policies in place to help deal with stress issues.
  • Be realistic. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking I have no choice but to overwork. However, taking on too much work may be ok in the short term but in the long term may be disastrous if you fail to deliver! Discuss your workload with your line manager and agree on achievable goals, and ensure that deadlines and targets are realistic.
  • Organise your time and prioritise. Create a daily schedule and stick to it! Try to block out any distractions too! Prioritising helps you to focus and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed. And if possible, delegate work to other members of your team! Try to work to your regular hours and ensure you take any holidays you’re entitled to. Holidays help you to reset and return to work feeling refreshed which will increase motivation and productivity.
  • Take regular breaks. Even 5 minutes away from your desk and if possible in the fresh air can re-energise and help you to de-stress! Ideally, take a brisk walk for 10+ minutes – studies show that being outside has a positive effect on your mental wellbeing.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Neglecting your own wellbeing by working too hard without allocating downtime for yourself will negatively impact your health. A poor work-life life balance can also affect your relationships outside of work with friends and family, so make sure you allocate time for yourself and your loved ones.
  • Build resilience! Resilience means being able to adapt to and cope with life’s challenges. Resilience isn’t about how much stress you have, it’s about how effectively you can manage the stressors in your life. A good night’s sleep, healthy diet and regular exercise all make a difference to the way you feel and how you deal with stress!

Getting support from your employer

It can be difficult to talk about stress at work as you may think that people will think less of you. Your employer won’t be able to help you if they don’t know there’s a problem. So speaking up is essential to get the support you need. Employers have a duty to protect employees and should take measures to assess the risks to your health from work-related stress and help you to overcome the issue and the cause. For more information click here

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References and further reading


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