Let’s talk about stress

By Michael Pearson, Senior Operations Manager.

It was a Wednesday. I’d had enough; I’d just spilt my freshly made cappuccino over my shirt; I’d left my lunch at home; I was on the receiving end of cycler-rage on the way to work; I’d dropped my phone and cracked the screen in the right hand corner; my password wasn’t working again; I had 12 reports to complete in 2 hours; and life just wasn’t fair! I proceeded to lift my computer monitor from its wired roots, tear them with ferocity and throw it out of the sash window. Well of course I didn’t, but I thought about it. I really, really thought about it.

In reality, I sat there, took a deep breath, and continued. My right eyelid started to twitch, my heart rate increased, my palms became sweaty, more reports landed in my inbox…and I continued. What a trooper.

Let’s talk about stress. Here are some facts (courtesy of Mind):

  • One in five (19 per cent) take a day off sick because of stress, but 90 per cent of those people cited a different reason for their absence.
  • One in ten (9 per cent) have resigned from a job due to stress and one in four (25 per cent) have considered resigning due to work pressure.
  • One in five (19 per cent) felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed.
  • Of the 22 per cent who have a diagnosed mental health problem, less than half (10 per cent) had actually told their boss about their diagnosis.
  • Over half of managers (56 per cent) said they would like to do more to improve staff mental wellbeing but they needed more training and/ or guidance and 46 per cent said they would like to do more but it is not a priority in their organisation.

Stress is not always visible. Stress can often be internalised. People will not always say they’re stressed and in a work place setting will often be ashamed or in fear of telling someone they are stressed. People can seem happy, but be stressed. As organisations’, as managers, as people, we can never assume that stress isn’t there just because we don’t see it or because people aren’t telling us. The stats show it. ALWAYS assume it is there.

What we know about stress is that stress itself is not stressful. Confusing right? Stress can be quite helpful and motivating, and can give us energy to do things. It is our reaction to stress that can make us feel worse. And when we experience chronic stress (stress sustained over a long period) it can become mentally and physically damaging. It is a killer

Know yourself

I know that when I’m stressed I act out in certain ways. Firstly, I become less funny. I’m no Edenborough Fringe rising comedian, but I like a laugh. And when I stop laughing, when I stop making jokes and when I stop joining in, I’m stressed. I become overwhelmed by too many senses; bright lights, loud music, touch much contact, all at the same time; I am less able to cope with this. And when I’m REALLY stressed I become frustrated at those closest to me. For no reason. Know what your own stress symptoms are so you can act on them. Be inquisitive and find out. They could include

  • Run/hide response
  • Doing less work (even though you have more)
  • Becoming manic; they way you speak, looking around the room quickly
  • Blaming everyone else
  • More emotions than usual
  • Wanting to isolate yourself
  • Disengaging from people
  • Becoming frustrated at others
  • Thinking about EVERYTHING when you’re trying to sleep
  • Raised heart beat and increased sweating
  • Flushing
  • Stopping hobbies
  • You catastrophise – “I cant cope, it’s too much, no one is listening”

Know your solutions

It is important to know that you don’t have to do this on your own. And sometimes you cant. But know what coping mechanisms work for you. My top 5 coping mechanisms are:

  • Music – for those that enjoy music, music is a mood-changer. It is almost magical. Play some of your favourite, relaxing music. Slower music is known to lower your heart beat. Faster, upbeat music is great to let go and fun and still release stress, but could raise your heartbeat and sometimes a sense of anxiety temporarily, so be sure to relax afterwards.
  • Humour – connect to that funny friend that can lift your spirits. Watch your favourite comedy. Do something that makes you laugh out loud. It can break that stress-ruminating cycle. Even if it is a terrible joke. “Why don’t they play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs…”
  • Walk slowly and breathe deeply – Do you find yourself marching from place-to-place. Concentrate on slowing down your steps. Take your time. You’ll notice an instant change to how the walk feels. You’re no longer rushing. With an increased heart rate you’ll also find your breathing can be faster and shallower. Take in deep, slow breathes. As much air as you can. And slowly release it. Repeat. You’ll find your heartbeat should slow down with it.
  • Let go – With practice, we can try to change our perception of stress. And one of the best tools I have personally used is thinking about what I can actually control, and what I have no control over whatsoever. Let go of what you can’t control. Think about what you can influence. And concentrate on what you have control of, like telling someone how you feel or asking for help. This is called the control sphere, and there is a link at the end of this blog to a useful exercise.
  • Exercise – we all say it. But we often don’t do it. Exercise is an excellent stress reliever. One of the best. Find an activity that is fun for you. Team sports or community activities can be great and add a social aspect to it. But if you want to withdraw, like I do when I’m stressed, swimming and running can be fantastic. Work up a good sweat for 20 minutes, and release those endorphins. Lifting heavy weights alone has been shown in some studies to increase the stress hormone cortisol, so if you’re a lifter and feeling stress, ensure to combine it with light cardio.

Remember its Time to Talk Day February 7th and Stress Awareness month a little further done the line in April. Take the opportunities to recognise stress, talk about it and act on it. Stress is going nowhere any time soon. So lets help each other make stress healthier.

References & Resources

Information about stress:

Work is the biggest source of stress in people’s lives (Mind)

Causes of stress (Mind)

Stress and how to cope with it (Mental Health Foundation)

Control/Influence exercise to reduce stress:

Spheres of influence and control exercise (PDF download)

Stress and inequality:

Higher Stress Among Minority and Low-Income Populations Can Lead to Health Disparities, Says Report (American Psychological Association (APA))

National stress awareness month:

Stress Awareness Month (the Stress Management Society)

How to use humour with stress:

How to use humour to cope with stress (Very Well Mind)

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