“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

– William James

Did you know that April is stress awareness month? This is a great chance to learn about the dangers of stress, adopt helpful coping strategies and techniques and banish the misconceptions that arise. I thought it would be a good time to discuss health and wellbeing, and in particular how to reduce stress at work. 

What is stress? 

Stress is a commonly used term, but what exactly is it? According to stress.org, it is a physical response. This happens when the body believes that it’s under attack and enters ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. 

In a state of stress, we respond differently to those around us. We can be more hostile, agitated, and snappy. We may use avoidance behaviours, removing ourselves and ‘flighting’ from a situation. 

Unfortunately, stress can’t be avoided, and can affect you in different ways. Are you wondering, ‘can stress make you sick?’ If it continues for a long period of time, it can make you ill. Those who suffer with stress can experience heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and IBS, alongside other illnesses. 

What are the symptoms of stress?

There are a vast number of symptoms of stress, such as low mood, anxiety, irritability, depression, and frustration. You may also experience changes in behaviour, such as reduced performance at work, memory issues, and lack of concentration. Indecisive, procrastination, self-doubt and overwhelm can also be symptoms. You can view more symptoms over on the stress.org website.

How to reduce stress at work 

Are you feeling strained at work currently?

There may be a number of factors causing this, such as a heavy workload, challenging or non-engaging work. You may feel like there is a lack of support or have unclear directions or performance expectations. If these continue to persist, this can take a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. Here are a few tips you can do to help manage work stress:

  1. Think about your stressors. Journal situations that are causing you stress and write down how you respond to them. By keeping track of your thoughts, feelings, and the people and places involved in the situation, then you can find patterns of behaviour and what triggers you. As an introvert, I can be easily overwhelmed when faced with a packed week of meetings. In fact, general inconsistency and peaks and troughs in my schedule can really trigger the anxiety. I also try to ‘eat the frog’ every morning – so do the task that I want to do least first thing. Then the only way is up!
  1. Think about your responses. Instead of turning to drink, or other unhealthy responses, find better, healthier choices to help relieve stress. For example, exercise or taking up a hobby that can help to relax you. Reading, getting creative or active, or simply playing games can help. By creating healthy habits in your day-to-day routine, you can respond in a better way to stress. I’m lucky I’ve got two gorgeous Labradors who are always up for a walk if I am. Equally, they’re happy to crash on the sofa with me if that’s what I need, but they do get me out of the house for some fresh air every morning.
  1. Get boundaries in place. Healthy boundaries, especially within the workplace are essential. Don’t feel like you have to respond and be available 24 hours a day. Establish your own work/ life balance and boundaries. It’s good to get some distance. I try to leave the desk at the end of the day and keep my laptop out of the bedroom. It’s important to have separate spaces for work and personal life, even though I work from home. I try to schedule any emails I write out of ‘normal’ working hours, so they send the next day instead.
  1. Re-charge and refuel. It is really important to take time out and refill your cup. By having a break and switching off completely for work, you will be in a better position. This is a huge stress buster, disconnect from digital life, and make sure you take time off away from work. If you’re feeling stressed and currently not able to take time off, switch off in the evenings or on your lunch break. Turn your focus onto something that is completely non work related. 
  1. Relaxation techniques. Do you practice any relaxation techniques? Things like meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness can help you to relax. They are hard to get into, to begin with, but with practice, you will soon be able to switch off and relax for a few minutes a day. I find exercise particularly helpful. In normal circumstances, I’d be upside down in an aerial hoop, but these days I’m focused on home workouts, like Joe Wicks HIIT videos.
  1. Get support. Whether your self-employed or employed, talk to a peer or someone you can trust and get support. I am a member of several networking groups and have built a wide network of trusted connections. I definitely value their insight and experience when I need support and advice.
  1. Look into Mental Health First Aid Training. Last year, I completed a mental health first aid training course. I felt compelled to take this course in order to provide more practical support to those around me (and even myself) in difficult times. As an employer, I also recognise that no matter how many people in your team, you carry some responsibility for their mental well-being too.

I hope this blog post has helped to raise awareness of stress in your work life. Don’t forget, if you are feeling stressed too often, it’s important to seek the right help and advice. If stress, in or out of the workplace is becoming a big concern, then contact your GP for advice.