It's been a difficult few years with COVID and now the Cost of Living Crisis, we have definetly seen an increase in stress in our industry. The good news is that the conversation around stress is growing and with this comes more insight into the causes and how we experience stress differently.
Stress can affect us at anytime and this can be work related or personal, it's important to be able to recognise the signs and how to deal with it.
Here we talk about what stress is, the causes and spotting the signs, how to deal with stress and workplace stress.
What is Stress?
You may think stress is simply being overwhelmed but in fact there are different types of stress, all with their own physical and mental consequences. To effectively manage stress, it begins with recognising what type of stress you are experiencing. In it's basic form stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure.
Stress affects lots of things within us, including our metabolism, memory and immune system. Have you ever had a really busy time at work and as soon as it slows down you come down with a cold? Have you ever done lots of prep for a test or presentation and suddenly forgotten an answer or lost your train of thought when it comes too it? That's stress making it's mark.
However, under normal circumstances as soon as the stressful event has passed, our mental, emotional and physical state should return to normal, depending on our overall mental fitness and wellness levels.
Small amounts of stress can be positive and help us perform better, but the key thing is that it's brief and not long-term, as this can lead to health problems and make exisiting conditions worse.
Your responses are basically an advanced, complex alarm system that sends a series of signals to the adrenal glands. Your body will then prepare your body for flight or flight response.
There are many different types of stress that can be divided into three main types:
- Acute stress: comes from your body's reaction to a new or challenging situation. It's the feeling you get when theres a deadline approaching or you have a near miss. We can even get that feeling from something you enjoy like a roller coaster ride. Acute stress is classified as short-term.
- Episodic acute stress: this is when you are getting acute stress on a frequent basis. With this type of stress, we don't get time to return to a relaxed and calm state and it often feels like we're moving from crisis to another.
- Chronic stress: this is the result of stressors that continue for a long period of time. This type of stress feels never-ending and we often have difficulty seeing any way to improve or change our situation.
The most important thing is to understand the causes of stress and spotting the signs specific to you - the next section gives you information on this.
What causes stress?
There are lots of different causes of stress and each one can affect all of us differently. The key thing to managing and resolving stress is to find the root cause.
Some of the most common causes are:
- Financial obligations: this is very common at the moment and not being able to pay your bills, long-term unemployment and incresing debt can all cause stress.
- The Death of a loved one: Most of us have or will experience the devastating emotional impact of the passing of a loved one. Of course we feel grief, but we can also feel other emotions such as loneliness, disappointment and even anger sometimes.
- Job loss: Loosing your job doesn't just mean a loss of income but very often it also knocks our self-confidence and self-esteem. If you are out of work for a long time, this can lead to job search depression and a sense of hopelessness.
- Traumatic events: These are often events that are out of our control, such as car accidents and natural disasters. These kinds of unpredicatble and unforeseen events of course create a lot of stress and in some casese even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Problems at work: Many of us feel that we have to do more and more work to keep our jobs in today's fast-paced world. Workplace stress can be especially prevalent among wrking parents and women in male-dominated industries. Whatever the reason, constant stressors at work can lead to burnout.
- Emotional well-being struggles: All of us have low moods and worry, but without the right emotional regulation skills they can lead to chronic stress, anxiety and depression.
- Relationship issues: Whilst most relationships have mild stress, larger issues such as divorce or an unhappy relationship can produce a lot of stress for everyone involved.
There are many symptons of stress, even some that you might not realise. You may notice you’re feeling more tired, anxious or even ill, but you may not link these feelings to stress.
Stress can manifest in many different ways and it's important to recognise the signs in yourself. Whilst they are different for everyone, you know yourself and if you notice changes in your mood, physically or emotionally, then these changes could be an indicator of stress.
A brilliant way to spot stress is by asking yourself these key questions:
- Do you experience any of the following symptoms: headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, nausea, or changes in sex drive?
- Do you experience fatigue and/or struggle to fall or stay asleep?
- Do you worry excessively and feel overwhelmed with responsibilities?
- Do you struggle to focus on tasks or stay motivated?
- Do you experience irritability, sadness, or anger?
- Do you have little appetite or find that you are overeating?
- Do you struggle to regulate how much caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco you use?
- Do you withdraw from others or feel overwhelmed in groups of people?
- If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re probably experiencing stress.
How to deal with stress
There are a whole list of ways to deal and manage with stress. While we may be unable to control our external circumstances and the things which may become stressors, we can control our reaction to them which in turn can help reduce and even eradicate stress.
1) Realise when it is causing you a problem
Try to make the connection between feeling tired or ill and the pressures you are faced with.
Look out for physical warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness headaches or migraines.
2) Identify the causes
Try to identify the underlying causes
Sort the possible reasons for your stress into three categories:
1) Those with a practical solution
2) Those that will get better given time and
3) Those you can’t do anything about
Try to release the worry of those in the second and third groups and let them go
3) Review your lifestyle
Could you be taking on too much?
Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else?
Can you do things in a more leisurely way?
To act on the answer to these questions, you may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve and re-organise your life. This will help to release pressure that can come from trying to do everything at once.
Empoyees have a legal duty to protect workers from stress at work and by providing planning, training and support can reduce pressure and bring stress levels down. It’s also important to note that everyone is different and what stresses one person may not affect another. Things like life experience, age or disability may affect whether a worker can cope. There are six main areas that can effect stress levels: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
Examples of these factors are:
- Not able to cope with the demands of their job
- Unable to control the way they do their work
- Don't receive enough information and support
- Are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied
- Don't fully understand their role and responsibilities
- Are not engaged when a business is undergoing change
- Employers should monitor and assess workers stress levels and remember the earlier a problem is tackled the less impact it will have.
If you are an employee it's important to recognise any changes in the way you think or feel - feeling negative, idecisive, isolated, nervous or unable to concentrate. This could manifest in you acting differently: eating more or less than ususal, smoking, drinking or drug use to cope and having difficulty sleeping.
If you are noticing any of these signs its really important to talk to someone, this could be your line manager or a trusted colleague. If you can't speak to either find out what policies are in place and speak to your HR department, worker assistance program or GP. You can also talk to us at the Electrical Industries Charity: 0800 652 1618 / firstname.lastname@example.org