Ready for Stress Awareness?

work stress
Too many days lost due to workplace stress

The week of Monday November 5 to Friday November 9 is Stress Awareness week in the UK, with Wednesday November 7 dedicated as Stress Awareness day.

This awareness campaign is organised and promoted by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), a charity which promotes stress prevention and wellbeing and is the leading professional body for both workplace and personal stress management.

The fact this awareness ‘week’ is just five days long and runs from Monday to Friday is significant as the main focus of the week is “to reduce stress and enhance well-being and performance at work.”

And its focus is certainly a necessary one. HSE’s Work-related Stress, Depression or Anxiety Statistics in Great Britain 2017 report identified that in 2016/17, 526,000 workers suffered from new or long-standing episodes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This translated into 12.5 million working days being lost.

According to the HSE, work-related causes of stress-related illness include:

  • 8% Changes at work
  • 13% Violence, threats or bullying
  • 44% Workload
  • 14% Lack of support
  • 21% Other reasons – includes elements such as role uncertainty, professional development and specific traumatic events, complications arising from other health conditions in workplace, such as lack of reasonable adjustments

Meanwhile, ISMA’s own Stress Awareness Survey 17/18 identified that although work-related stress is experienced by 94% of people, just 32% are able to talk to their managers about this – a statistic which echoes the HSE’s findings that lack of managerial support is one of the primary causes of work-related stress.

Industries identified as having higher than average prevalence rates of work-related stress include public admins and defence, education and human health and social work activities.

Symptoms of stress

Symptoms of stress manifest in different ways across different individuals and, in the workplace, can have two opposing effects.

  • For some, the symptoms of work-related stress can lead to a complete shut down from actually being at work, a situation which can lead to management accusations of “absenteeism”, another source of stress for an unwell employee.
  • For others, the symptoms of work-related stress lead to a situation known as “presenteeism.” This occurs when stress is exacerbated by the idea of being off work (or outside pressure to remain at work), so employees remain consistently present despite acute stress, such as anxiety, resulting in work being unproductive and even more stressful.

ISMA’s How to Identify Stress (pdf download) identifies that stress symptoms affect people in four ways, and usually across all four to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the person and situation:

  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Behavioural

It’s often the case that no single symptom occurs in isolation, often ‘smaller’ clusters of symptoms will appear. These are the kinds of symptoms we tend to rationalise away for ourselves as being ‘an off day’ – an action which itself can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety because many of us feel ‘at fault’ for experiencing them. Such clusters accumulate until the overall symptoms of stress become acute and overwhelming.

The aim of Stress Awareness Week is to widen awareness of the cause and effects of stress – in and out of the workplace – and to promote strategies for wellbeing. Importantly it also aims to equip employers and employees alike with compatible strategies to reduce workplace stress. 2018’s week will also focus on the role of technology in adding stress, with the theme Does Hi-Tech cause Hi-Stress?

But whatever the cause, managing stress is all about minimising pressure and managing symptoms, so whether you’re an employee or employer, or whether stress is a concern outside of the workplace, knowing where to find support can be crucial.

Where to find support

International Stress Management Association: The ISMA website offers many free resources and materials to download. These aim to help and inform both those suffering from stress, as well as the workplace managers who want to better support their staff.

General NHS: NHS Mental Health Helplines list

Health in Mind East Sussex: This local service for stress, anxiety and depression includes access to free courses running in local areas.

Rye library: our local library is currently part of a national health campaign Reading Well, which promotes reading as a way to support mental health and well-being. The scheme, endorsed by NHS England, means that Rye library currently offers a display of leaflets and books which are ‘prescribed’ reading. These are boks chosen by health experts and people living with a range of conditions, including stress, depression and anxiety.

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