We’ve all experienced stress at some time or another. In fact, it’s a perfectly natural reaction to have in certain situations, such as when coping with big life changes or mounting pressure. Constant, uncontrollable stress, however, can pose a dangerous health risk.  

This kind of stress is particularly common in the workplace, with 1 in 5 workers experiencing high-stress situations several times per week. A recent study from the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults have been completely overwhelmed by stress at some point this year, while over 30% of those people have felt suicidal due to stress-related issues. HSE report that 44% of all workplace absences are due to stress, anxiety or depression.

Since workplace stress can be so physically and emotionally damaging, every business needs to develop an effective stress awareness and management strategy. Not only is the need to tackle stress recognised by the law, but growing absence rates are ultimately costing businesses money and hampering productivity.

So, it’s now more important than ever for employees, managers and business owners to learn the signs of chronic stress and how to deal with them.   

How to Recognise Signs of Stress

Not all workplace stress is bad and, in some cases, workers will actually use it as a strong motivational tool. However, stress becomes much more problematic once it reaches a chronic, unhealthy level, manifesting itself in all manner of physical, behavioural and cognitive side-effects.

These could include intense feelings of anxiety, tension or irritability, as well as low self-esteem or an overall lack of enthusiasm. Headaches, insomnia, nausea and stomach pains are all clear physical signs of stress, while many people will also experience negative thoughts, constant worrying and a loss of concentration.  

Related article: How to Encourage Open Communication about Employee Wellbeing

Although people will react to stress in different ways, it’s important to spot the signs before they have a negative impact on working relationships, performance and overall mental health. Once you’ve recognised there’s a problem, you can take the first steps towards managing it.

The Most Common Causes of Stress

Many people struggle with relationship difficulties and ongoing health issues, but work is currently the single biggest cause of stress in the UK, with HSE reporting that 595,000 people have been made ill by work-related stress in 2017/18.

Maintaining a poor work-life balance, struggling with workloads and an overall lack of support are all huge causes of work-related stress; while some workers become truly overwhelmed by high-pressure environments and tight deadlines. Whether it’s the long working hours or the enormous workload, you need to pinpoint exactly what’s causing the stress and develop an effective coping strategy.   

Top Tips for Managing Stress in the Workplace

You’ll never be able to fully eradicate stress from the workplace. However, there are plenty of techniques to help manage any overly-stressful situations, and ultimately reduce the physical and mental affects stress can have on the body. Here are a few of the more popular methods:

Time Management

A busy work schedule is one of the most common causes of work-related stress, with many people feeling as though they simply don’t have enough time in the day. However, by prioritising tasks, outlining daily goals and remaining more organised, they’ll find it much easier to manage their time and develop a firmer grip on their workload.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation has always been an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, and there are plenty of simple techniques to help conquer feelings of stress. Deep-breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation are all popular methods of relaxation, while many people will use the time to listen to music or read a book.

Stress Awareness Courses

HSE expects to see businesses helping staff recognise and manage high levels of stress, and a stress awareness course will help them do exactly that. Taking staff members through the basics of handling stress, an effective course will provide a general awareness of how stressful factors can impact their working and personal lives. Once they’ve had the proper training, employees will feel much more confident in handling those factors.

Offering Support

When suffering from stress, some people will try to ignore the problem and act as though nothing is wrong, which typically makes things significantly worse. By talking through the issues with a friend, co-worker or family member, they can get everything off their chest and have a weight lifted from their shoulders.

Every modern workplace should be raising awareness and encouraging management of stress, and providing a supportive environment is absolutely crucial in helping to achieve that. When employees are more supportive of each other, feelings of stress become much more manageable; resulting in happier, healthier staff members and less time taken off work.

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