Workplace stress is on the rise, and it is costing businesses dearly.
Whether we are entry-level employees or executives, today’s fast-paced and constantly changing business environment can make it difficult to understand the causes of stress and the steps we can take to manage it. Regardless of if you are an employer or an employee, it is important to band together to make the workplace healthier and more productive for everyone.
Stress levels in the UK
Emma Salveson, Director of HR and management company, The Hub Events says that “33 percrnt of employees report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress, and 28 percent report that high levels of stress impact productivity, with the top cause being workload.” Whilst plenty of jobs can be stressful for a variety of reasons, some jobs are more stressful than others. Prison Officers, Teachers, Nurses and Firefighters are just a few of the 10 most stressful jobs in the UK.
There are 7 types of work stress:
1. Demand: unrealistic expectations, increasing demands, and lack of skills/knowledge to complete the required tasks.
2. Change: rapidly changing organisations with poor communication and an increasing sense of uncertainty.
3. Control: feeling out of control often leads to disengagement and burnout.
4. Relationships: having toxic or uncooperative colleagues or not having positive social support from friends and family.
5. Security: fear over staying employed and financial security.
6. Time: lack of adequate time to complete tasks ad
7. Clarity: lack of feedback, no communication with the line manager, and no formal structure for progress/goals in place.
6 stress management techniques:
Exercise releases the feel-good chemical endorphins which acts as a natural pain reliever and can also fight depression if done regularly. It also rewires our brain to have a more positive outlook on life as it gives us more energy and boosts our mood. In addition, exercise can help us stay more focused throughout working days as it trains our brain to concentrate on each movement. Lastly, exercise improves our sleep and enhances our physical and mental health which boosts our self-confidence and increases our resilience and strength. 62% of adults who say they exercise or walk to help manage stress say the technique is very or extremely effective.
2. Deep breathing
Most of us do shallow breathing which can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, asthma, respiratory problems, and fatigue. Deep breathing techniques are proven to help us calm down, retain and access information quicker, improve muscle function, reduce blood pressure and decrease heart rate. Here are a few examples:
· Diaphragm breathing: place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold for two, and exhale through your mouth for six. Feel your abdomen rise and fall.
· 4-7-8: inhale a full breath through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven, and exhale slowly for eight. Repeat one to four times.
· Box breath: inhale a full breath on the count for four seconds, hold for four, exhale deeply for four, and hold for four. For optimal results repeat this four times.
3. Muscle relaxation
To cope better with everyday stress, we can implement muscle relaxation techniques designed to slow down our heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve digestion, reduce cortisol levels, improve focus and sleep, decrease fatigue and boost confidence to overcome challenges. Here are a few techniques you can try:
· Visualisation: close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot, focus on your breathing, and visualise a positive outcome of your current situation.
· Progressive muscle relaxation: tense your muscles for five seconds and relax for 30, moving gradually from your toes to your head.
· Autogenic relaxation: using your mind to relax the body, e.g. while visualising a peaceful setting and repeating positive affirmations, focus on relaxing each muscle.
4. Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation has been a big topic for years, but when it comes to stress management, it can help focus your attention and get rid of negative thoughts. As it triggers the body’s relaxation response, it’s actually been shown to have a longer lasting effect on reducing stress than a holiday. Here are some techniques you can try today in less than 10 minutes:
· Scan your body: take a deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. As you breathe out, close the eyes and notice how your body feels starting at the top of the head, slowly scanning your body allthe way to your toes noticing what feels comfortable and uncomfortable.
· Guided meditation: find a guided session that works for you and follow the instructions spoken out loud in a distraction-free environment.
· 5 senses: acknowledge five things you see around you, 4 things you can touch around you, 3 things you hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
5. Take control
Time Management: if you feel like your time keeps escaping, try adopting a time management technique, here are some examples:
· Pomodoro: work in focused 25-minute intervals.
· Time blocking: divide your day into time blocks focused on specific tasks.
· The Eisenhower Matrix: prioritise by dividing your tasks into four boxes based on the tasks you’ll do first, schedule for later, delegate, and tasks you’ll delete.
· Pickle Jar Theory: dividing your tasks into urgent, important but can wait, and distractions.
Communication: setting healthy boundaries in place will ensure you’re in control of your day and have better relationships in place. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our courses: Assertiveness for Women and Dealing with Difficult People.
6. Social support
Social support is one of the most important elements in managing stress at work. It not only helps you feel less isolated, but it can also help provide you with practical and emotional support to help you cope with stress. Here are some of the social networks you can tap into:
· Seek professional help: talking to a therapist or counsellor can help you understand your stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
· Friends and family: spending time with loved ones can provide a much-needed distraction and boost your mood.
· Talk to HR: many companies offer employee assistance programs (EAP) and other resources to help you manage stress.
· Join support groups: joining a support group with others who are going through similar experiences can provide a sense of community and understanding.
· Volunteer or get involved in a hobby: doing something you enjoy can help you feel more fulfilled and reduce stress.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.