During National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week which runs May 4 – 10, cognitive neuroscientist and chartered psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw is urging the business community to help prevent a stress and anxiety epidemic in the workplace after figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

According to the HSE, in 2011/12, 428,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill, accounting for 40 percent of all work-related illness.

 Dr Shaw says: “This generation of workers is facing more stress than any other because of the constant bombardment of information, over multi-tasking and the need to be available 24 hours a day.  We are more stressed than we have ever been, more unable to wind down and in my view more anxious than ever before.”

Generically psychological problems, including stress, anxiety and depression, are behind one in five visits to a GP and stress is known to lead to unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, eating and drinking too much, which might increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, Shaw argues that in the workplace specifically, stress lowers concentration, self esteem and productivity and drastically increases staff turnover.

Shaw continues: “Research has shown that positive support in the workplace stimulates brain chemicals, such as neuropeptide oxytocin. Oxytocin is associated with social bonding and trust. It also moderates the impact of the stress hormone cortisol, which means that belonging to a good work community can not only alleviate stress, but can also help depression and anxiety disorders. On the other hand chronic social isolation and stress have been shown to disrupt the normal function of the hippocampus in the brain which is critical for certain types of memory and emotional behaviours.

“Whilst we all have pressures on us and we all have some stress in our lives, there is a difference between normal levels of pressure and work debilitating stress and anxiety.   The responsibility to deal with it lies with both the employer and employee.”

Spotting the problem signs, taking practical steps to minimise stress, having open lines of communication, creating loyalty and trust, providing support, building relationships, ridding the workplace of bullying, having clear set roles, creating more positive environments to work in, managing change well and balancing demands put on employees are key factors to be put in place by employers, according to Dr. Shaw, the HSE and others.

“Saying no if we feel uncomfortable doing something, talking, listening and cooperating and building relationships are all key things that employees need to be sure they are also fulfilling,” according to Dr Shaw.

Leading HR training provider, Symposium, have designed and developed a number of training workshops on wellbeing and stress related workplace issues that HR practitioners now face in organisations large and small, including a Mental Health Awareness course and a one-day seminar entitled Achieving Wellbeing, a practical, interactive course that helps learners understand stress amongst employees; improve wellbeing; and build resilience based on HSE Management Standards approach.

Speaking to HRreview, lead training coordinator Anna Szyperska said: “As resilience becomes more widely recognised as a key driver of continued wellbeing, this course will help identify stressors within your organisation. In addition, you will gain an understanding of resilience skills, enabling you to manage and reduce the impact of, or susceptibility to, stress across your organisation.”