Stress… a simple enough word, but what is it, and what does it really look like? A frazzled mother, rushed off her feet by four young children? A stock broker, clawing to secure his next commission, whilst snorting coke off a prostitute?
How about a young professional, in a standard entry level job, believing that she’s about to die in a meeting? That was me btw, having what I now know to be a panic attack, the worst of my life. As I ran from the room, sobbing and begging for help, I knew I’d gone too far this time. What started out as stress, had over the months evolved into aggressive anxiety.
The Millennial generation is often sneered at for being ‘fragile’ and cracking under pressure, but when you take a step back and assess the cards they’ve been dealt, is it really that surprising?
Like every twenty-something at the time, I felt the pressure to be uber successful and impressive straight out of university. I’d secured a good job and now I needed to excel and prove myself within the first year. ‘You need to get noticed,’ a drunken colleague told me, ‘make yourself known or you’ll be forgotten in this place.’ So that’s what I strived to do. I worked twelve hours a day, never took my full lunch hour, and pushed myself into taking on more and more work. I’m not someone who would be considered ‘ballsy’ by nature, so I had to go against my instincts to appear so. Shouting out random things in meetings and routinely drinking too much at work events.
My situation was by far unique, everyone was stressed. Being ‘snowed under’ became almost like a badge of honour.
Even though I was struggling, I didn’t feel as though I could ask for help. Surely, my boss would presume that I couldn’t do my job properly and regret having hired me in the first place. I needed to appear strong and in control.
Nine months later, the cracks were beginning to show and even though I was miserable, I couldn’t stop. This eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown.
The BBC reported that 300,000 people in the UK leave their jobs every year, as a direct result of stress or a mental health condition, with 12.5 million working days lost due to work-related stress in 2017.
Shocking figures such as these suggest that mental health, and the ‘S’ word need to be taken more seriously.
Successful businesswoman and consultant Ruth Cooper-Dickson agrees, arguing that the ‘stress mentality’ is common within organisations and considered a key ingredient of success, which is unhealthy. ‘We need to reframe how we think about stress.’
How should we act moving forward?
Organisations such as Mental Health First Aid, are starting to enforce change in employer understanding, particularly in bigger companies. However, each individual should take responsibility for their own wellbeing. To use a favourite analogy… Would you suffer in silence if your arm was hanging off? Or if you’d been sick repeatedly? The brain deserves the same respect as the body.
Key Signs of Stress That Shouldn’t Be Ignored
You don’t feel right in yourself, e.g. negative thoughts and feelings are starting to affect your daily life, on a continued basis
Difficulty concentrating on tasks and staying focused
A change in bowel movements, sickness or nausea
A change in appetite. Eating too much or skipping meals
Feeling more emotional, or irritable than usual
Feeling run down and weak
Oversleeping, or disrupted sleep
Difficulty switching off and being present in the moment
Top Tips for Reducing Stress at Work
First of all, accept that you’re HUMAN and therefore will need some help now and again. Be kind to yourself.
Talk to family or close friends about it. However, Timing is important here. Trying to tell someone about your problems during their favourite TV show is bound to go wrong. Wait until after dinner, or during a car journey, where you’ll have their full attention. They might not fully understand the situation, but talking about fears is a classic stress reliever.
Make a list of things that are causing you to feel stressed and get organised. I swear, Sarah Knight’s list making system in the book ‘Get Your Shit Together,’ changed my life. Take a good thirty minutes to map out all your tasks and assign which need to be completed this week, and then today. Sometimes, a little mental de-cluttering can be really helpful at reducing stress.
If your workload is causing you concern, then schedule a meeting with your line manager and a member of HR (if needed). Explain how your feeling and what they can do to help. Maintain that although stress is a problem right now, it won’t impact your daily job anymore than a cold would. You deserve the right support.
Social media management. Sounds simple enough, but having platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook available 24/7 can be stimulating in a negative way. Turn off ‘notifications,’ to avoid any interruptions and if necessary, put your phone in a drawer. Focus your energy solely on one thing at a time.
Get off your arse! Exercise is a good way to disburse adrenaline and bring stress levels down naturally. I tend to do a quick lap of the office, or go for a walk to a coffee shop. Ten minutes can do wonders.
Allow yourself adequate and downtime. That means, leave your desk at lunchtime and get some headspace. In the evenings, don’t check your emails. Sound too simple? Because it is! As wonderful as you are, the company won’t collapse just because you don’t reply to an email at 10pm. Try it and see.
If you’re concerned that you might be experiencing something bigger than stress, then go and see your doctor. Make a list of the symptoms that you’re experiencing to keep you on track, and discuss the problem.
On average we spend 2,080 hours a year at work, it’s OK to spend a few on your brain.