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Staying on top of stress

Mystical brain in palm of hand

Stress Awareness Month may be drawing to a close for another year but for many, stress in the workplace remains a very real issue.

In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) more than 11 million working days a year are lost in the UK because of stress at work, making it an all-too common problem

Trying to bravely solider-on despite feeling overwhelmed can be bad for you and your boss. So it pays to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress before they start affecting your health and the quality of your work.

The NHS describes a range of emotional, mental and physical symptoms that include feeling overwhelmed, experiencing ‘racing’ thoughts, loss of concentration, headaches, muscle tension and sleep problems. It also describes ways in which too much stress can affect behaviour such as drinking or smoking more or being snappy.

See the NHS mood assessment quiz to help you find out if you might be under too much stress. The organisation also offers advice on tackling stress including breathing techniques, links to relaxation apps and guidance on healthy eating and exercise.

Another great source of advice is the mental health charity, Mind, which looks at signs, symptoms and treatments for stress.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick guide to some of the things you can do to help yourself.

  • Talk about it – chatting to someone about the pressures you’re experiencing can make you feel less alone. They may even have felt the same way and can share tips about how they coped.
  • Set aside time for yourself – make sure your life isn’t just a series of chores and tasks. Remind yourself of those hobbies and interests you used to have!
  • Be active – exercise releases chemicals into the body that can make you feel better able to cope. Exercising can also give your mind time off from fretting and give you a fresh perspective on a problem, making it easier to manage.
  • Prioritise your sleep – instead of working late into the night, go to bed earlier, read a book to help distract your mind from your mental ‘to-do’ list, or have a warm bath to help you wind down. See the NHS advice on how to get the sleep you need.
  • Set achievable goals – break down your tasks into manageable chunks rather than thinking that everything has to be done immediately. Prioritise and delegate where you can.
  • Tackle the causes of your stress – you might not be able to change a situation like bereavement or a medical condition, but sources of support are available to help you through the dark times. If it’s money, the independent Money Advice Service provides  guidance. If it’s a relationship issue, you could try Relate. If it’s work, your manager or HR department might be able to help.
  • Focus on the positives – when you’re stressed it can seem that everything in life is bad. Remind yourself of what there is to be thankful for. Take time to savour the good things even if it’s simply enjoying your breakfast or noticing a flower in bloom.
  • Speak to your GP – make an appointment with your doctor to chat through options that might be available such as therapies and support groups in your area.

You can also download the pdf version of this Staying on top of stress article (pdf, 575 KB).