Effective Stress Management – Ruth McGuire



According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), work related stress accounts for 37% of work related ill health. So if you feel stressed because of your job, you are not alone. In fact, it would be unrealistic to expect that any employee could work in a completely stress free environment. Stress is an everyday part of working life. It cannot be avoided. However, by understanding the symptoms of stress and knowing why it occurs at work, it is possible to minimise its impact. It is also important to recognise that stress can sometimes be productive as it can act as a lever to do something positive or even creative. .


Symptoms of stress

Although it is quite normal to feel a little overwhelmed or pressured at work, if the feelings persist and you feel unwell because of stress, you could be suffering from an unacceptable level of stress that requires intervention. If you feel that stress is having a significant effect on your physical and/or mental health, speak to your GP or a health practitioner as soon as possible.

According to the NHS choices website, stress can affect your emotions, your mind, your behaviour and your physical health. Symptoms could include any or all of the following:

 - Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious or fearful, lacking in self-esteem
 - Having racing thoughts, constantly worrying, finding it difficult to concentrate or make decisions
 - Headaches, muscle tension/pain, dizziness, sleep problems, feeling tired all the time, over eating or eating too little
 - Behaving out of character by drinking or smoking more than normal, snapping at people


Understand why it happens

There are numerous reasons why the workplace can be a source of stress. Quite often it is a consequence of poor or ineffective management. For example, not being given enough time to do your job, being given an excessive workload or being asked to carry out responsibilities for which you do not feel competent are common causes of stress at work. Other more subtle reasons include not being able to control how you work and not having the opportunity to contribute ideas or suggestions to managers about how you can improve the way you work. Tensions between colleagues or between staff and managers are another source of stress at work. In addition, a gap between what you expected to do when you started your job and what you are actually asked to do can also create pressure.

Keeping a daily diary at work can help you identify whether any particular days/times and/or activities, leave you feeling more stressed than usual. In your diary, record as much as you can about what happened that made you feel stressed and also record whether you did anything specific that reduced the stress.

Workplace resources

Once you have identified the symptoms and causes of stress, you are in a better position to manage it. Start by checking what if any resources, are offered by your employer to help you deal with work issues. For example, if you have regular ‘support and supervision’ sessions with a manager or annual appraisals, use these to let managers know about your stress and its effect on your work and perhaps your health. They may, be able to make changes to the way you work or make other changes that will reduce or remove the stress you feel. If you have regular team meetings, use these to contribute ideas on how things could be done differently to reduce stress levels for everyone.

Other resources that may be available through work could include an ‘employee assistance’ programme. Check whether your employer offers access to one of these programmes. They are designed to offer employees an external route to managing problems at work. You can use these programmes to access counselling or to obtain other types of help to manage your stress.


Self-help strategies to reduce stress

Effective time management. Do you manage your time effectively at work? Do you set priorities at or do you just rumble through the day and hope for the best? A simple ‘to do’ list can help you to identify and record priorities and stay in control of your time and your workload.

Create boundaries. By creating limits on your availability and accessibility, you can avoid being subjected to other people’s demands whether they are colleagues, managers or service users. Also, avoid being too accessible. Resist the temptation to read work emails when you are not at work and resist the habit of allowing managers or colleagues to contact you at home to discuss work issues.

Learn to relax. It sounds simple enough but sometimes we forget to switch off and just relax. It can be as simple as just taking five minutes to take a few deep breaths in and out. In addition, schedule time to regularly do something you enjoy such as meeting up with friends, engaging in a hobby or better still helping others through volunteering.

Exercise. Go for a brisk walk or engage in some kind of sport or physical activity. This will release natural chemicals from your body known as ‘endorphins’ and these will help to reduce your stress and generally help you to feel more positive.


Positive stress

The good news is that stress isn’t always bad for you. If you’ve just been promoted at work or found your dream home, you may be feeling stressed but in a positive way. Unlike the negative form of stress, this type often referred to as ‘eustress’, leaves you feeling in control and can even act as a motivator that helps you get things done. For example, if you are facing a deadline to complete a task, you might feel a little stressed, but at the same time, the stress you feel will motivate you to organise yourself and your time so that you meet the deadline. This type of stress also helps you build the resilience you need to deal with events that can cause negative stress.


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Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.