By Amanda Augustine, career advice expert, TopCV
April is National Stress Awareness Month, a time when health care professionals and health promotion experts join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for society’s modern stress epidemic.
The use of the word epidemic may seem an over exaggeration, but when you look at the figures from a UK-wide stress survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation last year, they show that almost three quarters of adults (74 per cent) have at some point over the past year felt stressed, overwhelmed or unable to cope.
While there are many reasons why we get stressed, work is one of the most commonly cited offenders. In 2017/18, 595,000 people suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), according to a Labour Force Survey (LFS) – and a whopping 15.4 million working days were lost as a result. It seems that no one is immune to it. From millennials – attempting to forge a path for themselves in politically and economically volatile times, to working parents juggling the relentless onslaught of family life and their career (on next to no sleep).
But, there’s a big difference between an occasional stressful day in the office, where you return home feeling like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, to constantly feeling anxious about work. Below are some of the most common signs that you’re suffering from too much work stress.
- You’re always thinking about work, even when you’re not working. It’s Saturday night and you’re still dwelling over the work email you sent on Friday. While it may not be realistic to ‘flip a switch’ and forget about work the moment you leave the office, it is a problem if your mind is occupied by it all the time.
- You’re constantly sleep-deprived. Are you exhausted at the end of the workday, but when it’s time to go to bed, you find that your mind is still racing with thoughts of work? If you’re having trouble falling asleep, find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, or you regularly have nightmares, work-related stress may be to blame.
- Every Monday feels like ‘Blue Monday’. If you get the ‘dread’ – a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach – every Sunday night, or before you start each work day, it’s fair to say you’re suffering from job anxiety.
So, how can you combat stress in the workplace?
- Delegate the rubber balls. Consider each priority at work to be a ball that you’re juggling; some are made of glass, and others are rubber. When you’re juggling too many priorities, you’ll end up dropping a few along the way. Identify which ‘balls’ will bounce back if they are dropped, and see if you can have some of these delegated to other members of your team.
- Speak with your manager. Studies have found work-related stress to cost UK businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. If work-related anxiety is causing you to ‘check out’ at work, it’s in your supervisor’s best interest to minimise any unnecessary stressors. Have an open conversation with your manager to explain the situations that are causing you the most stress. The goal is not to list out complaints, but to work together to devise a plan that will help you manage these stressors more effectively so you can perform at your best.
- Get moving. When stress levels are high, it’s tempting to indulge in unhealthy habits such as alcohol, fast food and smoking. Fight these temptations with more constructive stress-busting activities that will boost your endorphins such as breathing or physical exercise, or meditation. Studies show that taking a short, twenty-minute walk at lunchtime a few times a week significantly helps. Ditch your phone or put it on airplane mode, or download an app like the Stress & Anxiety Companion that is designed to help you manage stress while on the go.
- Set work-life boundaries. Technology was supposed to liberate us from much of the daily slog, but it often makes things worse because now we are always ‘switched on’. In 2002, fewer than ten per cent of employees checked their work email outside of office hours. Today, with the help of tablets and smartphones, it is 50 per cent, often before we get out of bed. For many professionals, this increasingly blurs the line between work and home life. If you feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day, it’s time to set clear boundaries. Determine which activities out of work are most important to you and block off the time on your calendar. Communicate to your team when you will be ‘off grid’ to manage their expectations.
- Consider a change. If you’re chronically stressed about work, it may be time to make a change. Take some time to sort out your next career move, and then update your CV with this goal in mind. The average UK employee can expect to spend a total of 82,068 hours working over their lifetime, the equivalent to working a 9.4-year shift or 3,420 nonstop days on the bounce. Over that period, we’ll likely get just four per cent more time with our partner or family than we do with our work colleagues. These are the hard facts of a working life, but they illustrate the need to take great care in our career choices so that we are happy with the direction in which those 82,068 precious hours are heading. You spend far too much time at work to be stuck in a job that’s harmful to both physical and emotional health.