Recognising stress is like learning to read a hidden language within ourselves and those around us. It’s not always as obvious as a flashing neon sign. Instead, it’s the subtle changes, the small signs that whisper rather than shout. In today’s fast-paced world, where the lines between work and life blur, stress has become a constant companion for many. Yet, acknowledging its presence is the first step towards managing it.

In understanding stress, we unlock the ability to support not only ourselves but also our colleagues and our teams. It’s about cultivating an environment where everyone feels seen and supported, where the wellbeing of each individual is as important as the tasks at hand. Recognising the signs of stress is a crucial skill in today’s workplace. It allows us to intervene before the pressure becomes overwhelming, ensuring a healthier and more productive environment for everyone involved.

Here’s a guide to help you spot the often-missed signs of stress in yourself, your colleagues and your team.

For yourself:

Feeling overwhelmed? If your to-do list feels like it’s 10 miles long and you’re drowning in it, that’s a clear signal. And when even deciding what to tackle first feels like solving a complex puzzle, that’s your mind waving a big red flag.

Snappy? If you’re snapping at people over small stuff or getting irritated faster than usual, that could be stress.

Sleepy or sleepless? Can’t sleep or sleeping too much? Both can be your body’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m stressed!”

For your colleagues:

Change in work quality: If someone who’s usually on their A-game starts dropping the ball, stress might be playing foul.

Isolation: When lunch buddies suddenly prefer dining solo or skipping the small talk, they might be wrestling with stress.

Mood swings: One minute they’re fine, the next they’re not. If emotional rollercoasters are more frequent, stress could be the theme park.

For your team:

Missed deadlines: A team that’s usually punctual but starts missing deadlines might be bogged down by stress.

Low energy: If the team’s vibe feels more like a deflated balloon than a rocket ship, stress levels might be too high.

Conflict increase: More arguments? More disagreements? Stress can turn small sparks into big fires.

What to do?

For yourself:

Breathe deeply: It sounds simple, but deep breathing exercises can calm the mind and reduce stress levels significantly. Just a few minutes can make a big difference.

Prioritise tasks: Break down your to-do list. Decide what needs immediate attention and what can wait. Sometimes, just organising your tasks can make them seem more manageable.

Seek joy: Engage in activities that bring you happiness. Whether it’s reading, taking a walk or listening to your favourite music, make time for things that uplift you.

Digital detox: Unplug from emails, social media and digital demands regularly. Give your mind a rest from the constant influx of information.

For your colleagues:

Open up conversations: Encourage your colleagues to share their feelings and stressors in a non-judgmental space. Sometimes, just talking about what’s bothering them can relieve stress.

Offer help: If you notice someone struggling, offer your assistance. Whether it’s helping with workload or just lending an ear, your support can make a big difference.

Encourage breaks: Remind your colleagues about the importance of taking short breaks throughout the day. Even a 5-minute walk can help clear the mind and reduce stress.

For your team:

Promote a healthy work environment: Encourage a culture where taking breaks and vacations is not only accepted but encouraged. A well-rested team is more productive and less prone to stress.

Team activities: Organise team-building activities that aren’t related to work. This can strengthen bonds and reduce collective stress.

Check-ins: Regularly check in with your team to gauge stress levels and address any issues before they escalate. This can be through one-on-one meetings or team sessions.

Overall:

Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness or meditation can help reduce stress. Consider integrating these practices into your daily routine or suggesting them to your team.

Physical activity: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reducer. Whether it’s a team sport or individual workouts, encourage physical activity.

Professional support: Sometimes, the best course of action is to seek help from a professional. Encourage yourself, your colleagues and your team to use employee assistance programs (EAPs) or to seek counselling if needed.

Tackling stress is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires ongoing effort and care. By taking proactive steps and supporting each other, we can create a healthier, happier and less stressful work environment. Recognising stress is the first step to managing it. Keep these signs in mind, and you’ll be better prepared to tackle stress head-on, whether it’s sneaking up on you or your team. It’s okay to ask for help. After all, we’re all in this together.


If you need further help and support, organisations like the ones below are here to help you navigate through challenging times:

NHS   |   Mind   |   The Stress Management Society   |   Every Mind Matters – NHS   |   Mind for Treatment of Stress

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