Mental Health - Stressed out!

Peter Brittonin Training & Education

For many people, work related stress can become an unbearable burden. All too often we feel we must just keep our heads down and carry on with the job in hand, despite knowing deep down that we are struggling. Peter Britton suggests that this can often lead to tragic consequences should it go unrecognised and untreated.

The Health and Safety Executive tell us that work related stress is defined as "The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure of work or other types of demands placed on them", which is all very well but, when a person is suffering from stress, surely it is difficult to separate work from personal life?

If you are stressed from your home life, for whatever reasons - financial, relationship, troublesome children and such forth - then it is pretty much impossible to not take those anxieties into the workplace. Conversely, problems at work are easily brought to the supper table.

Essentially, when stress is triggered as a result of work pressures, it can be due to a number of reasons, such as long hours, excessive workloads, tight deadlines, organisational change, lack of support, harassment/bullying to name a few.

Many may be forgiven, in today's economic climate, for feeling 'grateful' to have a job at all and, therefore all too easily, the added pressures of working life get accepted rather than questioned. Some may even consider it a weakness to suggest that they are unable to cope with the added pressures.

However, with the exception of the top echelons of the turfcare industry, many sports facilities are themselves, under financial pressure and this often results in 'stress managing stress'; turfcare professionals are often expected to 'make do' with outdated machinery, staffing numbers are reduced and the finances can't be found to complete meaningful renovations, let alone ongoing maintenance.

The first thing you need to do is recognise that you are suffering from stress, and that may not always be easy. A feeling of anxiety in the run-up to an important event is an understandable and expected reaction, but if that feeling continues on 'normal' work days, then you are probably stressed.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Often people don't recognise the symptoms of work related stress and, instead, adopt a 'coping' mechanism, putting it down to just being extra busy and they should be able to cope. People can also convince themselves that it's just for a short while until things get better but, more often than not, this is not the case.

Stress can manifest itself into various symptoms which can include:

  • Insomnia leading to tiredness
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Sadness and high emotions (low mood)
  • Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Poor productivity, accompanied by feelings of low achievement
  • Prone to making mistakes
  • Regular absence and a higher sickness rate
  • Being accident-prone
  • Being cynical and defensive
  • Finding fault
  • Ailments such as headaches, backache, indigestion, weight loss or gain, shortness of breath, regular or lingering colds.

If you recognise any of the above symptoms, then it is time for you to seek help; for yours and your family's sake.

How can you get help?

The first thing you could do is talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. At work, that could be your immediate superior, a colleague or a close friend; in your personal life, your partner, close family member or your mate down the pub. You may be surprised to learn that many will have experienced a similar situation.

Stress won't go away unless it is recognised and managed. In extreme cases, it can lead to more challenging medical conditions and mental health issues, so should be taken very seriously.

A good place to start, of course, is with your GP. He or she will be able to recognise the severity of your stress and recommend a course of action.

Trigger points

Something will have triggered your stress. If at work, did you lose a staff member that wasn't replaced, were you refused 'that' machine that would have made your job so much easier, or perhaps your members are simply unreasonable in their expectations?

At home, had you recently lost a loved one? were your children struggling with their exams, or did your finances take an unexpected turn for the worse?

Whatever the trigger was, recognising it and dealing with it is a very good starting point. It won't go away on its own.

Remember, your stress will impact on others, thereby creating a vicious circle within the workplace or at home.

From personal experience ...

My 'recognition' of stress came via a panic attack at one o'clock one morning. At the time, I thought I was having a heart attack. The doctor was called, who immediately recognised the symptoms. Having eventually calmed me down, I enjoyed the best nights's sleep I'd had in a good while. In the morning, I headed off to his surgery to discuss my condition.

He suggested a stress management course being run by the NHS. It involved twelve weekly sessions with like-minded folk and simply went through the various techniques used to combat stress, along with how to deal with the triggers.

I won't go into them here but, suffice to say, they are techniques that I still use today, and they work. Some of my Pitchcare colleagues may think differently!

In the bullet points above, reference to caffeine and alcohol is made. I have to say that switching to decaf coffee (however awful that sounds) had an immediate positive impact, as did reducing my intake of alcohol.

From the NHS

The following ten point guide may be found on the NHS website:

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert, offers these ten 'stress buster' tips on the NHS website

Be active

Exercise won't make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you are feeling, clearing your thoughts and leaving you to deal with your problems more calmly.

Take control

There's a solution to any problem. "If you remain passive, thinking, 'I can't do anything about my problem', your stress will get worse," says Professor Cooper. "That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing."

The act of taking control is, in itself, empowering, and it's a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else.

Connect with people

A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way.

"If you don't connect with people, you won't have support to turn to when you need help," says Professor Cooper.

"The activities we do with friends help us relax. We often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever."

"Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems."

Have some 'me time'

Here in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe, meaning we often don't spend enough time doing things we really enjoy.

"We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise," says Professor Cooper.

"Set aside a couple of nights a week for some quality 'me time' away from work. By earmarking those two days, it means you won't be tempted to work overtime."

Challenge yourself

Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps to build confidence. This will help you deal with stress.

"By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person," says Professor Cooper. "It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive, such as watching TV all the time."

Avoid unhealthy habits

Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping. "Men, more than women, are likely to do this. We call this avoidance behaviour," says Professor Cooper. "Women are better at seeking support from their social circle."

"Over the long term, these crutches won't solve your problems. They'll just create new ones. It's like putting your head in the sand. It might provide temporary relief, but it won't make the problems disappear. You need to tackle the cause of your stress."

Help other people

Professor Cooper says evidence shows that people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, become more resilient.

"Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective. The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel."

"If you don't have time to volunteer, try to do someone a favour every day. It can be something as small as helping someone to cross the road or going on a coffee run for colleagues."

Work smarter, not harder

Working smarter means prioritising your work, concentrating on the tasks that will make a real difference.

"Leave the least important tasks to last. Accept that your in-tray will always be full. Don't expect it to be empty at the end of the day."

Try to be positive

Look for the positives in life, and things for which you're grateful. "People don't always appreciate what they have. Try to be glass half full instead of glass half empty," Professor Cooper says.

Try writing down three things that went well, or for which you're grateful, at the end of every day.

Accept the things you can't change

Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over.

"If your company is going under and is making redundancies, for example, there's nothing you can do about it," says Professor Cooper.

"In a situation like that, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job."

And finally ...

If you feel unable to speak openly about your stress, there are ways to get private and confidential support.

The Priory Group is one such organisation that has a nationwide network of sites providing twenty-four hour support seven days a week. Their expert consultants, psychologists and therapists can provide support outside of normal working hours in a tailored package of support that suits your individual needs. All treatment is provided in the strictest privacy.

Of course, they still require you to 'speak', but in a more controlled and private environment. It works for some.

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