Sadly, it is all too common these days to hear others talking about how stressed they are, whether at home or at work. We live in a hectic world, and the pressures and demands of modern life can easily accumulate to the point where they feel overwhelming. In fact, we are now so used to stress that we just accept it as part of our lives and rarely question why it is there, if something can be done about it, or if it could be removed altogether. Questioning the source of stress becomes yet another task to complete and a source of stress itself!
However, simply accepting that life is stressful is unproductive. It doesn’t help you reduce or remove sources of stress from your life. At Delphis, we are committed to helping workplaces become more aware of the impacts of stress on their staff, educating managers about the impact of stress and helping companies see how they can create a less stressful, more productive environment for their colleagues.
All of us at some time will say we feel ‘stressed’, but what do we mean by that? Well, we might notice our heart rate increases, we breathe faster, we perspire more. Other things happen in our bodies too that we might not notice: rising blood sugar levels, for example, or the digestive system slowing down.
In short bursts, all this is fine. It’s your body’s way of getting ready to run from a dangerous situation, or to fight an enemy. The ‘fight or flight’ response has been so useful throughout our evolution that it has stuck with us until the present day. However it is sometimes activated when we perceive a situation as ‘dangerous’ even though there is no real need to run or fight. For example, opening your emails on a Monday morning and being confronted with several pages that you need to work through may elicit a stress response. Is the fight or flight response really appropriate? Probably not, but the response is so ingrained that this situation is perceived as ‘dangerous’ and so the body prepares itself accordingly. Perhaps we anticipate a failure to cope with the demands we face, and it is this failure which is seen as a threat – for example loss of status or even of the job itself.
Stress is not an illness but a normal response to a perceived danger. However if the effects of stress on the body persist for long enough, illness can result. For example, stress can slow down digestion and lower kidney function, which is not harmful in the short term, but becomes much more serious when played out over days, weeks or even months. How long can your body sustain the higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar and faster breathing before illness ensues? As it turns out, research from the HSE shows that in 2015/16 11.7 million working days were lost due to stress-related illness. This works out at 24 days per case, far exceeding the average for a physical illness.
So if you feel stressed at work, how likely are you to discuss this with your manager? In many cases people would rather say nothing. And if they do say something they may well be ignored, as 38% of colleagues reported, according to the third annual Employee Insight Report (2015) from Capita Employee Benefits. Considering all the working days lost to stress, as well as the poor performance of those who overwork and ignore the signs of their ill health, it seems to be in everyone’s best interest to ensure that workplace stress is taken seriously. A continuous state of stress at work is unacceptable, and should be dealt with not just by the individual who is suffering, but by the manager responsible for that individual.
If you want to improve stress in your workplace then consider our Resilience and Stress Management Workshop. It’s full of evidence-based research advice, real-world tips and techniques, and a wealth of practical experience delivered by our experienced and educated facilitators.