Stress At Work – common questions

What is stress?

‘Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.’

Some stress is normal and even useful as it can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, it can help you win a race or finish an important job on time. However, if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have negative effects which can result in psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other physical health problems.

What are the common signs of stress?

Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Common signs of stress include difficulty concentrating, sweating, sleeping problems, loss of appetite or loss of libido.

You may feel irritable, anxious or low in self-esteem. Also you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice a change in your behaviour; you may lose your temper more easily, act unreasonably or drink more. You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.

Ultimately stress affects people differently so symptoms can differ from person to person.

What causes stress?

There are many things that may cause stress, the most common life stresses include the death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, increase in financial obligations, chronic illness or injury including physical and emotional, moving home, getting married and traumatic events such as rape, theft and violence towards you or a loved one.

Work related stress is generally the most common, there are many causes of work related stress, some examples include working long hours, having a heavy workload, having too much or too little responsibility, having poor management, working under dangerous conditions, being bullied and/or harassed at work and generally just being unhappy in your job.

How do I recognise what is causing me stress?

Keep a diary, write down the date, time and place of a stressful episode and include details such as what you were doing, who you were with, what you started doing, what you were thinking, how you felt emotionally and how you felt physically. Rate these stressful episodes on a scale of 0-10, 10 being the most stressed and do this for 2-4 weeks. You should be able to see a pattern of what is causing you stress and work out how you operate under pressure.

How can I manage stress?

There is little you can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively such as changing your life style, finding a balance between personal, work and family needs and finding time to relax. Adopt a healthy lifestyle, partake in regular exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Adopting good techniques such as time management can also help you manage stress.

Your GP may be able to recommend stress management techniques such as breathing exercises but stress management is often a personal matter.

How can I relax my mind of stress?

Let out your emotions, either write them down or talk to someone such as a family member, friend or a counsellor. Try doing something new or something you enjoy such as taking up a hobby. This could be a sport or could be a creative activity such as art or crafts. Meditation is a good way to focus and relax your mind; when you meditate, you focus your attention on things that are happening right now, paying attention to your breathing is one way to focus. You could also use guided imagery; you imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed. You can use audiotapes, books, or a teacher to guide you.

Am I relying on any stimulants?

Nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar products are all stimulants, so using them when stressed will only prolong your state of stress. If you can’t imagine a day without these stimulants, there is a real possibility you will have some level of addiction to these stimulants. Whatever the level of addiction, the net consequence is less energy, not more. Cutting out or cutting down on the stimulants will be better for you in the long run, try and find alternatives and support yourself by eating a low-GL diet and supplementing key energy nutrients.

How can I find out my stress level or if I’m vulnerable to stress?

There are many tests online which include multiple choice questions or scenarios rating your stress levels 0-10 and never to very often. When you have completed the test, it will give you a score and rate your stress. They will often give you advice on what to do if you have been identified you’re stressed.

The best advice however is to visit your GP if you believe you are suffering from Stress.

Some individuals are genetically more vulnerable to stress related symptoms due to family history of mental ill health.

Research indicates that if an individual has suffered an episode of depression then they are significantly more likely to suffer a relapse in future.

Workplace stress psychology

Laughter is usually the best natural medicine. It lowers levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, which are stress-aggravating hormones; and it releases feel-good hormones, such as, dopamine. Stress is one of the main factors causing insomnia and other sleep disorders. When stressors are present, the body naturally heightens its response system, leading to wakefulness. When cells shrink due to exposure to stress hormones, they disconnect from each other, which contributes to depression.

What general tips can you give to reduce my stress levels?

1) Try and identify the source. 2) Talk to someone about your problems. 3) Take control of the situation, feeling like you’re not in control is often what makes people feel most stressed. 4) Invest in relationships with friends and family, these will be the people to help you through stressful times. 5) Try and get in the right frame of mind by using relaxation techniques and/or exercising.

What is an employer’s duty of care?

Whilst you are at work, your employer has a duty of care to you, which means that by law they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure an employee’s health, safety and wellbeing. Failure to do this is a failure in this legal requirement.
Employers have statutory obligations under legislation such as:

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Equality Act 2010
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997

These duties include the duty to risk assess including Stress Risk Assessments. There are also duties not to discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments for individuals with disabilities. Mental health can amount to a disability.

What can a solicitor do about Stress?

A solicitor trained and experienced in Stress will work with you sympathetically and to help you gain compensation from your employer – remember your employer has a duty of care to you, if they have failed you and you have a medical condition resulting from your stress whilst at work then you may be entitled to compensation towards any treatment, loss of earnings, loss of pension and injuries you have suffered.

Alternatively a Solicitor may be able to assist in negotiating an exit strategy including a compensation package for termination of your employment thereby removing one of the potential stressors and preventing further ill health

 For more information, help and advice, please visit our dedicated Stress At Work page.


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