Work-related stress: Is it making you ill?
What is work-related stress?
Most of us have experienced some sort of stress about our work at some point. However, an increasingly large number of people are finding that work is having a negative impact on their health and well-being; they are suffering from ‘work-related stress’.
Work-related stress is defined as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’ and, in 2014/15 35% of all work related ill health cases, and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health were related to work-related stress. The main things that people struggled with were workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support (HSE, 2015).
This is worrying when we consider that prolonged stress can result in serious ill health. For example, a report by Chandola (2010) found that work stress has severe implications for employee health, including increases in anxiety, depression and an estimated 50% increase in the risk of heart disease. It really is an issue which shouldn’t be ignored. But how do we know if we are experiencing work-related stress?
Signs and symptoms of work-related stress
Whilst it is healthy for all of us to feel a little bit of stress, when that stress is prolonged or at a level we struggle with, certain signs and symptoms may become apparent. These can include:
- Bruxism (teeth grinding).
- Loss of interest in work.
- Insomnia or other sleep problems.
- Loss of sex drive.
- Self medication (e.g. needing alcohol or drugs to ‘wind-down’).
- Stomach upset.
Ignoring these signs/symptoms could lead to more serious health consequences and should, in my opinion, be taken as a warning that something isn’t right. So what can individuals do to help themselves?
Tips for managing workplace stress
Whilst many work places do take the mental well-being of their employees very seriously, it would be naive to assume that all workplaces actively promote a healthy working environment. There are a number of workplace focused interventions that can help companies to promote well-being, but even with the best of intentions there are going to be times when things don’t work out. As such, a good starting point is with yourself and the good news is that evidence shows that person-focused interventions can help.
Self-help strategies are great. However, as the way individuals respond to environmental stressors varies (Murphy, 2003), what works for one person may not be as effective for another. As such, whilst one person may be able to overcome stress on their own, some may required the help of a GP, counsellor or therapist.
A good therapist/counsellor will help you to focus on your own emotional intelligence (EI) and to recognise that, whilst you cannot control everything in your work environment, you can take control over the way you think and the way you feel and this often has a massive impact on stress levels.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Just as we have different IQ’s in the population (intelligence quotients) I believe we also have different EQ scores (emotional intelligence quotients). However, just as intelligence levels rely on a combination of nature and nurture, so does our emotional intelligence. In other words, we can develop the way we think and feel through practice and learning new, healthy ways of thinking.
Hypnotherapy is a very effective method for developing EI which is defined as ‘the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. It can help you to develop new, healthier ways of thinking and feeling and, in doing so, can help you to cope with the stresses that work-life often brings.
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About Sue Learoyd-Smith
Sue works as a clinical hypnotherapist at SFS Therapy. She specialises in working with stress, anxiety and depression and has also successfully helped clients (both young and old) with issues including weight loss, depression, panic attacks, fears/phobias, addiction, motivation and many other issues.