Work-related stress

This blog is written by our clinicians and aims to keep patients informed with up to date information on medical conditions. The editor of the blog is Dr Cristina Romete.

We all know what stress is, right? But what is the difference between work pressure and work stress? When does work pressure become stress?

Everyone experiences different work pressures on a daily basis, which help motivate us and enable us to perform at our best. But when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover, that is when the scale is tipped towards stress. Stress is not an illness in its own right, but the psychological impact can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Nearly half a million people in the UK in 2015/2016 reported work-related stress at a level that is making them ill, and sickness absence from work-related stress costs more than £5 billion a year.

Symptoms of work-related stress include:

  • Feeling more emotional, so becoming easily tearful or sensitive

  • Feeling irritable and having a short temper

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Finding it hard to concentrate or remember things

  • Low motivation

  • Low self-esteem

  • Indecisiveness

There are also the following physical symptoms of work-related stress:

  • Constant tiredness, whole body fatigue

  • Diarrhoea or constipation

  • Indigestion and feeling sick

  • Headaches

  • Losing weight or putting it on

  • Palpitations and chest pains

  • Flare-up of skin conditions e.g. eczema and psoriasis

  • Low libido and erectile dysfunction

Which in turn can make you:

  • Eat more or less food than usual

  • Sleep too much or too little

  • Isolate yourself from others

  • Drink alcohol / smoke / take drugs to relax you

Sure, some days will be more stressful than others, so it’s important not to overreact to small, short-lived changes in your behaviour, but to be able to recognise if you have felt constantly stressed for up to a month or more, and your behaviour has noticeably changed because of it. This is when you should seek help from your GP. Work pressure will affect us in different ways at different times and when it becomes stress is usually a combination of personal life and working life factors. Stress also doesn’t just affect the individual, but their families, colleagues and employers (financially from paying sick pay / paying replacement staff / lost production / increased frequency of accidents etc).

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. A 2019 Acas poll1 found the most common causes of stress and/or anxiety from employees was a) their workload b) how they were managed c) their work-life balance.

The Health And Safety Executive (HSE), is an independent regulator with over 40 years’ experience helping prevent work-related injury, ill health and death of the UK’s work force.

Their definition of stress is ‘the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’. They have produced Management Standards and guidelines on work-related stress2 to help employers manage the causes of work-related stress. Their model is based on 6 areas at work that can lead to stress if not properly managed:

  • Demands – workload, work patterns, work environment

  • Control – how much say a person has in the way they do their work

  • Support – encouragement and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation

  • Change – how organisational change is managed and disseminated throughout the organisation

  • Relationships – promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

The key to improving work-related stress using the above model is that management and staff have to work together. It is necessary to identify issues at the source and agree realistic ways to tackle these issues, so it is in the employers best interest to ensure they talk regularly and openly to their employees and have transparent procedures in place for dealing with issues like sickness absence and discipline in order to be able to deal with potentially stressful situations when they arise. So by taking action to reduce work-related stress, an organisation will have a more productive and healthy workforce which will, in turn, save them money.

There are many ways to reduce work-related stress, mainly involving changing the way you work and your working environment. If it is causing mental health illnesses, your GP may suggest medication or therapy to help you cope better.

Tops tips for reducing work-related stress:

  • Learn to say no if you can’t take on extra work or responsibility

  • Take a walk or get some fresh air during your lunchbreak

  • Eat a balanced diet and try to avoid drinking too much alcohol

  • Ensure you take the breaks and holidays you’re entitled to

  • Accept the things you can’t change and concentrate on the things you have control over

  • Regular exercise stimulates the release of the feel-good hormones endorphins.

  • Learn relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or breathing exercises

If you feel you need help now, you can call the Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 who are available 24 hours a day, all year round.

Please contact our office if you would like to discuss work-related stress with any of ROC’s experienced and approachable team of private GPs and resident Psychiatrist.

1https://www.acas.org.uk/media/6245/Stress-and-anxiety-at-work-personal-or-cultural/pdf/Stress_and_anxiety_at_work_personal_or_cultural.pdf

2Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach, A step-by-step workbook https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wbk01.pdf

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