In a recent blog post, we explored the signs of stress in the workplace and highlighted the red flags that employers, and those who support employers, should look out for so they can play their part in building and maintaining healthy, supportive and proactive workplace cultures. These preventative workplace cultures can be crucial in helping create the right environment for colleagues to feel able to speak out about the stresses they are experiencing, seek help to manage them and take action before the stress levels reach a damaging point.
In that post, we made the distinction between low-level, day-to-day (good) stress and more destructive, intense and high level (bad) stress. It is this latter form of stress that we will focus on in this post, looking this time at ways in which we can all manage this more serious type of stress and how we can support our colleagues.
The aim is not to completely eliminate stress from our lives and the lives of our colleagues, but to help each other find ways of managing it and helping us all harness stress as a positive force for good, not a debilitating condition.
So with that in mind, what tips, hints and strategies could help you or a colleague who is feeling the impact of intense stress? What ideas are worth sharing and discussing at work? How can you and your organisation help, especially as we all deal with the stresses brought upon by COVID?
The NHS offer six big ideas, which we have taken and developed below with our own thoughts and advice.1
1 - Talk to someone
There is no substitute for getting worries and concerns off your chest - talking really helps. We should all be encouraging our colleagues to speak up about any stresses they are experiencing, whether at work with a trusted colleague or line manager, or outside work with friends or loved ones. Organisations should also communicate regularly and clearly about the support they provide - including from organisations like SilverCloud Health, who provide dedicated support on managing stress, and on confidential helplines run by charities and other mental health specialists.
2 - Be more active
One way of releasing some of the tensions and nervous energy that stress can build up is by taking some exercise. This can be as simple as taking a walk around the office or for ten minutes outside in the fresh air. Taking regular breaks from your desk - especially when working at home during COVID - can really help. Managers and leaders can model this sort of healthy behaviour and encourage their colleagues to take breaks and to move around, including making use of subsidised gym memberships, sports clubs and activities.
3 - Split up big tasks
When colleagues are feeling overwhelmed by workloads and tasks, it can be a big help to work with them to break these down into smaller, bitesize chunks, with a clear to do list and specific deadlines for each to spread the work and try to manage the stress. It is also important for colleagues to get credit for achieving goals they set and ticking items off their to do list - a word of thanks or a “well done” can go a long way to helping.
4 - Allow yourself some positivity
If things are feeling tough it is good to remind yourself and colleagues of all the positive things in life - whether that's achievements at work, the esteem and respect that colleagues receive from others and happy things outside work. Suggesting that a colleague makes a short list - three things is a good start - that they are thankful for may help remind them to keep tough or difficult items in perspective, offset by all the positives in their life.
5 - Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Negative or unhelpful thoughts - especially about our own abilities to manage work and stress can lead to a spiral of further unhelpful thoughts and more stress. Trying to challenge these negative thoughts can really help. The NHS use this video to explore this issue which is worth sharing with colleagues.
6 - Plan ahead
One of the most-often reported sources of stress at work is when unexpected demands are made when a new deadline or crisis occurs. Sometimes this is unavoidable but in normal times, we can all plan ahead, especially if we know when workloads are about to get heavier in a busy period. Keeping diaries up to date, with space for thinking and working - not just attending meetings - can help us manage our stress when times get busy and more difficult.
In addition to these six ideas, the Mental Health Foundation provides excellent advice to anyone who may be struggling with stress, which is helpful for those looking to support them: 'Don't be too hard on yourself'. 2 We should be encouraging everyone at work to be kind – to themselves and each other.
During International Stress Awareness Week, employers may wish to talk about these ideas or anything related to stress at work and stress that can impact on colleagues. As we said in our previous blog on stress, high-level stress will often lead to changes in people's behaviours, their demeanour, appearance and/or their level of engagement with discussions, work and conversations. The key red flag is to look out for significant changes in those with whom you work. Having spotted these flags, perhaps the ideas discussed in this post will help you help someone in your workplace.
To support International Stress Awareness Week, we are hosting a Zoom webinar (on Tuesday 3 November) titled "Building a proactive wellbeing programme across the continuum – from wellbeing to treatment" - - why not sign up to find out more and see what you can do this week, and all year round, to support your colleagues at work.