How to address your stress

In today’s unrelenting, high-pressured, fast-paced work environment how can we address our stress? The Thriving at Work Review by Stevenson/Farmer published in October 2017, found that c.15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. The annual cost to employers who do not support their staff with mental-ill health is between £33 and £42 billion. These are staggering figures indicating that employers need to talk more about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. I am a firm believer in changing workplace culture and systems, but what can we do to ensure we are as mentally healthy as possible and access resources available?

1. Keep a mood log

Mood monitoring was originally designed for people with bipolar disorder to monitor and keep track of their cycles. However, it is a fantastic tool for everyone to use. The book Mood Mapping: Plot Your Way to Emotional Health and Happiness by Dr Liz Miller provides a framework to understand yourself, how you think, feel and events that may trigger certain moods.  If you don’t have time to read the book, some great apps include: Daylio and MoodTrack Diary. This is a great way to start addressing your stress by establishing what the  triggers may be.

2. Know what makes you feel stressed

There is nothing like knowing your triggers and how you respond to stress, so you can plan which strategies to employ. In my face-to-face training sessions and webinars, I talk about the stress bucket model. Think of daily stressors as water, flowing into a bucket. Can you identify what these are for you and list them? Now think about a tap at the bottom of the bucket, that allows the stress to leave. The tap turns two ways, one way is helpful coping mechanisms such as rest, reflection, taking time out, eating well, exercise etc.

The other is unhelpful coping mechanisms such as drinking too much, working long hours consistently, smoking too much etc. With unhelpful strategies, stress may be initially alleviated, but it resurfaces into the bucket again, quickly and perhaps in a larger quantity. Knowing how you manage your stress and reflecting on which strategies are likely to work for you is essential to manage your mental wellbeing in a pro-active way.

3. Speak to friends, family, trusted colleagues about how you feel

As the saying goes “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Maintaining a stiff-upper lip and keeping your thoughts bottled-up is not helpful in the long term. Being actively listened to is one of the most helpful things anyone can do. Talking to someone about how you feel and just asking them to listen non-judgementally is powerful and may support you to find ways forward you may have not been able to see previously. It’s easy to overthink things and play them over in our minds. By speaking them we actualise it and can begin to see things in a different way. Having someone to listen and encourage us, also makes us feel less alone and isolated.

4. Access your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

EAPs are provided by many employers to offer confidential counselling to staff to address personal or other problems, including work-related stress, that may be affecting staff in any way. They are completely confidential and you can receive advice from debt to childcare and access counselling almost immediately. It is usually a flexible service that means you can request a specific style of counselling that is close to your work or where you live. Find out about your organisation’s EAP service and what is offered. There is also usually access to an online portal with lots of health and wellbeing tips too.

5. Talk to your GP if you need support and start to feel mentally unwell

Data from NHS Digital from Sept 2016 shows that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression or mixed anxiety and depression than men (19% women vs 12% for men). It is more likely that women will seek help earlier and speak to their GP. It’s important to do this sooner rather than later so you can be referred and supported in the best way possible. The Mental Health Foundation have created a practical guide to speaking to your GP. It includes information on what to expect and what a GP can do for you.

6. Speak to you line manager

This of course can seem very daunting, with 1 in 3 employees fearing that disclosing stress would put them first in line for redundancy. Time to Change have listed some top tips for speaking to your employer. Under the Equality Act 2010 mental-ill health is classified as a disability and you are within your rights to ask for workplace adjustments. Mental Health First Aid England’s line managers’ resource is a one-stop shop for managers and staff alike. Providing guidance and information on potentially difficult discussions and how to develop a successful return to work plan.

7. Have a happiness hour

How often do you have an hour that you dedicate to activity that brings you joy, where time passes without you realising? Carve out space for yourself, even if it is two 30 minute sessions to do something you really enjoy. This could be going for a walk, baking a cake, DIY, motorcycle maintenance-anything at all! If you think you will struggle to do this, send yourself calendar invites to help you ring fence the time.

8. Sleep hygiene 

Sleep hygiene can be defined as having a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good night time sleep quality, which results in full daytime alertness. Before you go to sleep, you may like to consider a mini “digital-detox” by putting your phone, tablet and electronic devices away at least 30 minutes before bed to clear your head. It is also advisable not to drink caffeinated drinks or alcohol two hours prior to going to sleep. To aid your bedtime routine you may even like to burn a relaxing candle, essential oils or take a long hot bath. Whatever works for you, to enable you to have high-quality deep sleep.

9. Keep a gratitude journal 

After your digital-detox each night and prior to going to sleep write down five positive things that have happened to you during the day. These don’t have to be big ground-breaking activities, but moments that brought you joy or gave you a sense of achievement. For example, a coffee with a colleague you haven’t seen for a while, getting a seat on the train home or getting through a tough meeting. This reinforces the good things and small wins, so you can look back and reflect on all your achievements and positive moments, ready for sleep and the next day. It also provides a success journal for you to reflect on when you may need a boost.

10. Give back 

As cheesy as it may sound, as humans we all want to give back in some way. Whether that’s giving back to your family, volunteering, sharing knowledge via online platforms this all contributes to our overall wellbeing and sense of achievement. If you are interested in volunteering, Do-It.org website is a good place to start, where you can search for opportunities in your local area. Another great website to plan and consider your wellbeing toolkit is the Wheel of Wellbeing website which highlights activities that can be helpful to our health and happiness.

As with physical health and peak performance, mental health requires time, energy and patience. If we take this time and invest in ourselves we can flourish and thrive. As always do leave a comment below and let me know how you keep yourself mentally well.