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April is Stress Awareness Month

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness about what stress is, how it can affect us and what tools and support mechanisms are available to help those who need it.

In today’s busy society, in one way or another, we are all likely to be experiencing stress. Whether it’s the recent rise in energy bills or juggling work and family commitments, all of us experience some sources of stress.

A little bit of stress can be good for you, but too much can lead to burnout or to common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Some of the signs of stress or burnout include feeling overwhelmed, trouble sleeping, racing thoughts, and eating more or less than usual.

We all know what it's like to feel stressed, but it's not easy to pin down exactly what stress means. When we say things like "this is stressful" or "I'm stressed", we might be talking about:

  • Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don't have much control over what happens.
  • Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.

There's no medical definition of stress, and health care professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress, or how to deal with them. But whatever your personal definition of stress is, it's likely that you can learn to manage your stress better by:

  • managing external pressures, so stressful situations don't seem to happen to you quite so often
  • developing your emotional resilience, so you're better at coping with challenging situations when they do happen, and don't feel quite so stressed

Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem and for some people can lead to mental ill health or physical illness.

Stress isn't a psychiatric diagnosis, but it's closely linked to mental health in two important ways:

  • Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
  • Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, heath care appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.

There is increasing pressure upon businesses to ensure that work is not causing or contributing to mental ill health. This means creating a psychologically safe working environment where sources of stress of identified and managed carefully to ensure that work doesn’t make people ill – this is both a legal and a moral responsibility.

In an organisational setting the legal responsibility to create a safe workplace rests primarily with the ‘employer’ who is responsible not only for action or lack of action at board level but also for all those employed by them.

All managers in any workplace setting have an important role in assisting employers to proactively address work related stress, and in doing so reduce the likelihood of employees suffering from work related stress.

What is the managers responsibility when it comes to stress at work?

Examples of issues all managers should consider include:

  • Whether stress may be a factor in relation to frequent or long-term absenteeism for individual employees
  • How they will monitor and address potential sources of stress
  • Identify what medical and other evidence is required to determine whether the employee may have a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act. If so, consider whether the employee is being treated less favourably for a reason related to the disability and whether there are reasonable adjustments that could be made
  • Report their concerns to appropriate senior personnel while maintaining any obligations of confidentiality.

For details of our Managing Stress and Avoiding Burnout Workshop, see here.

To discuss how we can support your organisations to create psychologically safe workplace, contact us here.

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