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Self Care to Manage Stress at Work and Avoid Burnout

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Work related stress is on the increase with 79% of UK employees surveyed in The Workplace Health Report 2024 reporting moderate to high stress levels, an increase of 14% since 2022.

According to the report, which is produced by Champion Health, employees cite workload as the main cause of work-related stress, followed by lack of control and lack of support.

Emma Pennycard of Becoaching discusses what could, and should we be doing to help ourselves and our colleagues manage stress and reduce the risk of it escalating to burnout.

Are we confusing pressure with stress?

Although pressure can be challenging (and tiring) it is in the most part positive. Pressure can be motivating and exciting. We have the capacity to deal with pressure, it is good for us, it can increase our performance, our potential and gives us purpose and a zest for life.

When pressure becomes excessive, however, and we no longer have the capacity to cope, this leads to stress. And stress is not good for you. It affects our physical and mental wellbeing, and can cause problems with sleep, digestion, muscle aches and pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and more.

Stress also affects our ability to think logically and to make decisions. It can trigger our unhelpful and often unhealthy habits that we use to cope with stress in the moment but usually leave us feeling more stressed and lead to a viscous cycle that can be hard to break.

This is more than pressure. It is more than a bad day, and it needs addressing so that we can reduce stress levels in our workplaces instead of seeing them continue to rise year on year.

And not only that, when stress is left untreated it can escalate into burnout.

What is the difference between stress and burnout?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed, with symptoms characterised by ‘feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.’

The road to recovery from burnout can be both long and challenging. Therefore, it is crucial that we learn to recognise stress early and take proactive steps to manage it and support our colleagues to do the same before things escalate.

What can we do to help in the workplace?

The most common reported cause of work-related stress is workload followed by lack of control and lack of support. Supporting people to manage their workload is not about taking work from them although in some cases this may be necessary. It is not about sending people on a time management course as if it were that simple, we would all be working in the important / not urgent quadrant by now! And it is not about telling people to work less as this will lead them to feel misunderstood resulting in more stress.

Supporting people to feel in control of and manage their workload IS about:

  • Helping them to understand what is driving their stress. What beliefs are getting in their way, are they trying to perfect everything, please everyone, control everything or are they fearful of something?
  • Taking time to understand their workload and support them to manage their expectations of themselves in line with their role and responsibilities.
  • Listening to their concerns without judgement or suggestion about what is best for them. What do they need so they can feel in control?
  • Leading by example – being busy is no longer a badge of honour or sign that we are successful. You can’t measure productivity by the hours people work only by how effective they are.

How can we help ourselves?

It is not just organisations that need to find better ways to support people to manage their stress, we need to help ourselves too.

Too many of us measure our own productivity and success by how hard we work. We measure our self-worth by our achievements. ‘Have I done enough’ translates to ‘Am I enough’?

If we continue to be driven by trying to tick everything off our to-do lists, getting everything 100% right, and trying to keep all the people happy all the time, we will continue to be stressed regardless of what managers and organisations do to support us.

We need to build our self awareness about what is driving our stress triggers and behaviours so that we can learn how to avoid them and change our responses.

What can we do to manage our stress?

Our brain and body have basic needs to keep mentally and physically healthy and energised.

These basic needs are sleep, movement, nutrition, connection, and relaxation. When we have these in our daily life on a consistent basis, we have the energy and resilience to cope with what life throws at us.

The problem is we are so busy being busy we continually push ourselves to exhaustion and postpone the time that our brains and bodies need to stop and recharge. And that is when the stress kicks in and the unhelpful habits come out.

We go without these needs too often because we believe there is always something more important to do. But if we keep going like that our battery will run out and we will hit burnout.

So, if you are going to do one thing to reduce and manage your stress, start with the basics, it will make it so much easier to deal with the rest. Put yourself on your to do list.

There is nothing more important than you!

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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