At TLCT we offer Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace L3, Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace L2 and an Introduction to Mental Health in the Workplace L1. Please visit our website for further information. All our courses cover workplace well-being, providing a safe place to discuss this highly emotive issue.

Monday 10th October 2022 is Mental Health Awareness Day. The theme for this year set by the World Federation for Mental Health is ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. So, having just come through a global pandemic and all the uncertainty that brings, let’s start with Workplace Well-being as we start returning to the workplace and encountering the varying degrees of stress we find there.

Stress is normal. It is our fight-or-flight mechanism. Do we stay and face the threat, or would it be in our interest to run away? How we respond to stress is individual. Our perception of the threat will differ from that of a colleague. This is because we have all had different experiences and outcomes in the past, we have different existing knowledge, our memories are individual, our sociocultural factors are varied, our expectations and emotions unique and what motivates us is personal too.

When we are stressed, our pupils dilate, our mouth goes dry, our breathing and heart rate increase, our digestion slows, and our palms become sweaty. This is due to the release of cortisol and adrenaline in our body enabling us to fight or flight. Stress can be a good thing if not experienced consistently. Stress can help us prepare for presentations, meetings, performances, and interviews. Without stress in the world deadlines would be missed, appointments ignored or attendance late, and we would be placing ourselves in danger far more frequently.

However, continued stress and chronically high levels of cortisol and adrenaline can be very damaging to physical and mental health. How we perceive and respond to stress is key. Are we looking at the stressor as a challenge or a threat? Modern-day stressors can include a poor workplace environment, demanding or unfriendly colleagues, lack of resources to perform tasks efficiently, commuting, finances, and social media.

If we face workplace stresses with a negative frame of mind and view the situation as a threat, our response too will be negative. We may avoid certain situations, take time off sick or withdraw into ourselves. When we feel threatened, we ruminate, become overly focused on what might fail, and become cautious about fully engaging with the task and consequently, our performance may suffer.

Should we however face workplace stresses with a positive frame of mind and consider them as challenges we will grow as individuals. We will become confident, more knowledgeable, and have a feeling of control and a sense of achievement. Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own”. Focusing on what we can control rather than what we cannot, will be far more productive in terms of our energy and our work achievements.

Surviving stress in the workplace is doable with self-awareness and a structured approach. Try and identify your feelings when you are stressed.

  • What was the stress factor and how did you feel? Physical and behavioural changes occur when we are stressed; learn to identify these.
  • Reflect on situations that have had a negative impact on your emotional well-being. How and why did you feel that way? How would you like to react to those types of situations in the future? What steps can you take towards achieving those desired reactions? What tools and support will you need to achieve those desired reactions?
  • Prioritise your workweek. Make sure you plan breaks, lunch, and socialising. These are important elements for well-being. Does your workload seem realistic? If not, consider making changes or discussing with a colleague or manager how changes could be made.
  • Prioritise your work itself. Which tasks are essential? Which are urgent? Which are unnecessary? Which ones can wait or be delegated?
  • Set yourself achievable goals both long and short-term. If they are too ambitious your motivation will be lost. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail to achieve these goals. Go back to your plan and revise it.
  • Ensure you and your colleagues understand fully your role within the workplace. That way roles and responsibilities will not be blurred.
  • Be honest with yourself and colleagues if you are unable to or are struggling to meet deadlines. Discuss openly and find a positive solution together. Teamwork not only increases productivity but also creates social interaction and is an important bonding process. Strong social connections can help protect against the negative impacts of stress.

It could be said that we take more care of our pets and plants than we do of ourselves. Self-care is so important in protecting ourselves against the impact of stress. We, therefore, need to consider at least four areas which, if looked after, can make a difference to our stress response:

  • Sleep. Our sleep both in terms of quality and quantity is highly important to our functioning well. A good sleep pattern prepares us for our daytime management, the attitude we take when stressed, the environment in which we find ourselves when experiencing stress and ultimately our health.
  • Exercise. We need to exercise aerobically for about 150 minutes a week to help improve our coping mechanism with stress. This can be broken down into bitesize time slots rather than a full-on session. Walking outside has also been proven more beneficial than inside on a treadmill.
  • Learning. Further learning, be it formal or informal, engages the brain and creates a distraction from stress.
  • Food. Our diet too plays a key role in our ability to cope with stress. Avoid processed food, alcohol, and caffeine, instead, try and choose a natural diet with a variety of colours. Remember too to keep hydrated which enables the brain to function well.

In conclusion, stress in the workplace is inevitable but how we respond, whether we see it as a threat or a challenge, will determine the impact we allow it to have on us. Remember, we can only do something about what can control; we need not waste energy on what is out of our control. Finally, self-care will help to develop coping strategies in a clear and useful way. You are important; take care of yourself.

For more on workplace well-being why not enrol on one of our Mental Health courses? Level 3 Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace, Level 2 Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace, or Mental Health Awareness.
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