Stress is not an illness. However, if stress-related symptoms aren’t managed and the pressure we feel exceeds our ability to cope, then we can experience poor mental health.
Are any of the following triggers for work-related stress causing you difficulty now?
- Lack of control over work
- Time pressures / excessive or inflexible working hours
- Too much or too little work/responsibility
- Confusion about duties or responsibilities
- Lack of job satisfaction
- Too few development opportunities
- Inadequate training
- Poor work/life balance
- Difficult relationships at work/bullying/harassment
- Lack of support and/or lack of contact with colleagues
- Organisational issues – restructuring, job changes
If so, read on for some helpful hints, information and ideas on how to cope with these challenges.
Our relationships can become strained for various reasons, including working conditions and environmental factors, inequality of workload, bullying/harassment and personality clashes.
Perhaps a wise workplace will anticipate that interpersonal conflict is an inevitable part of relationships and think of ways to manage these difficulties skilfully. If you’re having relational difficulties at work, consider the following:
- Communicate effectively and with respect
- Try to build a ‘good enough’ working relationship with your manager/supervisor so that if you have personal issues that are affecting your performance or time at work in some way, they can be aware and perhaps look at what short term measures and support can be put in place for you
- Reflect on your behaviour in the workplace. You don’t have to like all your colleagues, but it is important to be professional and create a mutually respectful environment
- Build time for engagement with your peers and teams, especially when working remotely. As humans, we thrive on contact, so encouraging a team ethos of support and sharing rather than competition will make for a more pleasant work environment
Good time management will help you stay in control, increase your productivity, and manage your workload without excessive stress.
- Get organised and keep your to-do list up to date
- Deal with problems as they arise. Dwelling on them will contribute to your stress levels and affect your concentration
- Prioritise your workload – if you’re struggling to do this, consider asking your manager to help you prioritise your tasks
- Plan your annual leave/holiday entitlement in advance where possible to ensure you always have a break to look forward to and that you don’t miss out on the dates that are important to you
- Take your breaks – fresh air and a change of scenery at lunchtime can do wonders to recharge your batteries
Too many emails? Consider picking up the phone at work for quick things but also when matters need a bit more attention and discussion. Agreements can often be confirmed via e-mail, but sometimes more personal approaches can resolve situations more effectively and quickly
Making time and space for creativity rather than being on a treadmill of busyness can spark ideas for innovation and time/cost saving ideas.
Consider your goals
Work out what your priorities in life are so that you can keep track of where you want to be without putting too much pressure on yourself. Do you want a promotion or are you working towards a different role? Perhaps you’re satisfied with what you’re doing but maybe some further development or a training course would be interesting and helpful? Aim to hold the bigger picture just in focus so that you don’t lose sight of your goals and become demotivated. If you’re an ICAEW member or ACA student, you're eligible for free coaching from CABA. Work 1-2-1 with a coach to establish your goals and develop a plan towards reaching them.
Accept that you can’t control everything
Focus your energy on what you can change. All too often, we worry about things that may not ever happen and think too far ahead. Try to live in the present as much as possible and think about what you can do today.
Reflect on the things you have achieved during the day and things that have gone well for you to keep your energy and mood balanced. This will enable you to think more clearly about the things that you do have the capacity to change.
Restructures, budget cuts and changes to your role can be challenging, particularly if you have other stressors in your life. Change can be difficult to deal with and accept at times, but it can help to focus on what you can control and spend your energy eliciting the support and information you need to manage change more effectively. Allow time for things to settle. Things are often not as bad as we fear.
Learn to say no
There are many demands on us in the modern workplace and an increased sense of competitiveness in which people’s value is attributed to how busy they are at work. Technology can also serve to blur the lines between rest and work, as we become increasingly available 24/7.
Those people who inspire us the most, of course work hard, but they’re also able to demonstrate a healthy approach to life in general, balancing their relationships, family life, hobbies and interests. So, how do they do this?
Developing firmer boundaries to manage other people’s expectations of you more reasonably is a vital skill. Learning to say ‘no’ with context comes with experience but it is a must in order to prevent resentment from creeping in as a result of work overload. ‘No’ with context isn’t all about explaining yourself to the hilt but it is about being honest and focussing on what can be done rather than what can’t.
We’re all responsible for our own health and wellbeing, but employers also have a duty of care when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their workers.
What would you do if you didn’t feel yourself and were concerned about your mental health? It’s worth knowing what support is in place for you should you need it.
- Does your place of work have an Occupational Health Department? Get familiar with the referral procedure for this if you have been unwell due to mental health issues or physical problems affecting you in the workplace. Usually a line manager would be able to refer you and gain access to advice on how to support you better
- Perhaps your place of work has a Welfare / Counselling Department or an EAP where you can gain support and help to deal with stress. Taking time to look at your coping strategies with a professional can be extremely beneficial.
- Consider contacting your HR or Personnel Department (if you have one) for advice around problems at work
- Are you a member of a Union? Sometimes advice from a Union can assist if you think you haven’t been treated fairly in the workplace
Many employers are now also encouraging peer support and may have in-house groups or networks where you can connect with others
Take care of yourself
- Sleep is so important for our mental wellbeing and is often the first thing to be affected when we’re stressed. Having a regular sleep cycle is beneficial. Consistency in the time you go to bed and get up in the morning helps the body to develop a routine. Our new partnership with Sleepstation can give you access to a free sleep improvement programme and self-help resources.
- Exercise by doing something you enjoy. If you’re in a job which is largely sedentary, then regular exercise prevents stress overload in the body. Exercise can also help to release those positive endorphins that make us feel happy and content
- Relaxation and rest are just as important as exercise in maintaining good mental wellbeing. Reading, listening to music, yoga, Pilates, a walk in nature…whatever works for you. Perhaps try some mindfulness or meditative techniques, particularly if sleep is difficult for you
Remember, a healthy balance between work and play is down to you to maintain to ensure you are getting the most out of life. Being compassionate to yourself will give you the energy you need to work well and live well.
Please do see your GP if you’re worried about the impact of stress on your health.
This article was written for CABA by mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley.
CABA provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff and their close family members. Learn more about how to strengthen your mental wellbeing and support others on our dedicated hub.