Stress is a huge topic right now and it’s not surprising; more people are suffering from stress than ever before. An article published by The Guardian in May, 2018 highlights that three in four people in Britain feel overwhelmed by stress stating, “Mental health experts said the huge number of people affected should prompt employers, NHS staff and ministers to do more to reduce stress’s debilitating effects and provide more help.”
So, what is stress? The Stress Management Society states, “Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and nor-epinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.”
It is very difficult for someone to ask for help and support when they are feeling stressed at work, so how can you support them?
- Recognise the symptoms and signs of stress: There are many different physical, behavioural, cognitive and emotional symptoms of stress. You may notice they are looking unwell or tired, not eating properly or not caring for themselves. They may have mood swings, are withdrawn, have lost their sense of humour, are easily irritated, short tempered, cannot concentrate, are agitated, can’t switch off, are indecisive or error prone. They may have become emotional or very negative about everything. It may not be something specific, but they just seem to be different to how they normally are.
- Try and engage the person in conversation: Try a simple ‘How are you?’or ‘Fancy a coffee and a chat?’ This can be difficult to do but it could be the start of them getting help and acknowledging that someone is there for them, to make sense of how they are feeling. Try and encourage the person to talk about how they are feeling as this may help them start to feel better. Giving someone your time, patience and understanding can mean the world to someone who is stressed. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then confide in another colleague, your boss, HR or someone else that you think the person is stressed and struggling and ask them to speak to the person.
- Help them gain perspective:Try focusing on the positives. When someone is stressed, they become very negative and everything seems to be going wrong on their life. Offer help, support and be there for them; remind them that there are always choices and options.
- Try to understand the causes: Whilst listening to the person, you may pick up on what is causing them to feel stressed. You can ask open questions to help them explore what the causes are. For example, when do you feel the most stressed? You can help by saying what you think the causes are. “From what you have said it sounds like x and y are contributing to you feeling stressed.” This may help them realise what the causes are.
- Encourage action: Gently encourage the person to think about what they could do and what action they could take. To begin with one small action is enough; they may decide to discuss it with their boss or their partner.