Well firstly, some of the stats around stress, particularly stress in the workplace are quite frightening.
According to the latest statistics from the HSE 488,000 cases of stress were reported last year.
The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers.
The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case.
Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend up to around 2009/10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.
And in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health so this isn’t just impacting our people, but our performance and our bottom line and we can’t keep just reporting on it and having a moan when another person takes some time off – we have to start acting and making some changes.
With the rise in technology and the fact that we are now contactable 24/7 and with so many of us ‘busy’ all of the time either in our own businesses, bringing up our families or working in our jobs as many hours a day as we can fit in – stress has become a bit of the norm hasn’t it?
We see friends, family and colleagues and immediately go into competition about who is busier than who and who is more stressed than who. It’s as though if we aren’t busy or stressed then we aren’t successful or trying hard enough.
Monday morning conversations are along the lines of ‘Hi, how was your weekend?’ ‘Oh you know, busy, not long enough really. Yours?’ ‘Yes busy’.
And when we see people during the week, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Response – busy/stressed/manic etc. etc.
What happened to – ‘Had a lovely weekend thanks, managed to fit a lot into it but it was great’. ‘Or I’ve had a really productive week thank you, got so much done and I feel so much better for being on top of things.’
It’s as though we compete to see who is the most miserable, the most busy and the most stressed and if you are none of these things then you are just a failure – and we need to change this. And we also nee dot change the expectations in our organisations that being in the office is the same as being productive and efficient.
Now I’m going to give you some good news here – some stress is good for us – Yes, you heard me – some stress is good for us. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, it’s what helps us complete projects – it’s what causes Mo Farah after how ever many laps he’s run around the track pushing even harder to cross the finish line. It’s what athletes and sports people use to win the championship, it’s how women are able to give birth, it’s how we get through interviews, all stress.
And good stress releases the hormones that keep us motivated and able to get through the day. So some stress is good. What I’ll share throughout today is what can happen when the stress moves to bad stress and what the consequences can be, and what we can do to minimise us getting to the bad stress areas of life.
I mentioned earlier some of the stats of stress at work – working in HR the amount of people who would come and talk about stress or be signed off with workplace stress was ridiculously high, and I’ll admit there were times when I thought they were being ridiculous, because, really, what did they have to be stressed about?
I had family and friends who were constantly stressed and I would think again they had nothing to be stressed about.
In 2013 after two serious operations relating to illnesses both stemming from stress, I started a personal mission to find out more about stress and what we could do to minimise this and I always wanted to know why some people were impacted by stress and others weren’t and also I wanted to understand if workplace stress was a myth, or if stress was just stress.
I wanted to know if there ways to reduce the bad stress, whilst keeping the good stress that keeps us motivated so that we didn’t get ill. And from a workplace perspective I wanted to know what to do to minimise the cost and disruption to employers as a cause of stress and I wanted to know why some employees had a stress reaction at a much lower level of perceived stress than others.
I researched holistic ways to minimise stress and it kept coming up with yoga, mediation and journalling. I had dabbled in journalling from time to time and I had, until about six months practiced yoga each morning before heading to work – never had I tried meditation.
So I committed to seeing how these things could help me and started a daily practice of yoga and meditation in the morning and journalling at night. It took a while but I started to feel different and by the time I returned to work I felt like a new person, even donning a new hair cut and colour to look like a new me.
I was going to live by my values, pay attention to my body and my mind and make some changes.
But I still had a lot of questions about how to make a bigger impact and change to others.
More and more of my coaching clients were talking about stress, and being overworked and not feeling valued and wanting to have a better work-life balance and stopping doing the things they used to love but now didn’t have the time and not sleeping properly and having issues with their relationships because of the pressures of work.
And I wanted to find a way to help my clients more.
And that’s where I found the missing piece of the puzzle.
I completed a programme in psychotherapy and solution focused hypnotherapy and was able to use the techniques I was learning to further help my clients find more balance in their lives more quickly and be able to be productive instead of constantly stressed. And I found that it was continually making a difference in my own life. I learned more about Neuroscience, how the brain works and why we feel the way we do, and I started to incorporate this more and more into my own life and into the work we deliver for our clients, on an individual, team and organisational level.
Three of the most simple ways to minimise stress and increase calm, control and resilience are:
To turn all electronic devices off at least two hours before bed – The white noise can keep us awake and stops us from being able to fall asleep. We need sleep to help us process the events of the day.
Take a break at lunch time – a proper one. Leave your desk, take a walk, sit in the park, read a book listen to some music, go to the gym. Anything other than work for at least thirty minutes, an hour if you can.
Get it all out of your head – Whether it’s a get-done list (ban to-do lists, they always contain things to do), journaling, talking to someone, post it notes, planning apps, meditation or mindfulness, spend some time at the end of each day getting your thoughts and feelings on paper, once they are out of your head you can start to process things better.
And as an employer – encourage your people to do these things. Don’t encourage ‘working lunches’, encourage people to leave their work phones (if they have a separate one) at work when they leave and find ways during and at the end of the day to allow your people time to think and decant everything that is in their heads.
If you want to help yourself and your team with more practical tips and techniques then you can buy ‘What’s Your Excuse For Not Overcoming Stress’ from Amazon, or for 20 or more copies, contact us about our corporate discounts.
Kelly Swingler is Founder of Chrysalis Consulting, The People and Change Experts and was appointed at the UK’s Youngest HR Director. Kelly is passionate about helping people find bespoke people solutions to suit the needs of their business. Kelly is the author of Fostering a Mindset for Career Success, AGILE HR and what’s your excuse for not Overcoming Stress.