Everyone feels stress from time to time. Whether it’s carrying the emotional weight of something personal, like relationship problems or financial worries. Or it might be related to work, stressing out because you’re running out of time to finish something by a deadline.

Given everything that has happened so far in 2020, it has never been more important to support the mental wellbeing of our employees. During this year’s International Stress Awareness Week (November 2nd – November 6th) mental wellbeing has the chance to take center stage.

Employers have a great opportunity to open up a conversation about stress, how to recognize the signs of stress and how to handle it before it makes people seriously ill.

The cost of stress

It’s probably not a surprise that work is one of the three biggest causes of stress.

82% of Americans say they feel stressed at work. In the UK, 12.8 million working days were lost in 2018 and 2019 because of work-related stress, anxiety or depression.

As well as absenteeism and lower levels of happiness, having stressed-out employees causes drops in productivity, engagement and retention. Nearly 1 in 6 workers have quit their job due to stress and while managers are in the best position to address stressed employees, their increased responsibilities make them more prone to stress, too.

🤔 So, stress is always bad?

Actually, no. Stress has a bad rap, but that’s probably because we’re only aware of it when it starts affecting us in a negative way. We combat stress. We suffer from stress. But the physiological reaction is actually the same as feeling under pressure.

The rush of hormones like adrenaline can be good for us. There are perks to experiencing stress, for example:

⚡ Non-threatening levels of stress can make us more alert and focused

⚡ The pressure of an important task or having limited time can spur us on to perform even better

⚡ Having past experiences of pressurizing situations makes us more resilient for future stresses

⚡ Overcoming some hardship can lead to a greater sense of achievement and create definitive learning experiences

Though in these positive contexts, we tend to use words like pressure and adversity instead of stress. We accept that pressure is a natural part of life; it’s why we’re not afraid to ask for candidates who are good at “working under pressure”. And how adversity is an accepted barrier to overcome.

When stress becomes harmful

The difference between good and bad stress? Stress becomes harmful when it stops feeling temporary or manageable.

Chronic or acute stress can have worrying effects on our mental, physical and emotional health. Stress can cause a spectrum of problems including migraines, fatigue, sleeping problems, bowel sensitivity, flare ups of existing conditions, mood swings and depression.

Long-term stress can lead to unhealthy coping habits, like excessive drinking and smoking, as well increasing your risk of serious health issues like having a heart attack.

Stress omg GIF by @ionasopov.

How to spot signs of stress

Sometimes we don’t realize how stressed others can be from the outside. Or we’re so preoccupied by our stress that we don’t notice how bad we’re feeling.

Here are some of the most common signs of stress that your people leaders can watch out for in your employees. Don’t forget to look out for them yourself as well. After all, your mental health matters too!

🥱 Lacking energy

😥 Feeling emotionally sensitive, e.g. irritable or upset

😣 Struggling to concentrate

🍪 Change in eating habits and/or appetite

😬 Feeling anxious or worried

😒 Feeling uninterested

😓 Being clammy or sweaty

😠 Snapping at people or feeling impatient

🍷 Increased alcohol intake

🎯 Best practice? Focus on the individual

Because everyone experiences stress differently, the best way to spot stress is by noticing changes in habits or mood that are unusual for the individual.

Everyday actions to reduce stress

The good news is that there’s an arsenal of stress-busting things we can do every day. These include small actions like getting active, meditating, spending time with family and friends and healthy eating.

Employers can also help to encourage a healthy work/life balance by ensuring that employees are switching off at the end of the workday and by celebrating the achievements of their team members.

Encouraging your people leaders to promote mental wellbeing and open up a dialogue about stress will help to build a supportive culture of trust belonging in your organizations. By empowering managers to spot the signs of stress in themselves and others companies can help to support good mental health in their teams and reduce the risk of stress spiraling into more serious illness. Some people may struggle to open up, but you can do your bit as an employer by starting the conversation.

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