Imagine a scenario like this: a few years ago, you were given a great opportunity to excel in your career by taking a new role with this company. This company promised decent remuneration, workable hours and a foreseeable corporate ladder. You are happy.
Fast forward to today.
You are at your desk, alone because everyone else has left. You struggle to keep your eyes open even though you’re on your fifth coffee for the night. To your right, a mountain of paperwork with a creeping deadline. To your left, the constant buzz of your phone scolding you for not being home to change the baby’s diaper tonight, instead of clutching your head in a lonely office.
You start to sweat, and notice your hands are a little shaky. You can’t focus despite staring at the same page for some twenty five minutes. You think about how disappointing you are to your managers, your family, your friends. Your breaths get shorter and a tear drops onto your cheek. This tear turns into an ugly waterfall and you’ve finally lost it, screaming, crying, smashing anything and everything in your way.
Now whilst not everyone experiences these same set of circumstances, everyone does face some kind of stress, somewhere in their lives. Stress, whilst dealt in healthy doses can be highly productive, can also seriously damage the mental health and wellbeing of unsuspecting victims, resulting in anxiety, panic, and even depression. As your work environment consumes a huge portion of your life, managing stress is crucial to ensure that the work you contribute to your organisation is achieved through psychologically healthy and productive means. That means being alert to any symptoms and recognising potential stressors that could lead to anxiety or worse. Remember, these stress indicators can be physical or non physical signs.
What to look for…
More obvious symptoms may include:
– Weaker immune system,
– Change in appetite
– Loss of sex drive
– Sweating and short of breath
– Sleeping problems
Where as less obvious symptoms can include:
– Lacking motivation
– Worrying and anxiety inducing thoughts
– Indecisiveness and questioning your decision making skills
– Having trouble remember or noticing a decrease in memory capacity
– Losing confidence
You may also look out for contributing factors to stress at work, particularly:
This is where the objectives of your tasks are clearly understood and communicated to within the organisation, and that you receive adequate support and resources available. This may come from managers or your team of colleagues as well as the working environment, to ensure that workplace safety is maintained at all times and any signs of workplace harassment is dealt with immediately and effectively.
Many employees and leaders fall into the time demand trap, where deadlines determine the quantity of work, not the quality. Obviously deadlines are integral to running an organisation efficiently, however if you feel that the deadline you have been given is unrealistic or will cause detriment to your work-life balance, you should voice your concerns and work out an alternative action plan with your manager.
Within your organisation, stress can arise as a result of adequate communication but lack of comprehension. Or it can result from inadequate communication and a hostile environment. Many workers are afraid to speak up or seek clarification with decisions made by the company as they feel it is above their pay grade to do so, or they feel that their opinion will be ridiculed by their colleagues. If you believe that your work environment does not promote open communication, you may seek out support systems such as employee assistance programs and activities that encourage work life balance.
What can I do?
If you recognise any of these symptoms or notice them in someone else, acting early on may help prevent the situation from escalating and causing further damage.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Know when you need help as opposed to sticking it out by yourself. Sometimes, our pride and ego may get in the way of letting others know that we are ‘not ok’ and that’s ok. But what is definitely alarming is if you have been experiencing stress for a prolonged period of time without changing any habits or seeking help. This can lead even the strongest of leaders down a dangerous spiral of destruction and depression.
2. Take some time off
Taking time off does not necessarily mean take a three month vacation after you have burnt out, panicked and had several anxiety attacks. It means that you consciously make an effort to include balance in your work and home life, making time for social activities within and outside of work to ensure a consistent and psychologically healthy calendar. This allows for longer periods of productivity whilst being fulfilled in your position and your current status in life beyond your work.
3. Accept and plan
Many people refuse to admit that they are under so much stress they have trouble coping or even producing quality work. By accepting that stress and anxiety are natural and inevitable parts of a working environment minimises the negative impact these symptoms may have on you. You may practice immediate stress relief techniques such as ‘stop, breathe and remove’ or you can work out a longer-term action plan with your leader to manage your workload.
If you have already tried some of these techniques and nothing seems to be improving your stress and anxiety, maybe it’s time to seek professional help. Especially during this cold winter when the ‘winter blues’ take over and getting out of bed in the morning is harder to face than your worst nightmare, just remember…
to prevent is better than to cure.