Feeling like enough is enough?
Senior Associate Solicitor at Monaco Solicitors, Lorna Valcin, shares her advice of dealing with stress and anxiety at work.
Stress and anxiety are two terms I am hearing more and more these days from my clients, and this is a cause of real concern. I wanted to write about stress and anxiety at work, not from a purely legal angle, but also from a human one.
I want to look at this important subject not from the perspective of a potential claim or dispute, but in terms of how to recognise the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and how best to deal with these in order to look after your own health.
What are the definitions of stress and anxiety?
There are various definitions for stress and anxiety but a few pertinent ones I have found include stress being defined as, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.
Anxiety could be described as, “a worry about future events”, or “the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen”.
Is there a difference between stress and anxiety? It would seem so. It is the stress of a situation that is likely to bring on the feeling of anxiety, but to most people they occur at the same time, and so are often referred to together.
We all have a certain amount of stress in our lives and it will come from different places depending on our particular personal circumstances. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that depending on past life experiences, some people are better equipped than others to handle stress and anxiety in their lives.
As well as a source of immense happiness and joy for most people, children bring to a parent huge amounts of stress and anxiety; this is just part of being a parent and we accept this is the case. Work-related stress however is not quite so acceptable to us, especially when the levels of stress and anxiety get to a point where they are so difficult to manage that they become a disorder that might require medical or alternative attention.
What are the symptoms of stress and anxiety?
My questions are:
- How do you know when you are suffering from stress or anxiety?
- And what are the symptoms that you might experience?
Some of the most commonly recorded symptoms of stress from my clients are:
- Low energy
- Frequent colds and infections
Some of my clients have complained of symptoms ranging from panic attacks to hair loss and everything in between, including some mentioning that their anxiety is affecting their interaction with family and friends. No-one wants work-related stress to impact their personal relationships, and no-one should accept that this is ok.
In my experience it is often difficult for people who might display these types of symptoms to recognise that they may be a sign of stress or anxiety; instead they may just put them down to just feeling under the weather. So many of us ignore the signs of stress and anxiety and just soldier on!
While stress might come from various quarters in our life, work-related stress is a very big concern as it can have such a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. Think about how much time we spend in the workplace – wherever that might be for you. If a situation at your workplace is a cause of your stress, and causes you anxiety, there is little escape.
So how is one supposed to cope with stress when it is caused by work?
The first thing, in my view, is to identify the source of your stress and anxiety. Take the time to stop and think when you feel most stressed in terms of the identifiable symptoms and whether there is anything or anyone who brings on those feelings. It might be more than one thing or person, but try and identify each of these in order to deal with them one at a time if possible.
Ask yourself, “how can I limit my exposure to that thing or person?”. Of course, it might not be possible for you to limit your exposure if the source of stress is your direct line manager, but you will be able to examine how you could deal with the situation.
My tips for dealing with stress
- Examine your reactions to people and situations, and if they are a cause of stress, think about what you can change. Try changing the conversation or approach.
- Put things into perspective – are you dwelling on matters unnecessarily? Try thinking about what you will remember in a year. Often things that feel like a big deal now, are not that important when you look at the big picture.
- Practice mindfulness – this might include trying meditation to calm the mind, or engaging in physical exercise to reduce the impact of stress on the body.
- Take up a hobby or something that occupies your mind and relieves your stress – why not take up singing lessons or join a sports team?
- Keep a mood diary and write down how you feel each day. This will help you identify patterns, and hopefully you will see improvements as you start to take positive actions.
- Take time out to do something that takes your mind off work. A long walk can be a great tonic if that is possible; even just getting some fresh air on your lunch break can make big difference to your mood.
Of course there are variations to these tips to suit your circumstances, but what is important is that you get to know your own mind and feelings. By being aware and mindful you will be able recognise when and why you are not feeling entirely happy with your circumstances.
Then you will be able to take positive steps to change the situation instead of ignoring your symptoms. When symptoms are ignored, the situation could become unmanageable and out of your control, so it’s best to act as soon as you know something is wrong.
How can we help?
I need to end this article by saying that if you are suffering from work related stress, either having been signed off work or not, you should contact us because you may well have a claim against your employer that we can help you with. Ultimately, your employer has a duty of care to you to ensure that you have a safe place of work and that includes ensuring the safety of your health.
Here at Monaco Solicitors we pride ourselves on providing as much free legal information as possible to assist all employees in dealing with their employment issues. This advice always needs to be applied to your specific situation, as the legal solutions that might be available to you will vary.