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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018: How to build resilience to workplace stress

Work is not always easy, fun, or stress-free — but it should never be so stressful that it makes us ill.

'Stress: Are we coping?' is the focus of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May). The Mental Health Foundation claims that stress is a key driver behind the rise of ill mental health in Britain, and that we must do something about it.

It's not just the personal and social impact of stress that should concern us. Each year around 10.4 million sick days are taken by people too stressed to work, costing the UK over £6.4 billion annually. Stress impacts our ability to work, and yet, according to mental health charity Mind, the most common cause of stress is work.

It's a vicious cycle and one that needs to be broken. Employers should be taking note - and more importantly, taking action.

This could be as simple as offering stress awareness e-learning such as our course FeelRite, which takes less than an hour to complete and provides numerous tools for recognising and managing workplace stress.

Alternatively, our Wellbeing Consultunt Jason Chadwick can visit your workplace and produce a report with recommendations for improvements.

Providing information to employees is also important. Download and share our poster offering 10 ways to combat work-related stress.

There are also some excellent resources on the Mental Health Foundation website, including this emotional resilience toolkit, which offers tips for both employers and employees.

The following tips for building resilience to workplace stress can also be shared with colleagues and employees.

Building emotional resilience

Building emotional resilience is the key to functioning well not only at work, but also in our personal lives.

Resilience isn't the same as being stoic, or putting up with things quietly. In fact, people who suffer in silence without seeking change or help are more likely to experience the cumulative effects of ongoing stress, leaving them at greater risk of problems such as headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, weight problems, anxiety and depression.

Resilience is a skill-set that enables us to more effectively manage our emotions and learn from challenging situations. Here are some ways to be more resilient when the going gets tough at work:

1. Identify sources of stress at work

As the old adage goes, know your enemy. Write down all the things that are causing you negative feelings at work. They could be very small, seemingly insignificant things but when added together, they might be contributing to your stress. Lots of small stresses can easily make us feel overwhelmed, overworked and, ultimately, stressed out.

The very act of writing your sources of stress down helps to organise them in your mind. You may then be able to view them as individual problems and not as one big, confused blur.

2. Learn to breathe properly

It may sound silly, but many of us don't breathe properly. Shallow breathing, when you take short, quick breaths with your chest, is easy to slip into if you're under pressure or feeling stressed and you probably won't even realise you're doing it. Unfortunately, shallow breathing can make stress worse and even lead to feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.

Take a moment to focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose for five seconds, feeling your belly rise as it fills with air. Then release through your mouth for five seconds. If you find this helpful, repeat for a few minutes until you feel calmer.

3. Try active working

Exercise is one of the best ways of reducing stress because it releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in our brain. Active working is a way of incorporating more activity into our everyday professional lives. Small changes can make a big difference, such as taking hourly walking breaks, using a sit-stand desk, using a balance board, and doing workstation stretches.

Taking a break can boost oxygen intake, improve circulation and stimulate the muscles - great for clearing the head and gaining a new perspective on a stressful situation.

Taking action to reduce workplace stress is vital, both on an individual and a wider scale. Learn more about stress management by taking our e-learning course FeelRite, or browse more posts like this on the health and wellbeing section of our blog.