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There are some who may say stress is a fashionable reason to be signed off work. Sometimes, it seems as if everyone is suffering from it. However, this is devaluing the very real symptoms and feelings people experience when under stress. Some cope better in stressful situations than others, while some find their mental health suffers because they are stressed.

According to Mind, the UK charity responsible for promoting Mental Health Awareness Week, work is the most stressful factor in many people’s lives. Research found 34% of over 2,000 people who were interviewed said their working lives were either very stressful or quite stressful. Perhaps surprisingly, this was double the percentage of people who said their health was the most stressful element in their lives.

 

Facts and figures on work stress

This year, Mind is focusing on stress in the workplace as the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week. Further findings in Mind’s survey from 2013 reveal 19% had taken a day off through stress, although nine in 10 of those had given another reason for being off sick. This indicates many employees suspect they will not be supported by their employer if they admit to feeling stressed. Indeed, 19% of those who took part said they felt unable to talk to their boss about excessive stress.

 

How does stress affect someone?

Stress can produce both physical and mental symptoms. These can vary from one person to another. It is quite possible to experience some but not all symptoms. Physical symptoms of stress may include:

  • Insomnia or other problems with sleeping
  • Muscular tension, aches, and pains
  • Skin problems
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches

Among the emotional and psychological symptoms of stress are:

  • Depression
  • Feeling irritable
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety (generalised anxiety or panic attacks)
  • Feeling pessimistic

 

How is stress most likely to manifest at work?

Those who are stressed at work are more likely to take time off, even if they do not admit stress is the reason for being absent. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are six areas most likely to be responsible for someone experiencing work-based stress. These are:

  • Poor relationships with fellow workers and those above them (i.e. lack of interest exhibited by their boss, or workplace bullying)
  • The demands placed on them at work
  • The degree of control someone has over their work
  • Lack of support and knowledge about their job
  • Lack of information provided about their job role and associated responsibilities
  • Change – any changes in the business, their job, or the way they are expected to work

 

HSE has also released figures relating to stress in the workplace. Some 526,000 workers were confirmed to be suffering from work-related stress, anxiety, or depression in the year 2016/17. It also estimates around 12.5 million working days were lost to these conditions in the same year. These figures are likely the tip of the iceberg too, since many people struggle on alone, afraid to speak up for fear of jeopardising their jobs.

 

Looking to the future

It’s almost impossible to imagine a workplace free from stress. In some instances, stress can be good for us. It can motivate, inspire, and ward off boredom. However, it is difficult to strike the right balance.

Ultimately, being more open about stress in the workplace and admitting it is present for many of us will help both employers and employees handle it more readily. The world would be a dull place without any stress, but it still presents a real threat to many people’s physical and emotional health. As such, it is the ideal topic for Mental Health Awareness Week this year.

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