Skip to main content

Three ways to manage your stress at work

By Corinne Curtis, head of HR – third sector at WorkNest.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is ‘the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure’.

Stress can be caused by many different situations – issues in personal relationships, bereavement, financial concerns, health worries – relating both to ourselves and those close to us. We all cope with stress differently, and this can be influenced by many factors, including our personality, previous experiences and personal circumstances.

Work can also be a major contributor to stress. In fact, according to the HSE’s annual summary statistics, 800,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2020/21, making it the number one cause of work-related ill health.

Stress is not always a bad thing; some people thrive on a degree of ‘stress’ and use it to drive them forward. However, when we are exposed to too much stress, particularly over a period of time, we can become overwhelmed and find it hard to cope.

How to manage our own stress

Mental Health First Aid England provides the analogy of the Stress Container as a visual representation and tool to help manage our stress. Everyone has a different size stress container, or tolerance, for stress – essentially how much stress we can absorb before our stress container ‘overflows’. 

Once at capacity, we need to open a tap to release the pressure. The tap is essentially our coping strategy. Some are helpful – exercise, eating well, sleep, time with friends and family, mindfulness – while others are unhelpful, such as alcohol, working more hours, not sleeping, etc.

An important thing to help manage our own stress is identifying personal stress management tools, which will be different for different people. For some, going for a walk/run or hitting the gym can be stress-relieving; for others, it could be gardening, cooking or being with other people. 

Equally, it’s useful to note the less positive habits that increase when you are experiencing stress, so that you can take steps to reduce these. For instance, you might withdraw from those close to you, become irritable, or have trouble sleeping.

Talk it out

While flagging that you are struggling or feeling stressed can be daunting, if your employer is aware, they may be able to look at how they can support you.

While it is not always possible to remove stress triggers, knowing what they are and when they might occur can help you and your manager to be more aware of them and consider tools to help manage them. You would need to discuss and agree with them; however, this could include moving non-urgent meetings when other work is particularly demanding, ensuring that breaks are taken, and helping you to prioritise your workload.

Additionally, your employer may provide access to talking support, such as counselling, or an Employee Assistance Programme. This can help you discuss your challenges and identify ways to manage stress positively and provide tools and strategies for you to try.

If you don’t want to speak to your manager initially, your organisation may have Mental Health First Aiders who can provide some signposting or help you raise the matter.

Take a breath

Sometimes we jump on the hamster wheel in the morning and keep running as fast as we can to get as much done as possible. It can seem counter-intuitive to stop, but a short break, a change of scene, and some time to regroup can help. Review the causes of your work stress:

  • Are there any quick wins? An hour clearing small tasks, or removing those not required, could reduce the pressure and free up time for bigger, more important tasks.
  • Is there a piece of work you are struggling with, because it is not your preferred activity, or it is difficult? In that case, ‘Eat the Frog’: do the thing that is causing the most worry first so that it frees up space mentally for other activities.
  • Plan your day and work to suit your personal working strengths. Do you focus better first thing? Then plan detailed tasks in the morning. Do you typically have lots of energy after lunch? Then block in time for more creative or active tasks for when you return.

Review your organisation’s policies

When seeking to understand your stress, this may identify the necessary signposts to other avenues of support. There are many avenues of support through mental health, wellbeing and medical organisations.

In addition, there will be policies within your organisation that may be appropriate to consider. For example, if your workplace stress stems from difficult working relationships with a colleague, or feeling bullied or harassed, looking at your organisation’s policy on grievance/dignity at work will set out steps for raising this.

You may identify that your working arrangements are not helping manage your work/life balance or wellbeing, so the flexible working policy may set out how you might propose something that would work better for you, although there is no guarantee the request will be approved.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

Share this

Share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Not an ACEVO member?

If you have any queries please email
or call 020 7014 4600.