Stark new research shows that 38% of people have suffered significantly from stress and anxiety in the workplace with more than half of under 35’s having taken extended sick leave due to mental health issues. Miriam O’Callaghan spoke about the prevalence of such issues in the workplace with Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght University Hospital, who explained some of the different types of stress we can experience.
“Stress is a bodily response to demands being made so mostly stress is in fact helpful, it spurs you to a better performance… but there comes a point where stress and anxiety becomes disabling, when it takes over and it tends to reduce performance rather than increase performance and it’s very difficult to know when that is. It’s a bit like the story of a frog getting into the cold water which is slowly boiled up and he doesn’t notice that it becomes lethally hot because of the slow increase in his surroundings and this happens a lot, especially in the workplace. Demands increase and stress becomes disabling rather than enabling.”
We ourselves may not notice the slow, steady build up of stress but a few warning signs are changes in sleeping and eating patterns and also letting work dominate evenings, weekends and holidays. Despite the prevalence of workplace stress, many remain reluctant to reveal our struggles with our employer.
“There is still a huge stigma associated with stress at work and mental ill health or psychological problems. Other research done… showed that 50% of people with stress at work wouldn’t reveal it to their employer even though about 40% of people had taken time off because of it.”
If you’re concerned about the level of stress you experience at work, Brendan advises that the first thing to do is to take stock of your physical health. “Watch your diet and your lifestyle very carefully,” he said. “30 minutes exercise, moderate exercise is fine, three times a week, and keep your diet within reasonable boundaries.”
Something else to watch out for is your alcohol intake. Put simply, Brendan said, the less alcohol you consume, the happier and healthier you will be. While there are plenty of workplace programmes in place to support employees, it’s worth remembering that the simple milk of human kindness can be more significant than you may realise.
“The greatest support people get when they have problems at work is from their family and their friends, number 1, and number 2, it’s from informal talking with colleagues at work, chats at the water cooler and that’s something for people who aren’t stressed to remember. Chatting at the water cooler is far more important and therapeutic than you might think.”
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