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Work stress: balancing the bad with the good

The pandemic has played a significant role in an increase of people presenting more feelings around anxiety, depression and loneliness but it’s not the only major player. We are just talking about it more, finally.

The topic of mental health should not be taboo. We should feel empowered to be open when it comes to verbalising issues surrounding our mental health – particularly if it occurs in the workplace.

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In 2021, there were an estimated 882,000 workers affected by mental health within the workplace in the UK. Mental health is all about how we think, behave and feel. Often, change can be a catalyst.

That could be linked to a global pandemic and change to the working situation, for example, but we need to dive much deeper to really understand what is causing more and more workers to feel stressed as a result of work, and ultimately have a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.


Why is workplace stress so prominent?

The workplace has shifted in the last couple of years, and as a result businesses have seen change with budgets shrinking, redundancies rife, a shift in priorities and a new working environment, with many now remote, or hybrid.

Regardless, we all get stressed at work with deadlines, financial pressures and such all coming down on us hard from the top. It can be exhausting.

Struggling with mental health as a result of work is something many of us will encounter and we can all benefit from seeking to improve it.

Particularly in a workplace environment where managing mental health and stress is key to progress careers, succeed and earn a living, but it needs support from the top.


What needs to be done?

With work-related stress affecting a quarter of the UK population, businesses need to recognise this very real crisis and act now, if they haven’t already. A stressed workforce can result in poor performance, sick days and most importantly, real health issues for their people.

Creating a culture that resonates with employees is fundamental - a healthy and honest environment where people can come together in a safe place, collaborate and grow. Leaders should recognise stressful situations and encourage flexibility to limit burnouts or those stresses accelerating.

Teamwork is actually a surprisingly useful tool in the workplace to boost morale. Stress causes our bodies to release hormones that make us crave social interaction, so creating a supportive and collaborative environment at work can help reduce stress, as opposed to working in isolation where we can feel alone, frightened and pressurised to succeed.

Distractions can be a haven, so perhaps consider out-of-work activities and support. From putting on optional events, socials or even volunteering opportunities during working hours within local charities. Creating an environment and workplace that cares means a heck of a lot to employees.

Fundamentally, it’s crucial to ensure that people can be open, address issues without feeling any stigma or shame about their mental health and feeling stressed. There’s some great advice on the HSE website around advice for employers with mental health conditions.


It’s not all bad, it’s about your approach

When we talk about stress, everyone views it as a negative. While stress can manifest in many different ways, there’s something called Eustress which is simply positive stress. It’s all about how we view the situation. Eustress can lead to focused attention, emotional balance and rational thoughts.

It all links to attitudes and the approach of being an eternal optimist. This idea stems from a serious attitude of taking gratitude in everything life throws your way. Good days, we make memories from. Bad days, we learn and take experience from.

Being appreciative of life itself, using the days that often leave us stressed or anxious as lessons. Also, understanding that living the perfect life is virtually impossible.

But we can’t do it alone. Having the right workplace culture and support is crucial in the battle against workplace stress.


Ollie Phillips, former World 7s Player of the Year, is founder of Optimist Performance