Stress can occur from many factors, but high levels of stress can start to have physical impacts. Within the workforce, we also know that job stress can have a causal effect on physical health (Cooper et al., 1994). It can narrow your ability to think clearly, function effectively and enjoy daily life. It can also change how you feel emotionally.

On this page you we hope you find some tools and resources you can take to relieve the pressure.

What is stress?

Stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It's very common, can be motivating to help us achieve things in our daily life, and can help us meet the demands of home, work and family life.

But too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/

If you are stressed, you may:

  • feel overwhelmed
  • have racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  • be irritable
  • feel constantly worried, anxious or scared
  • feel a lack of self-confidence
  • have trouble sleeping or feel tired all the time
  • avoid things or people you are having problems with
  • be eating more or less than usual
  • drink or smoke more than usual

Our Keeping Well team can help support you with any emotions or feelings. Further down on this page you can find out more.

Use the list below to see how many signs you notice in yourself
  • Energy - You feel like you have less energy than before. No matter what you do, you don't find things get better.
  • Sleep - Struggling to fall asleep, or stay asleep. Feeling like you never feel refreshed when you wake up.
  • Eating - Your appetite has diminished, you are losing weight. Or you are eating to feel better, putting on weight.
  • Dress - You can't be bothered to dress properly and don't care to look at yourself in the mirror.
  • Irritation - You find yourself getting angered easily. You can be snappy and frustrated, more than usual.
  • Down - You feel sad, with a strange hollow feeling. You might be tearful at times without knowing why.
  • Anxious - You are more nervous about doing things than usual. You find yourself avoiding anything slightly stressful.
  • Negative - You find yourself having negative and critical thoughts about yourself. You are also not as hopeful as before.
  • Talking - You don't feel like talking to others, and at times avoid people at work or at home.

If you notice some of these in yourself, please take the time to have a conversation with someone.

Now use the list below to see how many signs you notice in others
  • Energy - They are not managing workload as before. Perhaps sighing frequenetly, appearing to be overwhelmed.
  • Sleep - They look like they have just woken up, yawning frequently. They look exhausted even in the morning.
  • Eating - They have lost or put on weight. This is coupled with another item on the list.
  • Dress - They are looking far more casual than usual. They wear the same clothes several days in a row.
  • Irritation - They appear to be getting frustrated easily, complaining more than usual and argumentative with patients and colleagues.
  • Down - They look sad; are more tearful than usual and avoid discussions.
  • Anxious - Your colleague seems to be avoiding things. They don't take on new challenges and even avoid answering phone calls.
  • Negative - They are derogatory about things, dismissing ideas and changes; they were not like this before.
  • Talking - They don't talk to you as much. They give you short answers. They just don't seem themselves.

If you notice these in a colleague, please take time and ask them how they're doing.

If you’re living with high levels of stress, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk. It may seem like there’s nothing you can do about stress, but you have a lot more control than you might think. Here are some tips to help you get started: 

Identify the sources of stress in your life

While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to your everyday stress levels.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”)?
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Practice the 4 A’s of stress management

When handling such predictable stressors, you can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose in any given scenario, it’s helpful to think of the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

Avoid

Learn how to say “no.” Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts” and, when possible, say “no” to taking on too much.

Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship.

Take control of your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.

Pare down your to-do list. Analyse your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

 

Alter

Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, be more assertive and communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way.

Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same.

Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.

 

Adapt

Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.

Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.

Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”

Practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts.

 

Accept

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Look for the upside. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth.

Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. 

Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.

Get moving

When you’re stressed, the last thing you probably feel like doing is getting up and exercising. But physical activity is a huge stress reliever - Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day. The first step is to get yourself up and moving. Visit our physical health page to help you get started.

Maintain balance with a healthy lifestyle

In addition to regular exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase your resistance to stress.

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
  • Get enough sleep

We have an eating well page you can visit for tips on making healthy snacks and recipes. If you're struggling with substance use and want to quit smoking, click here for some advice from our team. To manage better sleep we have some mindfulness and meditation resources that could help.

Manage your time better

Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused.

  • Don’t over commit yourself - avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day
  • Prioritise tasks - make a list of tasks you have to do, and tackle them in order of importance
  • Break projects into small steps - focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once
  • Delegate responsibility - You don’t have to do it all yourself, If other people can take care of the task, why not let them? 

 

Resilience is critical in the workplace as employees can better manage work-related stress, deal with adversity, and overcome challenges with an open mind. Resilient employees also tend to perform better and are shown to have greater job satisfaction.

  • Look after yourself: when you take care of your mind and body, you are better able to cope effectively with challenges in your life. Improve your physical wellbeing by focusing on eating healthily, staying hydrated, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.
  • Balance: this can be challenging in today’s working world, however having a good work-life balance can help to reduce stress and prevent burnout.
  • Develop a strong network: having a good relationship with your colleagues at work builds trust and allows you to communicate freely about potential issues. It may also help you to see things from a new perspective and discover solutions.
  • See adversity as an opportunity: reflect on your experiences, both good and bad, and see them as a learning experience which will help you to grow and develop.
  • Give yourself a break: time away from your normal routine can help you to feel refreshed, even if it is for a short period. Try to get a change of scenery by going for a walk or going for a coffee.​​​​​​​
  • Maintain perspective: the way in which we think plays a significant role in how resilient we are when faced with obstacles. Although some situations may seem overwhelming in the moment, it may not make that much of an impact in the long-term. Try to avoid catastrophising these situations, and take a more realistic and balanced approach. 

Visit our building resilience page for more free resources to access.

If you’re feeling stressed about Coronavirus, UCL have produced a video with advice to hospital staff on how to cope with stress and overcome feelings.


Self-help tools and resources

 Here are some audio guides on Soundcloud for free, set up by NHS Scotland.

Talk to us