We will all experience stress at some point in our lives, and for a number of different reasons. While in small doses, stress can be a motivator, it can also be unpleasant. When stress builds, it can be overwhelming. Over time it can prevent a person from carrying out everyday tasks, affecting both mental and physical health.
The smallest thing may cause you stress, and when a variety of factors build up, that is when it can have a negative effect on your well-being. Work, school, family and relationships, money and moving house are all considered common stressful situations. In small doses, these stressors can be managed, but when the pressure builds, it can be incredibly difficult to cope.
We spend a lot of time at work, it supports society, gives structure and purpose to life, keeps the body and brain occupied and promotes a sense of satisfaction. When you enjoy your job, it can provide happiness and fulfilment. When work is causing you stress and unhappiness however, it can take over your life.
On this page, we will explore work-related stress in more detail, including the causes and signs to spot. We will also look at ways to cope with work-related stress and how counselling can help.
On this page
- What is work-related stress?
- Coping with work-related stress
- Counselling for work-related stress
- Signs of work-related stress
What is work-related stress?
A little pressure at work can be motivating, it can help you perform better and teach you ways of overcoming obstacles that may occur. But when this pressure becomes excessive and the demand of your job is too much, they can lead to work-related stress. This is when certain demands in your job exceed your ability to cope. Similarly, workplace bullying, harassment, unrealistic deadlines and feeling inadequate or undervalued can also negatively affect your ability to cope.
According to HSE, the Health and Safety Executive:
There were more than 480,000 reported cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2015/16. This equated to 11.7 million working days being lost as a result of the condition.
It is thought that work-related stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care and public administration and defence. However, anyone can be affected by stress, in whatever career they hold. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your gender, or the industry you’re in - sometimes things can become difficult and this is when you need to ask for help. Work-related stress is not something to be ashamed of and there is a way out.
Coping with work-related stress
There are a number of ways you can combat work-related stress, including taking time away from the situation, learning self-help relaxation techniques and changing your working environment. Depending on the cause of your stress, you may need to speak to a colleague, manager or HR department. In the case of bullying or harassment, there are often procedures in place that will support you.
While there are no medical cures for stress, if your physical and mental health is affected, it is important you visit your doctor. They may refer you for counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as treatment.
Counselling for work-related stress
If you think you are suffering from work-related stress, it is important you seek help. It’s easy to think the feeling will pass or that everyone feels that way, but pushing it aside and not dealing with it will only make you feel worse. When you spend so much time at work, it should generally make you feel good. You should be happy and feel proud of what you do.
Of course, everyone will have bad days, where they feel tired and unmotivated. But carrying these emotions around with you every day, will only overwhelm you. Feeling stressed for a prolonged period of time can greatly affect your life, physically and mentally. In fact, work-related stress is thought to lead to the following mental health problems:
Work-related stress can also lead to sleep problems and feeling sad. It can impact your social life and you may pick up bad habits as a way of coping, such as drinking, smoking and over or undereating. It’s important you recognise these signs, and know that it is OK to seek help. Many of us believe we can handle whatever life throws at us, but it’s OK to acknowledge that you may need a helping hand. While we can often find support from friends and family, sometimes we need to talk to a professional, like a counsellor.
Counselling aims to get to the cause of your work-related stress. When you’re in the midst of the situation, it can be hard to think clearly. Talking to a professional in a private, non-judgemental setting, about the difficulties you’re experiencing can help you understand what may be causing the stress and the steps you can take to overcome it. When you’ve kept your problems close to your chest, talking to a neutral party can often result in a sense of relief. After identifying what is causing the problem, you can work with the counsellor to acknowledge your own stress triggers and discuss coping methods.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that works to reduce anxiety and stress. It looks at the way you think about a situation, and how your thoughts and behaviours are affected. CBT aims to change the way you think and behave - helping you challenge any negative thoughts or feelings you have toward the particular issue. By breaking down the overwhelming problems into smaller, more manageable tasks, you can understand your triggers and know how to cope if you start to feel overwhelmed.
Signs of work-related stress
Everyone reacts differently and your personality, ability to cope and how you respond to pressure may affect the symptoms you experience. However, there are some common signs of work-related stress to look out for.
- lack of confidence
- lack of concentration and productivity
- feeling negative
- increased sensitivity
- irritability or short-tempered
- mood swings
- sleeping more or less than usual
- increased or low appetite
- aches and pains
- keeping to yourself or avoiding social situations
Of course, one of the easiest ways to know if you may be suffering from stress is to listen to your body. You may brush it off as a cold, headache, or tiredness, but feeling unwell is a common sign of stress. The thought of work shouldn’t make you feel anxious. If you’re feeling tearful or aggressive, have lost your passion, enthusiasm and dread going to work, then something needs to change.
Want to have a more active role in supporting mental health at work? Find out more about becoming a mental health first aider (click the image to download and print in your office!).
As difficult as it may seem, if you’re unhappy at work, it’s important you take care of yourself. Try to recognise what’s causing your stress at work, and deal with the situation. However, we understand it’s not always so easy, so we’ve listed some ways you can help yourself.
- Ensure you maintain a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water.
- Try to get outside on your lunch break, take a moment to yourself.
- Work regular hours and take holiday days. Even if you feel overwhelmed with deadlines, it’s important you take breaks. Overworking won’t help.
- Maintain a healthy social life. Don’t neglect your loved ones, as much as it may feel you’re on your own, they care about you and want you to be happy.
- Stay active. Regular exercise can help reduce stress and help you feel good.
- Consider complementary therapies which promote relaxation, such as massage and aromatherapy.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are currently no laws in place stipulating what training and qualifications a counsellor must have in order to treat work-related stress. However, there are several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area. Also, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have developed a set of guidelines for mental well-being at work and caring for employees.
What our experts say
- Coming back to work after mental illness
Marilyn McKenzie BSc, PGDip, MBACP5th February, 2018
- Anxious around public speaking? 5 tips to feel in control
Saska Plowman Psychotherapeutic Counsellor (Integrative) RMBACP5th February, 2018
- Reduce your workplace anxiety today
Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor1st February, 2018
- When people at work irritate you
Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP22nd January, 2018
- You are not your job. Start 2018 with a new perspective on life balance
Adriana Gordon - London Private Counselling (PGDip, Reg MBACP)20th December, 2017
- When perfectionism and to-do lists lead to illness
Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP17th December, 2017
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