Stress – an invitation for a conversation

‘Stress’.  Most of us utter this phrase from time to time. It can be a throw away term to describe a busy day at work or seen on a TV advert to promote relaxation products and often becomes a comparator of how busy or important we are. Stress, however is much more than this. It is how we react when we are under pressure and the feelings that this evokes when we have too much to do or can’t control the outcome. When this pressure gets too much it can be overwhelming, creating a ‘fog’ around all we do. We often hear that our jobs are one of the biggest causes of stress in our daily lives, but there are many other factors to consider; money, relationships, life changing events and sometimes just life.

It’s not surprising then that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 14-20) is focusing on raising awareness of stress and how to tackle this to improve mental health.

At Mental Health at Work, we apply a workplace relevant approach to stress.  Stress is not implicitly a bad thing and for many of us, we enjoy this pressure, motivating us and giving us a sense of achievement both at home and at work.

If we hear that an individual is ‘stressed’ in the workplace we see this as an invitation to have an informal conversation about what this means for them and encourage people to broaden their vocabulary to articulate the issue. Stress is, surprisingly to many, not a diagnosable mental health condition and there is no treatment pathway.

In the workplace we think that it is very important to be cautious about how we use the word ‘stress’ and  to equip managers with the questioning and listening skills to probe the real meaning.  Don’t make the assumption you know what someone means when they say I’m stressed; you undermine how they feel. An open and honest conversation can make a difference and the employee may then feel comfortable asking for the help and support which will make a difference to them; which may not be a lighter workload!

We don’t think it is ever helpful to be prescriptive about solutions when it comes to mental health; but it is helpful to ask questions, provoke discussion and signpost to support.  Resources available in organisations can play a significant role in helping individuals manage their own mental health.  We recommend that this is a Mental Health Ally; an individual trained to be an expert in listening and signposting, supporting both individuals and line managers.

Changing the conversation around stress  to understand what this means for an individual, creating an environment that is open about pressure and having listening and signposting to support can prevent a concern becoming a bigger mental health issue.  And this is good news for both individuals and employers.

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