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Stress Awareness Month: Spotting the signs and management

In our previous blog, we talked about the concept of stress, and recognised it as a normal human response to demands placed upon us. This week will focus on spotting signs of stress and what we can do to manage it.  

Stress can often affect us both from a physical and emotional perspective. In response to stress, the human body can react in a number of ways (e.g. physical and emotional), particularly in relation to the hormones produced. While we may notice some signs, often many will not be widely recognisable. The mental health charity Mind have a useful section which focuses on signs and symptoms of stress.

Managing stress as individuals 

To help manage your own stress, it’s good to know what might trigger your stress response, how you experience it and what healthy coping mechanisms you can utilise to support yourself through practising self-care. You can explore this through Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England’s interactive online resource MHFA Stress Container

Managing stress in the workplace 

Stress in the workplace can be particularly challenging given that we spend more than half our life in work, and it is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in the workplace (CIPD, 2023). Whilst we should try to maintain and practice good self-care, employers have a large role to play as they are required by law as part of their ‘duty of care’ to take certain steps to address and manage stress in the workplace. In particular under the:  

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; and​
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Management Standards also identify six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates. These are: 

  1. demands
  2. control
  3. support
  4. relationships
  5. role
  6. change 

If you’re experiencing stress in the workplace, it’s important to speak to someone, for example your manager. If you talk to them as soon as possible, it will give them the chance to help and stop the situation getting worse. There are times when you might not feel comfortable speaking to your manager, in which case you could speak with: 

  • A colleague or your trade union representative 
  • Your HR department 
  • Your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) 
  • ACAS 
  • Vetlife 

If you’re a manager or leader, take a look at some of these useful resources: 

  • The CIPD have produced a detailed guide on managing stress in the workplace: Guidance on managing stress at work;  and
  • the Health and Safety Executive have produced a Stress Talking Toolkit which you might find useful to help start conversations to identify causes of stress for your workers and identify possible solutions.