What does your happy list look like? How to beat stress at work…

NOT SO LONG ago the mental health charity Mind commissioned reasearch that found work to be the biggest cause of stress, with one in three of the 2000 people they talked to claiming it to be an issue (34%). This beat debt and financial issues at 30%, despite the current bleak economic environment and money concerns, and also health concerns only being 17% of a cause. So how did these people try and cope with this? Three in five (57%) say they drank after work, and a whopping one in seven said they drank AT work!

I had the misfortune in the ‘corporate world’ to be presented with a dozen vodka bottles hidden in an alcove in the gents’ toilets once, and, on another occasion, was given a lemonade bottle from a sales rep’s desk which was full of Thunderbird that they had been drinking in full view while on the phone selling. I was horrified and surprised at the time. With these statistics I ought maybe to have been pleased there weren’t more bottles or occasions!

Chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, said at the time:

“Work related mental health problems are an issue too important for businesses to ignore. Our research shows that employees are still experiencing high levels of stress at work, which is negatively impacting their physical and mental health. We know that right now, one in six workers is experiencing depression, stress or anxiety and yet our survey tells us that most managers don’t feel they have had enough training or guidance to support them.”

Even the managers surveyed said they would like to do more to assist but they needed training and/or guidance but sadly confirmed it was not a priority in their organisation.

So, with most people using smoking (28%), antidepressants (15%) and sleeping aids (26%) to try and cope, and one in five (19%) taking a day off sick due to stress while citing different reasons, what else could individuals do instead?

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, America suggested that people write a ‘happy list’ and I have to say I kind of like that. Writing this ‘happy list’ on subjects such as the importance of friends and family before the start of each working day can help stressed-out workers improve their problem-solving skills.

Dr David Creswell, assistant professor in psychology at the university said: “Our study suggests that self-affirmation may increase creativity and insight in stressed individuals.”

It follows the work we at TrueHR do within our resilience training – about changing how you see things and addressing the ‘thinking traps’ we can all fall into to.  It’s a way to stick your head up from the issue and look around at something else. It’s another way to look at ABCing your challenge – find the Adversity, understand what Belief led to it, and then acknowledge the Consequences, the behaviours and emotions that surround them. By writing them down, like the university suggests, you start to actually see the issues and address them.

Great idea but what else can you do? Fundamental to this is the ability to improve your staff’s, or your own, resilience to issues; about refocusing the mind on how to react to those things that push our buttons. Resilience is about how to handle the day-to-day events, challenges and conflicts we all face both at work and in personal lives. It’s also imperative for a business to have an understanding of what resilience is and why it is important to both individuals and the business itself.

Here’s a few simple tools to assist – I have many more…

– Look at and appreciate what “pushes your buttons”, what your underlying beliefs are and the values which trigger a reaction.

– When you start to get stressed, try to figure out what ‘thinking traps’ you may have fallen into, so you can recognise them and stop them next time. It could be that you filter out, or in, things to focus on only one part of a situation and ignore the rest. (Usually this is looking at the negative parts and ignoring any positives that there may be). A whole picture can be coloured by a single negative detail and that brings you down, or maybe it’s that you ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda’ by placing unreasonable demands or pressures on yourself and others. You start a sentence with ‘I should..’ or I would…’ knowing that you haven’t, or won’t be able to. These may not always be unhelpful statements but can create unrealistic expectations. Instead recognise them and develop methods to counter them.

– Be equipped with practical coping strategies for you to practice to improve your own resilience – take a break, go for a walk, write it down, laugh even!

With three out of five people saying that if their employer took action to support their mental health they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed what are you doing to answer this call for help?