5 Tips for Managing Stress at Work

Business Insights

Stress is an ever-present part of our lives, and yet, for many of us, stress management is far down on our to-do list. Stress expert and Clinical Psychologist Professor Andrew McDonnell spoke to us about the importance of managing our own stress.

Professor McDonnell is the Director of Studio 3, a training and clinical services organisation which provides stress support for staff and family members supporting individuals with a range of additional support needs. Based on 30+ years of experience supporting people working in highly stressful environments, we asked Professor McDonnell to give us his top 5 tips for managing work-related stress.

1) Stress is Contagious

Like other emotional states, stress is highly contagious, warns Professor McDonnell. In order to manage our own stress, we must be aware of how stress is communicated from one person to another. Being aware of our stress levels entering the workplace can help us to regulate them and avoid transmitting them to others. This is particularly important for staff working in caring environments whose role is to maintain a sense of calmness. Similarly, recognising when someone else is highly stressed can help us to empathise with them and avoid reacting negatively to their behaviour.

2) Be Open and Honest

Despite the growing mental health movement in the UK, stress is still somewhat stigmatised. Professor McDonnell states that stress is a natural and even essential part of our lives:

‘Stress is our body’s natural morning coffee – it energises us, and helps us to focus and achieve our goals. We all need stress to thrive and survive.’

Professor McDonnell goes on to say that stressed people thrive better if they create support networks, and that, in psychological terms, a trouble shared really is a trouble halved. Speaking openly about stress with colleagues and family members can help to open up important discussions about what steps can be taken to reduce overall stress for everyone. Professor McDonnell’s organisation Studio 3 focuses on creating what they call ‘Low Arousal’ environments which are non-threatening spaces where care staff and the individuals they support can feel safe, comfortable and calm.

3) Make Time for Stress Management

It seems so simple, but taking time out of our busy work and family lives to focus on our own health and well-being can be a daunting thing. ‘Start now, today,’ encourages Professor McDonnell, warning that too often people wait until their stress is at unmanageable levels to start thinking about reducing it.

‘Stress management should be an ingrained element of our everyday lives, not a reactive measure. As David Pitonyak says, ‘When a person is drowning, that is not the best time to teach them how to swim.’’

4) Choose Stress Management Strategies that Work for You

We have all heard of miracle de-stressors that seem to work wonders for other people. Whether you are into yoga, mindfulness, going to the gym, or curling up on the sofa to read a good book, it is essential to set aside time to do something that not only takes your mind off of the stressors of day-to-day life, but that also engages your attention in a way that is meaningful for you. This is part of what Professor McDonnell calls our unique ‘stress signatures’:

‘Like all signatures, there is a huge amount of individual variation in the way that people experience stress, as well as how they cope with it. Coping strategies can range from participating in high adrenaline sports, to playing computer games.’

Essentially, any coping strategy is valid if it works for the person applying it.

5) Exercise is Essential!

It is widely acknowledged that exercise has a huge impact on stress and well-being. There are many studieswhich demonstrate that regular cardiac exercise is positive for our physical health, associated with a lower risk of heart failure and increased well-being. However, many of us feel that we do not have time to engage in regular exercise, or simply do not want to! Professor McDonnell reminds us that, if exercise could be turned into a pill, it would be the most powerful drug that doctors could prescribe. He recommends that adults should do a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate exercise, which is the equivalent of one 30-minute walk per day.

If you are struggling to cope with stress and you are a carer, a mental health practitioner, a parent of a child with concerning behaviour, or a teacher, visit www.studio3.org.