The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (PDF) found that workplace stress is the No. 1 cause of long-term employee absence. Every job has its inevitable ups and downs, but constant stress could be having a serious and extremely detrimental effect on your mental health. In fact, those in high-stress jobs are at twice as much risk of developing depression or anxiety, the CIPD says.
The internal audit sector can be a particularly challenging environment in which to work, making effective stress management a key component in forging a successful career. Here are some tips on how to better manage your own stress levels as well as those of your team.
Spot Your Stress
Learning to recognize your stressors and the physical responses that manifest from these stressors is a great place to start. Catching stress and managing it before it becomes a bigger issue is always preferential to dealing with the problem once it's had time to impact you more deeply.
Share your experiences with someone close to you. Sharing your concerns with co-workers can help you realize that you're not alone. Many people will be feeling exactly the same way.
Creating a solid support network through these conversations will keep you connected, which in turn helps to provide a protective barrier for your emotional well-being. The more isolated you become, the more vulnerable you can become to the negative effects that stress can inflict upon you.
Many organizations will have internal services to support employee well-being. Seek these out. The first step is always the hardest, but it's an important investment in yourself that will pay dividends.
Chronic stress can be debilitating — detrimental not only to your health but also to your career. Learning when to say "no" is crucial to its management. Work toward identifying when enough is enough, set boundaries, and communicate these to your team.
And for managers, having the confidence to say "no" will encourage other members of your team to do the same. The result: a happier, more productive group of people.
The huge increase in numbers of those working from home has brought further challenges. The boundaries between work and personal time have become blurred, creating extra pressure and anxiety. Re-establishing these boundaries and saying "no" to work once your day is finished is essential in nurturing that positive work-life balance that we're all striving for.
Aerobic exercise is another very effective way to lift your mood and to give your mind a new focal point. Just 30 minutes of activity each day has been shown to be highly effective at combatting stress. Make those 30 minutes a nonnegotiable part of your daily routine.
If a situation at work becomes overwhelming, take a short walk outside. Removing yourself from the situation can create clarity, helping make issues more manageable.
Nutrition is an often-overlooked way in which to reduce stress. Eating small, frequent, healthy, high-fiber meals (think fruit and vegetables) can help maintain our blood sugar at steady levels, shielding us from the effects of those dreaded mood swings.
A pint and cigarette might seem like the ultimate stress reducer, but both can have adverse effects on your mood. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant that can increase anxiety, and alcohol is a strong depressant.
Is coffee currently your go-to? This is fine in moderation, but it's worth noting that caffeine can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Switching to decaffeinated versions could be a good alternative if herbal teas aren't your thing.
You've probably heard of the term "mindfulness." Despite being practiced for centuries, mindfulness has only very recently become popular in Europe and North America as a way of managing stress and promoting well-being.
Mindfulness is a technique that involves making an effort to notice what is happening in the present moment and in accepting those feelings and sensations without judgment. Many people find practicing both meditation and mindfulness beneficial in reducing their levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. And the science now backs this up. Check out apps such as Calm and Headspace to get you started.
Lead the Way
According to an Economia article, 90% of people believe admitting to a mental health condition could damage their career prospects. Making steps toward a culture of nonjudgmental openness is the only way in which people will feel more comfortable talking about these sensitive issues.
Speaking out will encourage others to do the same. Raising awareness and promoting these tough conversations is essential — and potentially even life-saving.
And however you wish to go about managing your levels of stress, remember that even small changes can make a huge difference.
Jamie Burbidge, LLB (Hons), is founder of Bickham Montgomery in London.
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