When does work-related stress and worry become a problem?
These may be some of the most stressful and worrisome times many people have ever experienced in their life, so how do we know when our work-related stress and worry are manageable and when they are hindering our life?
We all worry. It is a natural phenomenon. Even so, at what point do experts consider worrying a problem? Onebright’s Director of Clinical Services, Clare Price, says that “if we can’t actively work past it and it stops us from living the life we want to live,” this is where worrying has impacted mental health and is disrupting the quality of life. When things continue to be unpredictable, this can lead to ‘unique worries’ and concerns specific to an individual or a group of individuals.
Human beings have a fantastic ability to think about future events. Thinking ahead means anticipating obstacles, allowing us to plan solutions and meet our goals. If we apply this to a situation such as the pandemic, for example, activities such as hand washing and social distancing were constructive things we could decide to do to reduce the spread of the virus. Or, if we think about something simple such as getting to work on time, by thinking ahead, we can plan our journey, consider any obstacles that may make us late for work, and plan an alternative route or adjust our set-off time to allow us to still make it on time.
But thinking ahead can pose some difficulties, too.
Excessive worry can drive us to think about worst-case scenarios, making us feel overly anxious and apprehensive. The emotional impact can lead to us having a lived experience of the associated symptoms without the actual experience itself happening, but the body acts as if it were a true event.
Worrying moves us past the point of active problem-solving. It becomes an obstacle to effective functioning. If you are a line manager or someone who manages people, consider watching out for the following signs in your colleagues:
Which signs can you look for that might indicate someone is struggling with worry?
WebMD describes the symptoms of stress as “affecting all parts of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune.”
We look at signs in the workplace that might indicate an employee is experiencing higher levels of stress
Absence: taking an unusual amount of time off work
Reduced tolerance: overreacting to situations in the workplace
Pessimism: focusing too much on the negative aspects of the job
Performance issues: struggling to concentrate or complete tasks either day to day or by set deadlines
Isolation: reduced social skills or less interpersonal interactions with other colleagues, concerns about what others think
Low confidence: turning down opportunities for development or promotion or plateauing in their career.
It can be helpful to be able to distinguish between the two different kinds of worry: real and hypothetical.
Real worries are about real problems that are affecting you right now. For example: “my mother is unwell, and I need to care for her.” Hypothetical worries don’t currently exist but might happen in the future, and they’re often the ones where we go to the worst-case scenario. For example: “what will I do if I lose my job and end up homeless?”
A chain of thoughts can spiral into more and more ‘catastrophic’ thinking. Sometimes these can take a life of their own and feel very real, manifesting into physical anxieties. It creates a restlessness that can make it quite uncomfortable to be in your body.
Onebright delivers evidence-based therapies to help people overcome excessive work-related stress and worry and has outlined five ways to manage it, so it doesn’t negatively impact your mental health and body, drawing upon techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
What can you do about work-related stress and worry?
Maintain balance: Well-being comes from a life with a balance of activities that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness.
Identify your worry: Is it a ‘real’ worry or a hypothetical worry? If it’s the latter, it is important to remind yourself that your mind is not focusing on a problem you can solve now and find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
Postpone your worry: Worry is insistent, and it can make you feel as if you have to engage with it right now. Instead, deliberately set aside time to let yourself worry and don’t worry for the rest of the day.
Apply self-compassion: Worry can come from a place of concern. We worry about others when we care about them. Responding to worry with kindness and compassion can make a huge difference.
Practice mindfulness: Learning and practicing mindfulness can help us let go and break free of worries by staying in the present moment.
We are living in uncertain times and uncertain environments. Uncertainty never really ends. We think it does, but the world around us never stops changing. These are stressful thoughts for some people, which can affect their quality of life, both personally and professionally.
If you think work-related stress and worry are a problem among your employees, there are many ways to help workers manage these feelings. Get in touch to learn about our mental health services for mindfulness, work-related stress, and other modules.