Stress at work – how it can affect you

Stress-o-meter with the indicator on the red maximum

Nearly half of all “sick leave” in the UK is actually “stress leave”*

Most of us have been stressed at one time or another for a variety of short-term or longer-term reasons. It’s not fun, to say the least.

When we’re stressed we can’t think straight, we find it hard to make good decisions and our confidence plummets. It’s a neurological guarantee.

When in a calm state:

our brain responds with two chemicals, dopamine and oxytocin, as it historically has in situations that are either rewarding or perceived as rewarding

  • calmness opens up the thinking part of our brains (leading to good decisions and positive contributions)
  • calmness opens up our ability to relate to others (leading to confidence when working with our colleagues)
  • calmness opens up the production of new ideas (leading to higher self-esteem and creativity)

When in a stressed state:

our brain responds with two chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline, as it historically has in situations that are either threatening or perceived as threatening

  • stress shuts down the thinking part of our brains (leading to bad decisions and suspect contributions)
  • stress shuts down our ability to relate to others (leading to a lack of confidence with our colleagues)
  • stress shuts down the production of new ideas (leading to feeling anxious about our contributions)

Three factors that complicate stress

  1. We all respond differently to the same situation. Some of us will become more stressed than others depending on our stress threshold.
  2. If we are stressed for reasons unrelated to work, we unintentionally bring a degree of stress to the workplace because we are not robots. We are human.
  3. When our thinking brain has shut down, by default it means that we are using our emotional brain. Our emotional brain goes instantly into fight, flight or freeze mode, asking super fast “is this a friend or foe situation?”

It explains a lot when we understand that our emotional response is five times more powerful than any logical thought processes. No wonder that when feeling stressed, we can make bad choices.

Even if we are stressed in our current role, why is the thought of changing roles more stressful that staying put?

When we are stressed by our work environment we naturally want to change it. However, one of the greatest universal sources of stress is the perceived threat of change. Why? Because change is new, unknown, confusing. There is no roadmap, there is no certainty and there are few familiar comforts along the way. We cross our fingers that as survivors, we will find intelligent ways to make it work out for the best “in the end”, but what does the end look like, how will we get there and when?

Three questions to consider

  1. Would you like to reduce stress in your working life? Yes / No
  2. Would you like to unlock your potential? Yes / No
  3. Are you unsure of how to move forward? Yes / No

If you answered yes to the questions above, you are open to improving things but perhaps you don’t know where to start. Why not click here to schedule an appointment for a complimentary Career Next Steps Call with me?

* Health and Safety Executive (HSE) October 2015. Other scientific-sounding information in this article is used with the kind permission of Tom Flatau from Teamworking International.

About Suzanne Bourner

My mission has been unchanged for decades: I champion people. I want people to feel proud of what they do to earn their living. I love supporting people as they travel down their new path. When my clients get offered roles or start their own business, the only credit I can genuinely take is whatever the client chooses to give me. But I do allow myself to get rather excited for them.