Its good to talk- seeing the signs of stress

Would you be able to tell if somebody in your organisation was suffering from stress? Would you know what to do about it if they were? Would they trust you enough to share their worries?
What if that person was you?

We work in a high-pressure business. Deadlines, tight margins and security over future work create stress and anxiety. Pressure is part of the appeal of working in the sector for many people. But where does the pressure to hit deadlines and overcome challenges tip over into an unhealthy state of mind?

Awareness and management of workplace mental health is improving – but change needs to happen at a faster pace. Removing all stresses and pressures is unrealistic. What we need to be clear about is whether the people we work with are in a mental state in which they can deal with normal pressures, work productively and maintain human relationships. If they can’t, they need to be helped.

How to spot signs of unhealthy levels of stress:
• Dress and grooming –is someone not as fastidious as they once were or looking unkempt?
• Mannerisms, posture, facial expressions – do they look defeated, angry, aggressive?
• Physical changes such as shakes, increased nervousness, reluctance to make eye contact.
• Talking faster, slower, louder or quieter than normal.
• Rambling, unfocused speech.
• Do they forget what they are saying or switch subjects randomly?
• Difficulties interacting with visitors, team members, supervisors, managers or family.
• Problems with relationships and friendships.
• Are they full of conspiracy theories?
• Exhibiting obsessions or compulsion.
• Judgments and insights out of kilter.
• Mood swings, being depressive, flat, inappropriate or volatile.

If people are exhibiting characteristics of stress, the challenge to their support system at work is to help them discuss the pressure they are feeling. It could be something simple like time management or having too many tasks to juggle and not being able to juggle any of them.

We also need to know how to create our own boundaries to prevent stress. This can be as simple as knowing when to switch the phone off, put the computer away or going for a walk rather than working through lunch.

Being confident enough to ask for help or empowered enough to not be pressurised into unrealistic commitments (and then shovelling that stress onto subordinates or subcontractors) would be major steps forward. And with greater awareness, we can build the trust that people need to come forward and ask for help.