Work-related stress is a prevalent health problem in the United Kingdom with the Health & Safety Executive’s Labour Force quoting 10.8 million lost working days a year due to mental health based difficulties including stress and depression. However only 17% of staff in the work place receive any form of stress management advice and support.
This suggests that there is a gap between the experiences people have in the workplace and the importance and acknowledgement given to the extent of these problems by employers.
A stress response can be initiated by both a psychological or physical stimulus. If we imagine the body’s response to a tiger standing in front of someone in the jungle. This would create a stress response to a physical stimulus. Psychological stimuli however could be the pressure one feels in a busy work environment or difficult relationships at home. There are many factors that can cause psychological stress and these may be external stressors e.g. pressure to pay the bills, or a demanding boss, or internal stressors i.e. the pressure we are putting ourselves under. A lot of the time our external stressors can increase the level of internal stress we are experiencing. It is predominantly psychological stressors that would be explored in therapy.
Over long periods of time it is possible that we can become more vulnerable to these stimuli and the stress response is switched on and off with greater frequency. This can have a number of negative physical consequences on parts of our body such as our heart or our immune system and over time negatively affect our mental health, increasing our vulnerability to mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
Ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your personality, your environment and your biology. Overall quality of our relationships and environment can be impacted very much by the nature of our work environment.
It is also possible that sometimes we notice that other people don’t appear to be experiencing a work environment in the same stressful way. This can sometimes be down to individual personalities. For example, what if we were to ask ourselves; “Do I carry a fear of failure?” “Do I constantly worry that I am going to get found out for not being good enough?” ”Do I find it hard to say no?” "Am I a perfectionist?"
It can be these traits that contribute to a more stressful experience in the workplace.
Environment however can also have a detrimental effect on the amount of stress we experience. And this can be irrespective of our personalities. For example working in an environment in which the bottom line is considered the only important driving factor and staff are being turned over at a regular rate, may point to an environment that does not show sufficient concern for the psychological wellbeing of staff. The current recession has caused more uncertainty and fear about the future, causing levels of anxiety and stress to rise. People are naturally worried that if they lose their job, there may not be another one waiting. These external factors can all contribute to our internal stress.
How can therapy help in coping with Stress? Therapy can help to unpack the causes of an individual’s stress, to begin to understand what part of their experience is down to their own way of being in the world and how much is about their environment; work, home etc.
Also therapy can help an individual explore their own personality and how this has contributed to the choices that lead them to being in the situation they are in. This is not always a comfortable process as it can be natural to assume that things are just happening to us and maybe we are just unlucky to attract the wrong kind of people or happen to be on a project with the highest work load. So therapy does require holding a mirror up to one’s self, but in the long run it can potentially lead to more options as to what kind of life one chooses to live in the future. There are also external factors such as the recession, which we have no control over, that put us in a more stressful position, it can also be helpful to explore the impacts of these life events and acknowledge the need to look after ourselves.