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Do you know how to identify and deal with stress?

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Stress can have serious consequences. Be able to recognise the symptoms in yourself and your staff, says Carole Spiers.

The word “stress” is often used incorrectly. Many people will say they are stressed when they have a temporary work overload.

Stress occurs when a person perceives (over a prolonged period) that they have insufficient personal resources to cope with a given situation.

It’s often mistakenly thought that stress is a stimulus that is good for you. Long-term stress is harmful - sometimes tragically so.

Stress itself is not an illness. It is a natural physiological reaction people have to prolonged pressure or other types of excessive demands placed upon them.

Excessive pressure over a prolonged period is a known contributory cause of back pain, depression, hypertension and heart attacks.

While a certain amount of pressure can motivate some people, stress is never motivating.

A probable explanation for the myth that people perform well under stress is the fact that they often perform well under controlled pressure that is effectively managed.

Controlled pressure is useful when our body and mind are finely tuned in a way that enables both to achieve optimum results and performance.

Not everyone will react in the same way to any given problem. One person may perceive something merely as pressure, while another may perceive it as stress and react accordingly.

Anyone can suffer from stress, from the chief executive to the office cleaner. It all depends on the circumstances and on the physical and mental resources of the individual.

Many people think that if they admit to experiencing symptoms of stress, it’s a sign of weakness, but this is not the case.

Having looked at what is stress, we need to acknowledge that we can all be susceptible to it and to its effects.

When and if you recognise stress symptoms in yourself or in others, investigate the source of the problem and deal with it yourself or get help from someone who can. In some cases, that will mean taking professional advice.

This is an extract from Show Stress Who’s Boss!

Stress: employer duties

  • Employers have a duty to protect staff health and safety, even if staff are willing to run the risk of harm
  • If an employer believes that an employee is at risk of work stress, they should offer them an informal discussion with the HR department or an independent third party
  • Employers’ duty does not cover stress outside work. Nevertheless, if problems exist outside work, this should be taken into account when carrying out risk assessments for jobs

Carole Spiers spent 20 years as CEO of a stress management consultancy and is former chair of the International Stress Management Association UK.

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