The CEO Blog – We have all been stress-tested – April

27 abril 2021

The pandemic has shown us the importance of resilience – both as individuals and in the workplace.

There has been a lot of additional pressure and many of us have had to deal with COVID related changes to how we work. Working from home and home schooling have been additional causes of extra pressure and stress for many, as well as the uncertainty about the pandemic and an incredibly unsettling time for those unable to work from home.

As a company we have had to carry the pressure of closing, cleaning, preparing and reopening the factory. We have had to strengthen our communications with our employees, customers and suppliers. We have been reminded how important it is to be honest and transparent.

Although we have been separated physically compared to life pre-COVID, we have learnt to communicate more openly and more transparently. This is a good thing and we can learn a lot from the last year. One area we should all acknowledge and accept is that bad stress needs to be recognised, admitted to, and acted upon.

What do I mean by bad stress?

Stress is our body’s natural response to anything that requires attention or action. Our body is designed to handle stress by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, speeding up the heart rate and increasing blood flow and generally giving the body the energy and strength needed to fight the danger that caused the stress or escape it. Flight or Fight.

But, when the danger is gone, our system is supposed to return to its normal state. However, with chronic stress, this doesn’t happen and this constant emergency state – ready for fight or flight – can damage the body. Being on permanent full alert is bad – like a spring under pressure for too long – and this extended bad stress can, possibly, lead to mental health issues.*

But how do we tell the difference and how should we deal with it?

All of us cope with stressful situations every day – from work deadlines to family life. Is that stress, good stress, bad stress or just busy? Are we using the right words to answer when people ask us how we are?

Experiencing bad stress is not unusual or weird. According to “Mates in Mind” , a mental health and wellbeing charity https://www.matesinmind.org that focuses on one of our key customer segments, the construction industry, 1 in 6 people experience depression, anxiety and stress in the workplace.

Everyone experiences stress to some degree and we all react to it in different ways. The way you respond to stress makes a big difference to your mental and physical health and wellbeing.

We need to look out for each other – and, it’s important we look after ourselves too.

How do you know if things are getting bad?

Well, if you notice your behaviour or a colleague’s behaviour has changed – you need to pay attention. These symptoms might mean you should put your hand up, speak to someone and take action:

  • having difficulty concentrating or remembering things,
  • being unusually angry, irritable or frustrated
  • not looking after themselves (or yourself) or spending time on things they (or you) enjoy
  • relying on drugs and alcohol to cope
  • having difficulty sleeping, low energy, headaches
  • feeling anxious and worrying*

What should you do if when stressful situations become too much and you are struggling? There are two alternatives, two responses.

1. Sometimes the best strategy to manage stress is identifying and changing or getting rid of the causes of negative stress. If you drive a certain way to work and there is always heavy traffic – change your route. If you are working on the weekend or in the evenings, as a normal thing – stop it – you need your rest. Sometimes a digital detox is good. If you work from home, restricting work to work hours so you can switch off – maybe closing the door on your work or putting it on a tray in a cupboard in the evening or over the weekend. This approach works well and is a bit like a body builder taking a day off and letting their stressed muscle rest.

2. But, sometimes we can’t make changes in our lives; for instance, looking after a relative when they are ill or elderly, as well as holding down a job. Or, having everyone at home 24/7 during Covid lockdown. I think we’ve all had a lot of extra stress because of Covid.

What should we do then? A strategy for dealing with that, is changing how we respond to the situation and trying to use positive thinking, humour or understanding the bigger picture. Many people use this strategy in key services like the NHS, the police and others who have worked throughout COVID and seen terrible things.

We can all take charge of our health and reduce the impact inevitable daily stress has on us.

  • Try to get regular exercise. Physical activity has a huge positive impact on our physical and mental health. Walking, jogging or cycling – exercise reduces stress, getting outside is good for us! I go to the gym, go walking outside, try and eat well (most days) and, as I have got older, have cut out alcohol entirely during the week.
  • Spending time with family, friends and pets is a good way to de-stress. I love spending time with my two dogs – they are a brilliant distraction.
  • If we get more organised and lined up we could avoid or minimise emergency fire drills. I find it helpful to plan my day and get organised a little. I write information down so I have less flying around in my head. A clean desk is also very helpful for me.
  • Try to dedicate some time just for ourselves.

But … if you are still struggling, at home or at work, try to speak to someone – put your hand up.

Let’s keep challenging and pushing ourselves to be the best we can be and to look after ourselves. Let’s also keep resting and recovering when we are off duty. Let’s watch out for each other. Let us welcome and use positive stress to make us stronger and fitter. Let’s be aware of and understand the dangers of bad stress and how it can potentially turn into serious mental health issues.

Take care of yourself and of each other.

Nick Hurt (CEO)

*https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response