Workplace stress is impacting the mental and physical wellbeing of Australia’s workforce, according to Dr John Kearney, Director of Psychological Services at Wesley Hospital in Sydney’s south-east.
Kearney identified low resilience and the inability to switch off from work as mitigating factors for people’s stress levels. The clinical psychologist is so concerned by the epidemic of patients showing up for assistance he says more needed to be done to raise awareness around the issue.
The doctor believes the ability to bounce back from challenges is crucial to combating stress, which recent studies have revealed as the most significant psychological hazard in the workplace.
“In our connected, always-on age, it is increasingly difficult to separate work and personal life. There is often a reluctance to share feelings of stress or not being able to cope in the workplace, because of the stigma attached,” Kearney said.
“While moderate stress can be a productive and motivating factor in the workplace, too much of it can risk burnout. This can have serious consequences, such as reduced productivity and performance, emotional exhaustion, a loss of empathy and increased absenteeism.”
Chronic workplace stress has also been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing mental health conditions, such as depression therefore Kearney recommends self-care strategies need to be put into action.
“Focusing on your own self-care, such as minimising or eliminating alcohol and caffeine intake, and taking time away from work to build good relationships with family and friends, is crucial to building personal resilience. In turn, these strategies can improve morale, develop mental agility, and encourage employees to ask for help before they feel they need to take time off,” Kearney said.
Kearney’s top tips for building resilience
- Create weekly ‘rituals’ that refresh your mind and bodyTry to minimise mindless distractions and engage in activities that help you stay connected, such as watching the footy with friends, joining a book club or meeting with friends every week for breakfast. Volunteering your time to others is another way to help you feel a sense of purpose.
- Set realistic goals that play to your mental strength It is important to set work goals that are measureable and achievable, as this promotes a sense of purpose and agency. Goal setting should also be motivating, so you may need to devise ‘mini goals’ to break the overall work goal into smaller, achievable tasks.
- Take breaks throughout the day It may feel counterintuitive, but stepping away from your desk for 30 minutes each day could help you get more done. Short breaks enable your mind to reset and can do wonders to your focus.
- Stay healthy outside work Research has shown that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing. As well as relaxing your mind, physical activity can improve your sense of control, coping ability and self-esteem. Activities such as yoga, meditation or Tai Chai provide a healthy outlet for managing your stress.
- Don’t use social media to benchmark your life A reliance on technology to ‘see’ the social world around us can be a heavy burden, promoting a particular way of being connected to the world that is not real. Switching off from frenetic social networking – even if it means spending some more time in your own company – is not missing out. These moments can be crucial for helping us to reset and relax.
- Get 7-9 hours’ sleep It is proven that those who sleep within the recommended seven-to-nine hours per night have greater energy and concentration at work the next day. If you’re having difficulty switching off, practice mindfulness or meditation to help improve your sleep.
- Confide in a trusted manager or work colleague If you think that you’re experiencing burnout and chronic stress at work, reaching out to your manager or a fellow employee can make you feel less alone. It is well known that maintaining social connections helps people feel better, so speak to your partner, a friend or family member about how you’ve been feeling.
- Don’t run away from challenges, look to grow through them Fulfilling careers are built on experiences, good and bad. Experience is gained from taking risks and making mistakes, so do not view these challenges negatively.