Being under pressure and suffering stress are not the same thing. Alyssa Armstrong, manager of corporate well-being services at Bupa Wellness, defines pressure as the various events or situations in people's lives that cause them to act in some way. Some of these causes of pressure are positive such as children and relationships. Others, like debt, are negative.
Stress, she explains: "is an imbalance between pressure and our coping resources". In other words, stress occurs when people are unable to cope with pressure.
Armstrong runs regular workshops at Bupa called Managing the Pace which are aimed at helping individuals and organisations improve teamwork and working relationships. Increasing workload is often a major factor behind stress and Armstrong sees time management as a common problem within organisations.
"If the online diary were the answer, we'd all be brilliant time managers," says Armstrong. Sadly most people are not. She stresses the importance of a job description in helping individuals manage their work time more effectively. "Any job description should have a primary function and a list of secondary aims." In order to manage time effectively people should recognise the difference between essential and non-essential tasks.
As people move up the corporate ladder a common problem is people's difficulty in delegating their old duties. "They feel they cannot ask for help because it makes them feel weak," says Armstrong. "I don't believe these people consider if their workload is sustainable."
Armstrong has identified a number of ways people can cope with stress. Cognitive skills include anger management; maintaining a positive attitude; having a vision and a sense of humour: all can all help to relieve stress at work. She says it is also important to get along with work colleagues. "Relationships within work do matter because it affects how you feel when you are at work."
Nuturing relationships is also an important means of coping. "Work on your friendships," she advises, "because this helps to elevate your mood."
The key to coping with stress starts at home: A good diet; keeping fit; drinking enough fluids - but not alcohol - all help. Sleeping pills and too much coffee are definitely not good remedies. Neither are cigarettes, says Armstrong: "Nicotine slows down the time it takes your nerves to respond. Smoking is a negative coping strategy."
Armstrong advises that effective relaxation and sleep are paramount. "People do not get enough sleep," she says. Six to seven hours a night is not enough; people need between seven and eight. "It makes a big difference," she explains. In the second half of the night, during what is known as "slow wave sleep" or deep sleep (beauty sleep), cellular repair occurs and the body boosts its immune system. "Cutting down on sleep simply makes you ill."
In terms of relaxation, sitting in front of the TV does not help with stress. To relax Armstrong suggests that people should reduce the number of stimuli they have to deal with - effectively giving the brain a break. "Sit down in a quiet place and meditate and make sure your muscles are relaxed."
Another technique she recommends is creative meditation. "Imagine you are somewhere relaxing," Armstrong explains, "like swinging in a hammock or lying on a beach." This method of relaxation triggers many of the feelings that someone would feel if they really were there, in a hammock or on a sandy beach.
Clearly there are several approaches people can take individually to tackle pressure and cope with stress. Armstrong notes that it is also important for any employer to take an active interest in its employees. She says that having a good feedback and assessment system and recognition for a job well done costs companies little yet can produce a much happier workforce.
Other factors include the company visibly supporting an employee during illness and letting people have a say in their working environment. If this sounds a little like people management, then that's because it is. "Good stress management is all about good management," says Armstrong.
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