This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is stress in the work place. The issue of stress is such an important one, these days I find most people, myself included, try and cram too much into our day-to-day lives and with the UK working the longest hours in Europe it’s no surprise that we are all feeling stressed out. Stress is our body’s natural response to everyday life and a little can be good for us, however, if we don’t cope well with stress it can have a very detrimental effect on our health and subsequently our work.

Recently we worked with a retail company that recognised that most of their employee absence was related to stress and anxiety. They looked to us for ways to help members of their staff who were experiencing poor mental health and also for the employees who were supporting them.  We put together a series of workshops designed to help all their employees, as our client recognised the value of empowering all team members, not just managers. We helped staff understand what being stressed or anxious in the workplace looked like and provided guidance on signs to look out for when they or a colleague might be struggling. Then we gave them advice on how to deal with these situations in a sensitive and appropriate way. The outcome of the workshops was that employees felt more empowered to make a positive difference to their own wellbeing as well as feeling better equipped to support their colleague’s wellbeing.

So how do you cope with stress and not allow it to affect your health. Well unsurprisingly my number one way to deal with stress is to exercise. It won’t get rid of the stress completely but it will help to make you relax and it also releases a chemical called serotonin, which will make you feel less stressed. A strong healthy body will be better able to cope with the demands put on it by stress than a weak one. But it’s not all in the body, the mind is so important too. Mental resilience is as important as physical strength. As a professional athlete I spent a lot of time working on my mental strength and the tips I learnt I still use today in both my working life and at home. It’s really important to talk about work when it gets stressful, find a friend or colleague who you can talk to if things get too much. Sometimes another perspective is all that is required to resolve an issue. Eating and sleeping are also important. Eating sugary foods will lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which will affect your sleep and that is going to have a negative effect on your performance at work.

Lastly I really recommend that to keep stress at bay you make sure you take time for yourself. It’s really easy to find our working life taking over from everything else. Make sure that you set aside some time for yourself and really enjoy it, don’t feel guilty. I like to take my dog for a long walk and find that I can get my head straight, relax and come back ready for whatever is waiting for me.