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Don't let your job get you down

Half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress. Lucy Dimbylow explains how to bring your anxiety levels under control.

“Contributing factors include work overload, lack of control over the demands of the job and poor working relationships,” explains Andrew Cowler of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Concerns about job security and the blurring of lines between work and home also play a part. So how can you curb your stress and regain your work-life balance?

Get physical

Exercise reduces stress but often gets squeezed out when you’re under pressure. Commit to fitting exercise into your working day, whether it’s a morning swim or a post-work game of squash. “Even a brisk walk at lunchtime could help,” says Chris O’Sullivan at the Mental Health Foundation.

Eat to beat stress

“Many people miss meals or rely on caffeine or alcohol when stressed, but this is counterproductive,” says Chris. Studies show that a healthy diet, incorporating regular meals, more fruit and veg and fewer refined foods – such as sugar and white bread – can improve mental health. Bring nutritious meals and snacks to work, such as soups and salads, so you’re not dependent on canteen or vending machine food.

Take a break

Tempted to skip lunch, battle on through flu or even cancel your holiday because there’s so much to do? “Managers should understand the need for reasonable time off, to keep stress under control,” says Andrew at ACAS. In fact, research links the creeping culture of “presenteeism” with an increase in stress-related absence, so don’t be afraid to take a break from your desk.

Reconnect with fun

Under pressure, it’s easy to lose sight of the positives in life. “Try drawing pictures of five things that lift your mood – from family holidays to a round of golf – and pin it by your desk,” says Chris. “This visual reminder of the good things in life helps you cope better when times are hard, and prompts you to make space for them.”

Rethink your to-do list

When work-related stress feels insurmountable, make a list of everything that’s worrying you. “Identify the things you can change and the things that you can’t,” advises Chris. “This will help you address and tackle the things you can change while letting go of those that are outside your control.” Mindfulness – a stress-reduction technique that focuses your thoughts on the present – is proven to help people handle difficult situations. Search www.nhs.uk/ for “mindfulness” for more information, or refer to benhealth’s autumn 2013 cover story.

Talk it through

“If stress is affecting your health, relationships or work, have an informal chat with your line manager so they can support you, for example by reducing your workload or reviewing your objectives,” advises Andrew. “Good management is instrumental in preventing workplace stress.”

Members of Benenden can call the Psychological Wellbeing 24/7 Helpline on 0800 414 8247 for round-the-clock advice.

Source: This article first appeared in benhealth, issue 26 (spring 2014).