Blog - my experience of the creeping dread that is stress
In support of Stress Awareness day 2018, our MD Peter discusses his own experiences of stress at work, and coping mechanisms that work for him.
When I think of stress, I jump straight to clichés: the executive in charge of billion-dollar deals, the small business owner struggling to pay the bills, or the people at Rockstar Games crunching 100-hour weeks to meet an unmovable deadline.
But the truth is that stress is the small things, it’s the moments of panic when you have too much to do, the realisation that you forgot to do something important, the dread of having to go to work the next day because of something or someone you don’t want to face, or the nights when you can’t sleep but you don’t really know why.
Stress – for me – is a slow, creeping thing that builds in you over a long period of time.
Maybe you start to spend more time at work, tasks take you longer, relationships with co-workers are frayed, and you don’t feel like you can talk to others about it. It just builds and builds until one day you realise that it has become a permanent part of your everyday life, and your health is beginning to suffer as a result.
Personally, I moved from head of editorial at Headlines to co-running it, and that’s obviously amazing, but of course with added responsibility comes added stress. As a person I am quite good at switching off from work when I leave the office, I don’t have sleepless nights about work and I never have in the whole time since I left University.
But it has happened a handful of times in the past five years, and it is always a warm, dull pain in the right of my chest, I can’t sleep and I can’t stop thinking about that one thing that I am worried about. No matter how I try to distract myself and what else I am thinking about, it always comes back to that.
For me, that’s how you know you there is a problem because you cannot escape the thing you are stressed about.
Sometimes the stress is very temporary, for example for us at Headlines when we have a big pitch or client meeting coming up, but it is not good at all for your health and leads to over-eating, drinking, smoking – basically whatever you need to do to allieviate it. Which just makes the problem worse.
What can you do to stop it?
I am not an expert, but these are a few things that have worked for me:
Talk to others
You have to share, you have to talk to others about what is causing your stress. If you are in a managerial role you must talk to your peers, don’t worry about feeling weak, everybody feels the same way sometimes. If not, talk to your line manager. If they don’t help, talk to their line manager, and if they don’t help you … leave. Job hunting is stressful, but it is worse to stay in a job where you are not supported.
Talking out loud about your problems is surprisingly therapeutic and cathartic. Just venting often helps to lower the pressure you feel on yourself.
It’s a horrible cliché but it does help. Work can feel overwhelming, so it’s important to write down what you need to do, prioritise, and start ticking things off your list. That act of crossing out tasks as you complete them is extremely powerful.
Get yourself out of the situation
This is not about quitting (necessarily) but about removing yourself from the stressful environment to get some perspective. Go for a walk, ideally in some green space. If you live in a city, it is easy to underestimate how much it contributes to your anxiety levels. Just getting away from it all, sitting, relaxing, putting the phone away, can help gain some distance and assist you with contextualising the issue. Often you find ways of tackling a problem when you are away from it, as it’s hard to deal with something when it is right in front of you.
Identify the source of the stress
This can be lots of things that cause workplace stress: too much work, too little work (bizarrely), your working environment, your suitability to the role you are in or other colleagues that may be contributing to your issues. Often you don’t know why you are stressed, understanding why is the first step is to really dealing with it. A good idea is to keep a diary when you are feeling anxious, so you can start to get the bottom of it.
I don’t claim to be an expert on this. This is just my experience of workplace stress and how I try to deal with it. It is an on-going thing, more like winning a series of battles than a war, but it’s important to know when it is happening and stay on top of it, as your job should never make you so stressed that it affects your home life.