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Workplace stress is a serious issue,
says Denise Barrett, but you can get a
handle on it and turn it to your
There once was a time when a stressful day at the office meant donning a loincloth, leaving the cave and spearing the evening meal. Now, it’s technology and commuting we wrestle with as we strive to conquer deadlines and data. As modern medicine helps increase our lifespan, we work later in life too. We’re not too hot at managing our work structure either, says Professor Cary Cooper, who coined the phrase “we need to work smarter, not longer”. Cary Cooper CBE, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School has conducted prolific research on stress in the workplace. In 2001 an international study he co-ordinated found that Britain is the workhorse of Europe, and second only to America in the hours we put in. I asked him what’s causing all this workaday pressure: “Techno stress and the work/life balance. We’re suffering from ‘electronic overload’ and technology is destroying face-to face communication. People are communicating too much by email and text and email can misinterpret what you’re trying to say. There’s no eye contact or body language – people are emailing internally someone down the room or on the next floor. We need to get up, walk around, stretch our legs.”Professor Cooper applauds Phones4U: “They’ve banned internal emails – as have Liverpool City Council.” And as the Brits work such long hours, how is it affecting domestic life? “Badly” says Professor Cooper. “In more and more homes, both parents are out working. The family structure is breaking and divorce is on the up.“
Aggression at workThere is another issue that is worrying Professor Cooper: “Bullying, as a result of robust management technique. I have recently completed a huge study on bullying that took in one mil ion people in 80 organisations. We focused in on five and a half thousand employees and found that one in ten people experienced persistent bullying and abuse. This had undermined their health and resulted in frequent sick leave and absenteeism.” And what, I asked him, can you do if you’re on the receiving end? “You have to deal with it,
ironically when you’re feeling at your lowest in confidence. Check there’s a safe reporting system in place to evaluate the situation. It could be a matter of re-training the offender or at the worse, dismissal. “Just remember, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Find out if anyone else has been bullied, and report it collectively. This way, organisations are more prepared to listen. We also uncovered a new issue, ‘passive bullying’. It has a negative effect on your
health if you witness persistent bullying. There are the ‘psycopathic’ bullies who need to put other people down to exert a form of power – this has existed for around a hundred years in the workplace – and a newer phenomenon, the ‘stressed-out bully’ who can’t cope with their job and blames their subordinates for their inabilities.” The findings shown by Cooper’s study were so significant they inspired him to co-write a book, Shut up and listen!
which was published in the Spring. The mil ion dollar question is, how on earth does this man manage to organise his time and stay reasonably sane? (Look up Cary Cooper’s cv
and you wonder if he’s been cloned around 20 times.) “We all
need a work/life balance. I have a very busy work schedule – but I’m in the office by 7.45 and I out of there at 4.30.”
Today’s competitive work culture of long hours, high targets and commuting does much to contribute to stress. But what exactly is stress
– and how do you measure it? According to Fiona Clark, of the Priory Hospital, Woking, “Stress is how you perceive the demands and pressures that life presents and how you are able to draw on your inner resources and cope. A ringing telephone, on a good day, is a familiar means of communication; but to the anxious and snowed-under it can be a plastic monster, waiting to pounce.” Within her work Fiona advises on how to identify signs of stress, then harness the symptoms and them use them to advantage. “Understanding stress is the first step in learning how to show it who’s boss. Keep stress or anger permanently stoppered and it could eventually manifest as anxiety and clinical depression. It’s also important to remember that physical complaints like digestive, skin and heart problems are all associated with stress.” Fiona’s advice is to externalise
it. Here are some of her simple coping strategies that are guaranteed to calm the mind and get things back in proportion:
*Wind a rubber band around your wrist and ping it. The ouch! factor wil divert you from the stress
*Get some play-bubbles, and blow the largest bubble you can. It’s difficult to do if you’re stressed or angry. It makes you breathe longer and slower, slows down your system leaving you relaxed and energized.
*Take a loo roll or cushion and chuck it against a wall to use up negative adrenalin
*Think of five empowering words like assertive, confident, in control, achieving and focused. Imagine that you ‘own’ them and draw a blue circle around them. The circle follows you around, and you can access it any time.
If you visit your doctor because you think you may be
suffering from stress, anxiety or depression you may
be prescribed medication to help see you through the
difficult time. It’s very important though to look after
your general health, including your immune system.
Nowadays, we look more and more at ‘holistic
wellbeing’, which means taking comprehensive care of
ourselves with a healthy diet, regular exercise and
quality rest and relaxation. This is looking at our health
‘preventatively’ rather than mopping up il ness when it
arrives. This responsible attitude is something that
GPs are in full support of especially as it helps cut
queues in their waiting room!
Many psychologists acknowledge that nutritional
deficiencies can aggravate, even cause, mental health
problems. Author, lecturer and nutritionist Patrick
Holford, who originally trained in experimental
psychology, is fervently pioneering ‘nutrition for the
mind’. He advocates the concept of Optimum Nutrition
– combining diet and dietary supplements. Certainly it
could be beneficial to supplement our intake of
nutrients that are difficult to source from our food, or at
times become depleted when stress or environmental
circumstances are robbing our bodies of their natural
Good mood foods include meat, poultry, fish
(especially oily fish rich in essential fatty acids like
omega-3, which has long been called ‘brain food’),
eggs, nuts, (especially almonds) whole grains, seeds,
green leafy vegetables, avocados, asparagus,
tomatoes and fresh fruit. Make sure you are absorbing
enough vitamin B, which helps build a healthy nervous
system (try a B Complex supplement), vitamin C and
magnesium. Magnesium helps maintain muscle
function and is often called the ’relaxing mineral’.
Ginseng is acknowledged as a stress-busting herbal
tonic and passiflora, 5-HTP and valerian are known for
their calming effects. But be sure to check with your
doctor before you begin a course of supplements
as they may interact with each other or any
prescribed medication, including antidepressants
The same applies if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Finally, drink at least six glasses of water a day and cut
right down on stimulants and caffeine.
Chil with TM“The beauty of transcendental meditation is you can do it on trains, boats and planes and in taxis on the way to an appointment” says TM’s UK communications director, Jonathan Hinde. After graduating from Oxford University in Experimental Psychology, Jonathan trained to become a TM teacher and has been teaching full time since 1977.
“TM is a simple technique that puts you back in contact with your Self, and it is very easy to learn and to introduce into a busy work schedule. It allows you to recharge your batteries at the beginning and end of every day.” I asked Jonathan how TM harmonised with business. “There has been a surge of interest from corporate sources like stockbrokers in the City of London. Many of my clients are people who have fulfil ed themselves professionally, but find that work has takes so much out of them that their personal life suffers.
In fact the busier you are the more you benefit from this ‘supercharged relaxation. Because it gives such deep rest for both mind and body, TM unleashes potential by dispelling the blockages that can affect performance and block creativity. It restores balance so you can perform competitively. Do less, but accomplish
more is our motto.” To il ustrate how broad-spectrum TM is, campaigning devotees include Sir John Harvey Jones, the industrialist (“my wife would leave me if I stopped meditating“); and David Lynch, the cult US film director.
Raging bullsIt’s not only the fairer sex that suffers with stress and depression. Men are vulnerable too, only they tend to
clam up about their health problems. But – they’re getting better at it. Smart guys click onto www.malehealth.co.uk, run by the Men’s Health Forum, which comprehensively addresses 24 areas of male wellbeing, including a helpful section on stress. (It’s even got an ambulance-style panic button.) Consultant to the website is GP and best-selling author Dr Ian Banks, BMA spokesman on male health issues and president of the Forum.
• Take regular exercise! It soaks up superfluous
adrenalin our bodies make during periods of stress and relaxes our muscles. At the same time, it releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Remember to warm up and cool down.
• Learn to use stress as a motivating force.
• Keep a jug of water by the computer and keep
• Therapies recommended by mental health
charity MIND: homoeopathy, aromatherapy, flower remedies, reflexology, acupuncture, massage, yoga, transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy, shiatsu, autogenics and reiki.
Always make sure you are seeing a registered
and fully qualified practitioner.
magazine is a pilot publication dealing with emotional health
issues distributed via GP surgeries and into a wider consumer arena. A second issue is planned for the New Year.
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