Stress Awareness: The signs of, and ways to reduce stress

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the effects and cures of stress. This year’s theme is ‘Community’ which highlights the importance of human interaction and support. The past 2 years have undoubtedly been difficult for the majority of people with isolation and loneliness being prominent issues amongst the population. Times like these emphasise the importance of community and having a strong support system around you and the effect that isolation can have on your mental wellbeing.


There is a huge difference in western culture with regards to community in comparison to other cultures around the world. Developing countries and cultures place a much higher emphasis on community therefore levels of poor mental health are lower as a result. The pandemic reinforced how humans are not meant to exist in isolation and the damaging effects that it can have on mental health and wellbeing. Having reciprocal relationships with others is what brings a sense of purpose and community to individuals, we need to be a part of something bigger than us and feel that support and inclusion.


Stress is a somewhat subjective experience. Everyone will have their own preferred levels of stress; some people function well under a level of stress that would be overwhelming to others. The body can handle stress in small amounts, in fact, the adrenaline boost we get from stress and pressure is a good example of how our bodies naturally respond to a short, temporary stressor. Chronic stress has a much more severe impact on mental and physical wellbeing and can cause further issues or worsen existing ones. For this reason, it is important to recognise and monitor signs of stress, whether that be in the workplace or in your personal life.


Workplace stress is unavoidable, we are undoubtedly going to experience and have to deal with certain levels of stress in our jobs, however, there comes a point where it becomes counterproductive, and the negative effects outweigh the positives. Your employer has a duty to prevent stress in the workplace and offer supportive measures for you. It is also up to you to share with your employer how you are feeling and what you believe will help you manage and reduce your stress.


sheet of paper saying to choose balance not burnout


Signs of stress


  • More emotional, irritable, and angry
  • Overwhelmed
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling lonely or isolated and being withdrawn
  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Worsening of existing problems
  • More time off work
  • Loss of motivation and confidence
  • Problems sleeping
  • Sudden changes in weight


Ways to reduce stress


Understand what specific things make you stressed and what helps you feel calm. Being able to identify these things for yourself can help you manage your reactions and take appropriate steps to ensure you don’t become quickly overwhelmed. Making some sort of action plan may be helpful as well as letting other people know how they can help you if you need it.


Look after your physical health. You can find easy, quick stress relief through movement, especially in the short term. Going for a walk around the office or outside if you need a quick five minutes to yourself will help lower your stress levels, similarly, on your lunch break aim to have a short walk or go outside. Taking up a hobby such as running or dancing, where you have rhythmic physical movement has a huge impact on your stress levels and physical symptoms. These types of physical exercise soothe the nervous system which reduces feelings of stress by putting your nervous system under a healthy amount of pressure and allowing it to relax.


Eat nutritious food, at regular intervals throughout the day. Sustaining yourself with snacks and smaller portions of food throughout the day is much better for you. Keeping your sugar levels up and ensuring you’re not hungry will help your mood and maintain your energy. Try avoiding sugary and fatty foods where possible, carbs and typical comfort foods may offer an initial feeling of comfort however in the long run they do more harm than good.


Speak to someone for support. Whether it’s a manager, colleague, or friend, having someone to speak to can be helpful. A manager will be able to offer practical support in work and friends can offer a listening ear for those times you just need to get something off your chest. Even if there is no solution to a problem, talking about it gives you a sense of relief. For more serious issues, going to speak to your GP or a therapist can help provide you with more emotional support to help you deal with and manage stress.


Get a good night’s sleep. It may seem like it’s the answer to everything, but sufficient sleep really has so many positive effects on you and poor sleep can be detrimental to your health. Having good quality of sleep makes all the difference, there is no point trying to get enough sleep when you will continue to feel tired after you wake up. Insufficient sleep can make you more emotional and irritable which can lead to escalation of simple issues and feeling more overwhelmed than you should be.


Be realistic. Think about what is realistically achievable and manageable and don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. This is especially true if you consistently hold yourself to extremely high standards, you don’t have to constantly be hard on yourself and expect perfection. Breaking tasks down to smaller, manageable chunks can help when feeling overwhelmed with a project or something at work.


Take time off. Taking short breaks throughout the day as well as taking time off will give you a chance to increase productivity, take time for yourself and feel more refreshed. Having time off will also allow you to gain some perspective, think about your priorities and what changes you can make to help yourself. Similarly, reward yourself and acknowledge any achievements, this will help you stop focusing so much on what has gone wrong or what is yet to be done.


Stress at Work


Employers have a duty of care and can help reduce and prevent employee’s from feeling too much stress. Employers can take action on an organisational level, with company wide initiatives and policies making everyone aware of the support in place. Having a supportive company culture is crucial to ensuring employee’s feel comfortable talking about stress in the workplace.


employee showing stress

Managers can implement changes on a team level. Having regular checks with teams, providing action plans that tackle potential key issues that can arise. Another way managers can offer support is by being trained in mental health training, which covers warning signs of poor mental health including stress.


On an individual level, managers should be having regular one to one meetings with employees to check up and touch base on how things are going. These also provide employees with an opportunity to bring up any issues they may have in a confidential situation. One to one meetings are an opportunity for managers to provide feedback to employees which helps them know how they are doing within their job and the company. Clarity often is a relief from stress, as employees have a clear understanding of their purpose, what they are doing well and where they can improve.


Employers can also offer adjustments to employees to help reduce stress. Things like flexible working, offering counselling, holding social activities or encouraging employees to take care of their wellbeing can all be beneficial and helpful.