Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month? The theme this year is 'Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control'. Something we could each do with. At the start of the month, I posted 30 Day Challenge Resources provided by Stress Management Society. This featured lots of stress-busting hints and tips to help you re-connect, plus a fact sheet on The Impact of Workplace Stress (below).
As you can see, some of the figures quoted are staggering. Two that stood out were that 17.9m working days are lost due to work-related stress; and that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for over half of work-related ill health and sickness. Given that many will not openly admit to workplace stress or anxiety, it's fair to assume that these figures are minimums. And they were recorded pre-pandemic!
For some, talking openly about work-related stress is still considered a sign of weakness, or failure. Neither is true.
Professional bodies, such as unions and the HSE for example, are working hard to help employers and employees recognise the symptoms of stress and run workshops to provide support for stress-related issues.
In my experience, one way of combatting stress, is communication. Checking in with colleagues that appear quieter than usual, or not quite themselves. This can be done as effectively remotely as it is face-to-face. In March 2020, I hosted Zoom sessions for coaches, to facilitate conversations around our personal challenges and those facing our clients. They were both fun and a great success.
Like so many of you, my work came to an abrupt halt, almost overnight, on 23rd March. With coaching work suspended, it quickly became clear I would not qualify for Government financial support, along with around 3m other freelancers or small business owners, prompting the setting up of Excluded UK.
As it turned out, things would change. I was approached by Career Directed Solutions (CDS) - a lovely organisation whose values match my own - and by July I was providing outplacement coaching support for clients facing redundancy. Over the next few months, I supported over 80 clients with multiple sessions, each facing their own personal challenge and stresses.
I loved this period of work but the regularity of it saw me ignore my own wellbeing. Unable to do the things I loved, I felt trapped, mostly sat on my backside!
As December turned into a lockdown Christmas and New Year, my outplacement work slowed until it stopped. The extension of furlough, vital for so many, had pressed the pause button on redundancies. I was as relieved (for them) as I was concerned (for me).
My inactivity was making me grouchy.
Now, I'm a man of a certain age where grouchiness is part of the job description. However, my regular disposition is one of laughter, good-humour and fun, but I could no longer recognise this in myself. Nor could my wife.
Simply put, I became a pain in the arse to live with. I was stressed.
Stress is different for everyone. I developed bad habits, such as comfort eating, keeping my head down and a lack of interest in activities I love. My resilience levels were low.
I made a plan. It started with talking to family and friends about how I was feeling. The addition of meditation, screen-free days and a short-term activity plan helped. Part of this was to take one reset day each month. A chance to enjoy being present and in the moment.
So, as lockdown restrictions eased, I took my first reset day with a few hours walking on the Long Mynd. It was great to be outside, with a different view - and such a panoramic one at that. It was as energising as it was exhilarating and has proved transformative.
Each of us have faced stresses this past year. I cannot tell you how to combat your stress but would implore you to take steps to talk to others, including professional help if you need it. Small changes in routine can make such a big difference in regaining control.
Good luck with your challenges ahead, here's a few resources you may find useful.
And to those people that have been there, even if you're unaware of the positive role you or your posts played, thank you.