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08 Mar 2023
by Clare Price

How to stop work-related worry and stress becoming a problem

Everyone worries at some time, but in these difficult economic times it can start to affect mental health. What can employers do to help employees?

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These may be some of the most stressful and worrying times many people have ever experienced. How do we know when work-related stress and worry are manageable and when they are hindering our life?

We all worry. It is a natural phenomenon. Even so, at what point do experts consider worrying a problem? If we can’t work past it and it stops us from living the life we want to live, then worrying can affect mental health and disrupt someone’s quality of life.

When we find ourselves in a state of ongoing uncertainty and things continue to be unpredictable, this can lead to ‘unique worries’ and concerns which can be specific to an individual or to a group of individuals. 

Fortunately, human beings have a fantastic ability to think about the future. Generally, thinking ahead means we can anticipate obstacles, which allows us to plan, come up with solutions and meet our goals.

But thinking ahead can pose difficulties, too. Excessive worry can drive us to catastrophise, where we think about worst-case scenarios, which can make us feel overly anxious and apprehensive.

Emotional impact

The emotional impact can lead to us having a lived experience of the associated symptoms of an event or outcome without the actual experience itself happening. Our bodies act as if it were a true event and give the worry credibility and our mind can perceive the worst-case scenario as reality.

Worrying often moves us past the point of active problem-solving. It becomes an obstacle to effective functioning. It can be helpful to understand and be able to distinguish between the two different kinds of worry: real and hypothetical. 

Real worries are about real problems that are affecting people right now. Hypothetical worries don’t exist but might happen in the future, and they’re often the ones where we go to the worst-case scenario. For example: ‘What will I do if I lose my job and end up homeless?’ 

A chain of thoughts leads to a spiral into more and more ‘catastrophic’ thinking. Sometimes these can take a life of their own and feel very real, which manifest into those physical experiences, creating a sense of restlessness that can make it uncomfortable to be in your own skin.

Line managers or someone who manages people should consider watching out for the following signs in colleagues: 

Signs that might indicate someone is struggling with worry 

The symptoms of stress can affect all parts of someone’s life, including their emotions, behaviours, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune. We look at signs in the workplace that might indicate an employee is experiencing higher levels of stress:

  • Absence: taking an unusual amount of time off work
  • Reduced tolerance: overreacting to situations in the workplace
  • Pessimism: focusing too much on the negative aspects of the job
  • Performance issues: struggling to concentrate or complete tasks either day to day or by set deadlines
  • Isolation: reduced social skills or less interpersonal interactions with other colleagues, concerns about what others think
  • Low confidence: turning down opportunities for development or promotion or plateauing in their career

What you can do 

You can take action if you notice yourself worrying or signpost colleagues to these tips if you notice that they may be worrying:

  • Maintain balance: Wellbeing comes from a life with a balance of activities that you value and give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness. 
  • Identify your worry: Is it a ‘real’ worry or a hypothetical worry? If it’s the latter, it is important to remind yourself that your mind is not focusing on a problem you can solve now and find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else. 
  • Postpone your worry: Worry is insistent, and it can make you feel as if you have to engage with it right now. Instead, deliberately set aside time to let yourself worry and don’t worry for the rest of the day. 
  • Apply self-compassion: Worry can come from a place of concern. We worry about others when we care about them. Responding to our own or others’ worry with kindness and compassion can make a huge difference.
  • Practice mindfulness: Learning and practicing mindfulness can help us to notice but not engage with worrying thoughts. It helps us to let go and break free of worries by staying in the present moment, stopping them from taking hold.

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In partnership with Onebright

Onebright is a personalised on-demand mental healthcare company.

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