Tag Archives: stress

Work stress nearly cost me my life

As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to an end I thought I’d write a bit about my personal journey and (hopefully) warn against the dangers of work stress.

I struggled with my health all through uni. As an introvert, I found the social life expected was too much for me, it was so far out of my comfort zone, I had to pretend to be someone else and that cost me more energy than I had. Team this was a course (medicine) that I found very difficult; the high proportion of patient contact was great experience but, again, cost me energy I didn’t have.

With my commitments sapping me energy, my mood plummeted and my thoughts followed. I felt I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t cope, I was completely useless and I had imposted syndrome – someone was going to find out, I was a fraud and discover I didn’t have what it takes to be a doctor.

I got through medical school thinking “I just need to get through, it will be better when I qualify, there will be fewer assessments and I can get on with doing what I want to do, be a doctor”.

Unfortunately, when I qualified, while the daunting exams were over and I felt relieved that I’d made it, the stress did not stop. It might sound silly but until I qualified, I don’t think I realised that people’s lives were literally in my hands!

Yes, as a junior doctor, you have the support of a team but when on call or, as I was, working in a hospital with few doctors, it was down to me. I felt completely overwhelmed with the responsibility and felt I didn’t know enough. Imposter syndrome was crushing my confidence, the anxiety was crippling. Every time I needed to think clearly and quickly, my brain froze. Literally, no thoughts would come through my mind and I struggled to take action.

I spent many moments crying in the toilet. But this just led to guilt, I couldn’t do my job hiding and crying, so I’d dry my eyes and put on a brave face.

I still thought, “if I just get through this stage…” but I couldn’t survive thinking that at every stage. I tried to confide in my colleagues and they reassured me and supported me as best they could but my health couldn’t hold up.

One day I was a doctor, the next I was a patient.

My depression was severe and I was experiencing psychotic symptoms with my anorexia. My life was at risk with self harm and suicidal behavior. Of course, there were many contributing factors but work stress was right up there!

If you’re feeling work stress, please talk to someone, don’t hope it will get better, it needs managing. Your health is more important than any job.

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Managing stress is not rocket science but we have to make it a priority

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14th- 20th May) is Stress!

85% adults in the UK experience some form of stress, 39% describe themselves as “too stressed”. #

54% people say they’re worried about the impact of their stress on their health. This does not mean stress is not impacting the health of the other 46%, it might be that they are unaware of it! #

Stress is key contributing factor to mental ill-health.

Mental Health services are more stretched than ever, so just imagine, if we removed stress or managed it better, we’d reduce the rates of mental illness and those who need the mental health services would get quality support in a more timely manner and staff within these services would have lower stress levels – it’s win-win!!

Spotting signs of stress

Stress can impact us in all sorts of ways; here are just a few examples:

  • Feeling irritable, anxious, low or tearful
  • Loss of interest or apathy
  • Fatigue and sleeping problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stomach problems
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

If stress is impacting you’re health, it’s vital to consider whether any changes could be made.

Causes of stress

The thing most likely to cause stress changes as we age, while young adults are more likely to be worried about money, those ages over 55 are more stressed about their health (which is a vicious cycle!). Those aged between 25 and 55 feel stressed about work and money.

A number of factors impact our working life, these are the top causes of stress at work:

  • 44% caused by work load
  • 14% due to lack of support
  • 13% caused by violence, threats or bullying
  • 8% due to changes at work *

At work, some people work better under some degree of pressure, after all, “pressure makes diamonds!” But stress is strain or tension caused by adverse or demanding circumstances – this means it has gone beyond the helpful pressure that makes us work more efficiently, it is having the opposite effects and actually decreases productivity and causes people to get ill.

A lot of causes are beyond our control so it’s how we manage the stress that’s going to be important.

Managing stress

There are no magic answers, we all know how to avoid or reduce stress, it’s nothing complicated but we’re not very good at putting it into action, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to putting ourselves first and looking after ourselves!

For some reason, we put our job or other people above ourselves, we think that it is more important to look after other people; we see it as selfish if we want some ‘me time’ or if we need to ask for help or support.

But think of it this way, if you’re permanently stressed out (even just a little bit) this will have an adverse impact on your health which in turn means you cannot look after other people or be optimally productive in your job. If we all put ourselves first a little bit, it’s for the greater good!

Identify the triggers – ideally avoid them but if that’s not possible, think outside the box, is there any other way around it? We’re under constant pressure to do more work in fewer hours but there may be other ways to improve efficiency without piling on the load! If it isn’t possible to avoid the triggers, at least you’ll be on the lookout and can put other management technique into practice.

Learn to say ‘no’ – why do we find this so hard?! We’re afraid to let people down but those of us who say ‘yes’ all the time get lumbered with all the jobs no-one else wants to do. Trying saying ‘no’ in different ways and the results can be interesting, for example ‘I don’t have time this week but I may be able to do it next week’ communicates that you’re willing but not currently able and if it’s urgent, someone else will need to do it. Just this week someone tried to make their deadline more important than mine, they wanted me to do their job first even though their deadline was 4 hours after mine – I was assertive and simply explained why I was not going to change my priorities.

Develop good time management – this is one of the most important things since managing stress can take time, it’s important to fit it in! It may be about travelling more efficiently, (e.g. going to the gym on the way home rather than making it a separate trip) or making a list of priorities and how long each will take. Time management is a whole separate topic but it’s important when managing stress.

Get more sleep – work out when you need to get up, subtract 9 hours – this is the time you should start getting ready for bed, this gives you 1 hour to wind down fully and get ready for bed. Of course, this may not be possible every night but instead of picking an arbitrary 11pm (for example), we have a time in mind that will help us get the full sleep we need. Having a lie in at the weekend has been proven to be beneficial but only for an hour or 2, sleeping away the whole morning to make up for major sleep deprivation during the week just leads to lethargy.

Exercise 4-5 times per week – people often say they don’t have time but time will not materialize out of thin air – you have to make time! Instead of staying that extra hour at work, go home on time and go for a half hour walk – this will help you sleep, for one and work more efficiently tomorrow. Find an exercise you enjoy, some people love the variety a gym offers, other like the simplicity of walking or jogging, some people need to exercise alone, some with other people – there’s something out there for everyone. Lifting a beer to your lips while watching rugby doesn’t count!

Have some ‘me time’ – everyone enjoys different things; from acrobatics and art appreciation to yoga and zentangle. ‘Me time’ can also be a long soak in a hot bath or walking the dog. This is particular important for introverts in a world designed for extroverts, other people sap our energy and we need time on our own to recharge.

Practice deep breathing and relaxation – there are huge benefits to spending a couple of minutes relaxing and breathing deeply:

  • More oxygen to the brain keeps it healthy and enables clarity of thought and better concentration
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Lowers blood pressure reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improves posture
  • Releases endorphins, improving mood and decreasing pain
  • Encourages dispersal of harmful toxins

Taking things a step further, mindfulness or meditation can also be helpful.

Take your annual leave – there is nothing heroic about working your annual leave, we have it written into our contracts for a reason – it is vital to have a change of scenery and do something different (even if you ‘just’ stay at home) in order to recharge the batteries – it benefits everyone when you come back refreshed.

Remember, putting yourself first a little bit is for the greater good!

# stats from Forth survey Jan 2018

* stats from HSE survey

Talking is key

So sorry I’ve not published a blog for a long time. Basically I’ve moved house and I’ve changed jobs – 2 of the most stressful things anyone can do!

It’s blogging that appears to have taken a back seat, not a conscious decision but none the less, it’s happened and I’m now working to rectify this!

My job change has only been to a different department within the same hospital but there have been a lot of changes, not least a massive change in hours. I have been used to working shifts which, although you can’t form a routine, there are huge benefits, for example, having time off during the week! I was working 3 long days (out of the house before 7am, home after 8pm), but this would mean I had 4 days off a week! In my new job, I work 8-4, 5 days a week, great if you like a regular routine but I’ve lost a lot – commuting an extra 2 days per week stole 2 hours of my life and in admin, you get 1/2 hour unpaid lunches, another 2.5 hours taken from my week!

Other changes, of course, include working with different people, managing a very different style of work, managing my own work load and prioritising. I’m also working in an office for the first time and I’m experiencing some, apparently normal, office culture, such as an ongoing conversation about food, weight and dieting!

The stress of moving house is immense, the physical moving went pretty well but there’s so much paperwork involved and money, a lot of money!! It’s mostly over but I’m still working my way through the infinite list of people who need to know my change of address, and decorating and DIY have become an ongoing fixture in my life!

It’s a very confusing time as these positive events happen, I ‘should’ feel happy but it’s important to acknowledge what’s been lost and no matter how positive the change is, everyone finds change difficult.

Managing these life events a few years ago, I would definitely have needed time of work and there’s a high chance I would have ended up in hospital.

The last few months have been highly stressful BUT, I have remind relatively health and not ended up in hospital!

So what’s changed?!

I think the title of this blog says it in one! I now talk about how I’m feeling, about what I’m thinking and about what I’m struggling with. Previously, I have not had the language or emotional understanding to explain the knot in my stomach is related to anxiety or that the tension in my shoulders, causing migraines is related to worries I don’t know how to solve.

Often it’s difficult to know how to start talking but my husband and I find a good start is “I don’t know what’s going on but…” or simply “can we talk about…” the conversation then moves naturally from there even if it’s in a stop-start way, we manage to talk about anything and everything! Although we like to solve each other’s problems, we’ve learnt that ‘just’ listening is often what we want from each other, but we do have to remind each other that’s what we want – we don’t expect each other to mind read!

When trying to talk, it’s ok to say “I don’t know how I feel” or “it just doesn’t feel right”. Not every conversation has to go all deep and meaningful, it’s ok to not have the exact words but it’s important to say that. Starting to talk is the hardest thing but expressing our thoughts and feelings is important, no matter how jumbled it is, not just for our own mental wellbeing but for the good of our relationships.

I snapped at a colleague the other day, not like me at all! But, I took a deep breath and apologised. I didn’t need to poor my heart out to her, I just said “I’m sorry, I’m stressed about other stuff and I didn’t mean to take it out on you” I felt better for having said what was going on for me and the mood in the room lightened immediately.

It’s best not to take our stresses out on others people but sometimes this is inevitable, if we spend a lot of time around someone, they’ll get the sharp end sometimes. But emotional intellect is about being about to take responsibility for our feelings, for our actions and how we impact others. Apologies may be hard but being honest about our feeling helps mould healthy relationships (and helps you move on from unhealthy ones).

Today is Time to Talk Day with Time to Change. Let’s use this as a opportunity to, not only raise awareness of mental illness, but also to forge more honest, deeper, healthier, more meaningful relationships by talking about what really matters to us!