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3 effective ways of managing crippling workplace stress


Before moving into the wonderful world of journalism, I spent nearly a decade in the financial services sector.

Both industries are stressful. Indeed I know I’ve felt stress-induced nausea on may way to work more times than I care to remember.

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So why is work so stressful? Well partly because how we perform at work directly influences other people’s quality of life. Whether you’re in a call centre, or representing someone in court. What you do and say matters.

Take this week’s Banking Royal Commission, for example. Many of the bankers that have sat in the witness box have been under intense pressure.

AMP’s head of advice, Anthony “Jack” Regan, now has the unenviable record of being ‘responsible’ for $600 million being wiped off the value of the company – the stock falling over 4 per cent as he answered Patrick Hodge QC’s questions in the witness box.

Even if you’re not in the public eye, bullying, angry customers, deadlines, overtime, and heavy workloads all take their toll on us.

So, can anything be done about this stress? Well actually, yes.

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Talk it through

Here’s the thing about stress. There’s usually a reason behind it.

And in some cases it can be a combination of factors – often referred to as a “perfect storm”.

I can remember a time in my life that was particularly stressful. My father was having major surgery, I was moving house, and working for a stockbroker – writing research notes and speaking to the media all day. It was intense.

Ultimately, I had to speak with my manager and say I needed some time off to, well, take care of the important things in life – like looking after my Dad.

That is, after all, a big part of being in management. Mangers are there to ensure staff are as productive, and, dare I say it, as happy as possible.

That means when you’re rostered onto work, you give it everything. But it also means, if you need some time to process life: a sick parent; a marriage breakdown; or a substance addiction, that you ask for the time to do that.

Professional counselling is also worth considering.

Personal reflection

Counselling is almost par for the course for many journalists. Reporting on child abuse and wars takes its toll. Indeed it would be odd if you didn’t need some assistance after dealing with particularly tragic material.

Last year a magistrate was praised for speaking out about the mental health problems facing the legal profession. The magistrate himself received psychiatric help after being forced to trawl through three months’ worth of child pornography.

Fortunately for the magistrate he was able to heal.

One method counsellors use to help workers who have been through trauma is a form of personal reflection (trauma therapy).

It’s worth outlining because it can be used to deal with many types of stresses, including trauma, and many in the legal, finance and journalism professions will call on it during their careers.

Here’s how it works:

When we experience a threatening situation, we go into what’s called the “fight or flight” response. If we don’t actually do either: punch our boss in the head, or run out of the office (because both actions are considered socially unacceptable), we internalise the energy. That energy then turns into anxiety.

To alleviate that anxiety the psychologist will get you to close your eyes and re-live the experience. In the process of doing that, you’re encouraged to do what your instincts dictate. You effectively go back in time and do what you felt like doing.

If done properly, it simply helps you to move on and makes you feel better – essential to be able to return to work and be productive.

Cop it

Of course, not all stresses in life need “therapy”.

I’d be the first to encourage people to “move on” from a stressful situation.

In fact our sympathetic nervous system is uniquely designed to handle short term stress. We’re very good at it. If short term stress is then met with a period of calm… the body recovers quite well.

It’s when short term stress morphs into chronic or long-term elevated stress that our adrenal system starts to struggle. It leaves us feeling constantly tired and lethargic.

If you can learn effective relaxation techniques (people respond to different methods), you’ll be well on your way to developing a good stress management regime.

Resilience

I don’t think stress is discussed enough. There’s plenty of talk about depression, but not stress.

Stress is part of our everyday lives, but we are in fact very able to cope with it. Coping with stress and recovering from challenging or difficult life circumstances is what’s known as resilience.

If you’re going for a job interview, if you get the opportunity, I would put this forward as a strength. There is so much productivity lost in Australia due to people taking time off. If you can demonstrate that you have an effective approach to stress management, you’ll become very attractive to an employer.

That’s especially the case if you’ve chosen a career in medicine, the law, finance or the media. Each of these industries can be incredibly rewarding to work in.

Stress was designed to get us out of danger, not put us in more danger. Don’t let stress get in the way of what could be a truly fulfilling working life.

@DavidTaylorABC