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Managing Work Stress

What is Stress?

Stress is the body's reaction to perceived danger, when it goes into the fight / flight or freeze mode. This response prepares our body for an emergency, altering the internal balance. However most modern problems do not require this physical adjustment and this produces stress related problems. When demands and pressures build up they can induce the mental, emotional and physical feelings commonly known as 'stress' - this can put us into a state or distress or reduced ability to cope.

It is important to recognise stress building up in ourselves and when others are becoming stressed - and to help them to see this too.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms manifest themselves in altered behaviour, mood, sensations and thoughts and impact on relationships. You may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling sick and dizzy
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Dreading the future
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Frequent crying
  • Avoiding difficult situations
  • Loss of interest in life and others

This list is by no means exhaustive and symptoms differ from person to person. You may want to check with your GP that what you are experiencing is indeed stress.

What are the Causes?

"Stress occurs when pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope". (Stephen Palmer 1999)

Stress is a build up of pressure and is usually cumulative i.e. you may be under increased pressure at work and then a family member becomes ill creating the final straw. One person's source of stress may not be another's.

Work related stress may occur when people feel:

  • Unable to cope with the demands of the job
  • They don't have control over the way they work
  • Support from colleagues or managers is lacking
  • Bullied at work
  • They are unclear about the role
  • Change that is poorly communicated and managed

What can Help?

  • Talk to a counsellor to help you to explore the causes for your stress, identify patterns of behaviour that make you less able to deal with stressful situations and help you develop strategies to manage or alleviate the stress.
  • Talk to your manager, Human Resources Contact, Occupational Health, Harassment Contact or the Unions to try and resolve any work difficulties.
  • Exercise - any form of exercise can help to relieve some of the physical effects of stress, so try the gym, go out for a walk, swim, dance, whatever suits you.
  • Relaxation - for some people relaxation, yoga or meditation can be helpful. There are relaxation programmes on the Counselling Service website. Listen to music or lose yourself in a book.
  • Learn to be more assertive - contact staff development or your local college for courses, or look on-line.
  • Notice your negative thoughts and be more specific when they are over-generalised - is it really everybody, always, nothing etc.
  • Food and rest - make sure you eat healthily and get plenty of sleep. If your sleep is disturbed, read the Sleep Problems information. Try not to drink more alcohol and coffee or smoke when you are tense.

Useful Links

Useful Contacts


  • Occupational Health: 01274 234947
  • Human Resources: 01274 235347
  • Staff Development: 01274 233102
  • Sports Centre: 01274 234871


  • Occupational Health: 01274 436179
  • Human Resources: 01274 433193
  • Staff Development: 01274 438948
  • Healthy College: 01274 436364


Unions - enquire at Human Resources for contact details