Knowing and recognising the early signs of stress and burnout is essential to maintaining one’s mental health, especially in high-pressure environments. Stress can manifest in various ways, including emotional, physical and behavioural changes.
Physical symptoms can include persistent headaches, difficulty sleeping and frequent colds or infections caused by a weakened immune system, meanwhile, emotional changes can include, feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious or increased sadness can also indicate stress. Behaviourally, you may notice changes such as increased irritability or impatience, difficulty concentrating, or a lack of motivation.
When we are exposed to high levels of stress over a long period of time, this can lead to more problems. Burnout is a state of chronic stress leading to physical and emotional exhaustion, pessimism and detachment, as well as feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. In contrast to regular stress, burnout doesn't simply go away after you've had a chance to relax and recharge — it hangs around and can be a problem for a long time if not addressed.
Key signs of burnout can include feeling tired and drained most of the time, decreased sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment, as well as a growing disillusionment about your job. You may also notice a change in your work habits and productivity, an inability to focus and wanting to isolate yourself from colleagues or friends.
Understanding these signs is the first step to addressing the issue. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a team member, it's important to seek professional help and implement stress management techniques or general mental health training. There's no shame in asking for support — prioritising mental health and wellbeing is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Practical strategies for coping in high-pressure settings
High-pressure environments can take a toll on our mental wellbeing, but there are practical strategies that can help us navigate them more effectively.
- Establish a routine: creating and sticking to a daily routine can provide much needed structure and certainty when dealing with a chaotic environment. It can help maintain a sense of normality and control over our lives.
- Stay active: physical activity is a proven stress buster. Try to incorporate regular exercise into your schedule, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk or stretches in the morning.
- Practice mindfulness: utilising mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can help maintain mental equilibrium. They can help us to stay present and avoid unnecessary worry about the future.
- Healthy eating: keeping to a balanced diet is essential for both physical health and mental wellbeing. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can significantly help manage stress levels.
- Connect with others: make sure to maintain regular contact with friends and family. By sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted individuals, their support can provide valuable emotional relief and perspective.
- Seek professional help: if you're struggling, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists, counsellors, and mental health professionals can provide expert guidance and support.
It’s important to remember that it's okay to not be okay. Everybody reacts differently to high-pressure environments, and it's important to find what works best for you. Prioritise your mental health and wellbeing — as the saying goes, “you cannot pour from an empty cup”.
Creating a supportive and healthy work environment
In high-pressure environments, it's crucial to create a supportive and healthy workspace to cultivate mental wellbeing. One of the first steps is to encourage open communication. Employees should feel comfortable expressing their concerns and suggestions without fear of backlash. In times of stress, a culture of respect and understanding can greatly help to alleviate anxiety and improve productivity.
Flexible working hours can also play a significant role in reducing pressure. By giving employees the opportunity to balance their work-life commitments, employers can help reduce stress — leading to a happier, healthier workforce.
Encouraging mindfulness practices and regular breaks can also contribute to a healthier work environment. Short breaks throughout the day, whether for a quick walk or a mindfulness exercise, can help to refresh the mind and reduce stress levels.
Providing access to mental health resources is another crucial step. This could include providing information about local counselling services, self-help guides, or workshops on mental health awareness. By providing these resources, you're signalling to your employees that their mental wellbeing is a priority.
Regularly recognising and rewarding hard work can do wonders for improving morale and mental health. A simple thank you or a small reward can go a long way in showing employees that their efforts are appreciated, particularly in high-pressure situations.
Creating a supportive and healthy work environment isn't just good for employees, it's good for business too. A workforce that feels supported and cared for is more likely to be productive, innovative and loyal to the company. It's an ideal situation for everyone involved.
You may also be interested in:
- Creating workplaces for everyone: APM’s holistic approach to employee well-being
- Mental health toolkit for project managers
- Mental health conversations at work are vital