Every year October is commemorated as Mental Health Awareness month, and this year the SA Federation for Mental Health focused on Mental Health in the Workplace. Throughout the month there was great interest from organisations and the public, and we encourage organisations to visit our website and make use of the information available to continue supporting their staff’s mental health.
One factor that often leads to mental health problems in the workplace, or that can make existing conditions worse, is chronic stress. Stress is a normal part of life; it affects people of all ages, genders, races and circumstances, and there is no way to avoid it completely. Stress is also not always a negative thing, it can sometimes provide the motivation and focus we need to help us overcome a difficult situation or task.
But when stress becomes chronic it can have very negative effects on our physical and mental health. Chronic stress can occur when everyday stressors are ignored or poorly managed or when an individual is exposed to traumatic events. Chronic stress differs from everyday stress in that it is constant and persistent over an extended period of time. Because of this, it can be both mentally and physically debilitating. Chronic stress can lead to the development of anxiety and depression, as well as substance use disorders.
In the workplace we are often bombarded with a number stressors on a daily basis. Deadlines, a heavy workload, having to manage difficult clients or conflict between co-workers, and not getting enough time off are just some of the factors that could lead to chronic stress developing at work. While most of us cannot control the amount of stressful events taking place in our lives at any given time, there are ways that you can take care of yourself and minimise the negative effects of chronic stress.
Ways to manage chronic stress –
- Recognize and admit that stress exists. You cannot do anything about something that you do not acknowledge is present
- Make the time, or manage your time in such a way that you can develop and implement strategies to manage the stress. Most stress management strategies require a commitment to taking the time to practice them
- Take care of your physical health. Try to exercise at least three times a week, make sure to get enough sleep every night, and follow a balanced and healthy diet. All of these things will have an impact on your body’s ability to handle stress
- Don’t self – medicate. During times of stress some people may try to manage the negative emotions and symptoms they experience by using alcohol or other harmful substances as a way of “self-medicating”. Using alcohol or illegal drugs to manage the symptoms of stress can have very negative effects on your mental state, and can lead to substance abuse problems
- Find time to do things you enjoy. Whether it is playing sports, reading a book, listening to music, or spending some time outdoors, it is important to make time to do activities that help you recharge
- Make use of your support network. It can be tempting to isolate yourself during times of extreme stress, but make use of the support of your friends and family. Even just speaking to someone close to you when times are difficult can be helpful
- Speak to your manager or supervisor if you need support. In the workplace people often keep quite when they are struggling, because they are afraid of being seen in a negative light. But no one will be able to assist unless they know you need help. Managers can help in practical ways like assisting in prioritising tasks, allowing for flexible working hours when necessary, or by extending deadlines when possible
- Seek medical help if necessary. There is no shame in seeking medical assistance when experiencing anxiety, depression, or other stress related problems. A medical professional may be able to suggest treatments such as medication or therapy that could help manage your symptoms
Bharti Patel, National Director of SAFMH, has the following message as Mental Health Awareness month draws to a close; “SAFMH is concerned about the high rate of unemployment in South Africa, and recognises that this is something that needs urgent attention and intervention. But we also need to make sure that we take care of those who are employed. Employers have a responsibility to care for their employees by providing decent working environments and supportive wellness programmes in the workplace. Over the past few weeks SAFMH has been sharing educational material which can be used by employers and employees on how to support good mental health in the workplace, and we hope that organisations will make use of these materials throughout the year, not only during awareness months.”
FOR ENQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Programme Manager: Information & Awareness
SA Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852