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Mental Health: How To Cope With Stress At Workplace? Experts Answer

Experts decode workplace stress and ways to deal with it

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Mental Health: How To Cope With Stress At Workplace? Experts Answer
  • Stress can greatly impact a person’s health: Experts
  • Self-awareness is the first step to dealing with stress: Experts
  • Seek help, if stress is causing a major decline in work: Experts

New Delhi: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), workplace-related stress is physically and emotionally harmful and happens when there are high demands in a job and a low amount of control over the situation. Many people face significant stress in the workplace that impacts not only their performance at work but also affects their emotional well-being, function at home, in personal relationships and their overall health, as per American Psychological Association. To learn about stress at the workplace, how to deal with it and when does this stress turns into burnout and eventually into a panic attack, NDTV spoke with Ashish Thakur, senior psychologist, Divya Mehrotra, Mindfulness Mandala Coach and Nikhil Taneja, Co-Founder and CEO of Yuvaa, a youth media, research and impact organisation that works on creating socially conscious content.

Also Read: How To Ensure Emotional And Mental Well-being During COVID-19? Expert Answers

Decoding Stress, Burnout And Panic Attack

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a health education division of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and positivepsychology.com, a platform built by researchers and practitioners of psychology, ‘Stress’ is a feeling of ‘too much’ and results when pressures exceed the ability to cope. Some of the psychological symptoms of work-related stress are anxiety, loss of productivity and even depression. Physical symptoms of stress include fast heart rate, the quickening of breath, tense muscles, insomnia or loss of sleep leading to tiredness, irritability or outbursts of anger, low mood, consuming too much caffeine, backache, indigestion, weight loss or gain, and regular or lingering colds. As per experts, the possible causes of stress at the workplace are job insecurity, inadequate income and uncaring supervisors. The effects of stress, as per experts, are increase or decrease in food intake, low productivity, absenteeism from work, conflicts between co-workers.

Burnout is the state when a person experiences a feeling of being ‘not enough’, as per Harvard Health and postivepsychology.com. It results from constant exhaustion caused by excessive stress. At the burnout stage, a person feels lonely, has no motivation, experiences self-doubt, as per experts. Physical symptoms that show that a person is in the burnout stage are feeling drained, headaches, low immunity and change in appetite. Some of the possible causes of burnout include lack of control over work, lack of recognition, lack of sleep, and perfectionist tendencies. The major effects of burnout are: long-term changes in the body, vulnerability to illnesses, spillover in home, social life.

A panic attack, according to experts, is an episode of overwhelming fear that peaks in 10 minutes and comes at an unexpected time. At the panic attack stage, people have a ‘flight response’. They experience confusion and feeling of losing control, say experts. Some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack are- nausea, chest pain, blurred vision, chills and hot flashes, hyperventilation, and numbness in the fingers. Some of the possible causes of a panic attack are unpleasant life events, overactive thyroid gland, other psychological disorders, automatic negative thoughts. A panic attack can lead to avoiding places where escape is difficult.

Also Read: Impact Of COVID-19 On The Mental Health Of Children And How Parents Can Help Them

Coping With Work Related Stress

According to experts, in order to cope with stress, one should track stressors, journal the causes leading to stress, allow oneself to make mistakes, exercise, meditate and practice yoga. Some of the coping strategies at the burnout stage are recognising that burnout can escape notice, finding an attentive listener, taking a complete break from work, say experts. For someone who has experienced a panic attack, coping mechanisms include therapy in order to gain confidence to re-enter the feared situations. Practicing mindfulness can be helpful for a person who faced a panic attack, according to experts.

While sharing strategies to cope with work-related stress, Mr Taneja empahised on the importance of building awareness and accepting that mental health issues can happen to every individual. He said,

The first step towards coping with stress is to understand that this can happen with anyone and not just to some people who are maybe going through something terrible in their lives. Like we go through physical illnesses, we also go through mental health issues. I think, what most people don’t understand is that mental health is a spectrum. When you feel terrible about something that has happened at work or your school or home, that is also a function of your mental health. On a daily basis, it is very important to notice which are moments where you are feeling stressed. It is very important to track such triggers to understand why one is feeling uncomfortable and think about how can they change their life to avoid those situations or deal in a better way. So awareness is the first step.

He further said that people have different mechanisms of dealing with stress and added that for most people, losing control over situations is something that can be stressful. He recommended seeking some kind of control in life by doing activities that are more mindful and help in gaining some order. He added,

We constantly talk about work-life balance but for a lot of people in India, work is life and ‘balance’ is completely missing. We are always conditioned to do more, think more, achieve more. Nothing is enough. The goal post is always shifting. So, I think, this idea of ‘enough’ is something we need to introspect about. Think about at what point it is enough and at what point can you genuinely take a step back. And it is not a problem that only individuals need to solve. Companies need to step forward as well.

Stressing on the importance of taking note of the mental health issues being faced by oneself, Ms Mehrotra said,

The first and foremost thing is, observe. One must observe their thoughts and their actions in day-to-day life. This is because, during the entire day, we tend to just run. We run behind the chores, office meetings, calls, and others but we do not give importance to us. I do a lot of Art-Therapy based workshops in which I always emphasise upon talking to your inner self. We talk to the outer world, but what about talking to you yourself? Even if for 15 minutes, spend some time talking with yourself.

According to Dr Thakur, while being self-aware is extremely important, it is equally vital to be cautious about what one does after knowing that one is under stress. He said,

You may be self-aware. However, after becoming self-aware, do you self-manage or self-mismanage? This is something that people must reflect upon. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore the alarm raised by our inner selves such as disturbed sleep, anxiety, drop or increase in appetite, anger outburst, crying episodes. These are the signals from our body and mind that something is going on. However, we tend to push ourselves because of which we move from worry to constant worry to stress which turns into distress, burnout and panic attacks. It is almost like a tyre of our car. If you fill it up to the extent that it cannot take it anymore, it will burst. But, if you release pressure at that point of time through decompression, through mindfulness, through physical exercise, through conversations, it will help in a big way.

He further said that when it comes to mental health, the onus lies on individuals as well as the companies because you are your most important key resource area. Dr Thakur added,

If you do not take the responsibility for yourself and draw your own lines and boundaries, and have conversations, who will?

When Is The Time To Seek Professional Help?

According to experts, when it lasts over a long period of time, stress can greatly impact a person’s health and thus it is important to seek professional help. One must seek help, if stress is causing a major decline in work, or if one finds oneself unable to cope with everyday life, develops physical problems or finds oneself withdrawn or notices a change in sleep or eating habits or starts using alcohol and drugs, said experts.

Also Read: Mental Health Explained: What Is Depression?

Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.

If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist. Helplines:

AASRA: 91-9820466726 (24 hours)
Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (Available from 10am to 10pm)
Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 9999666555 (24 hours)
iCall: 022-25521111 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
Connecting NGO: 9922004305 | 9922001122 (Available from 12 pm – 8 pm)

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