Managing stress in the workplace

International Stress Awareness Week 2022 takes place every November.

An annual event created to raise awareness about stress prevention, it focuses on stress management and campaigning against the stigma associated with stress and mental health issues.

This year’s theme is Working Together to Build Resilience and Reduce Stress.

Stress, depression and anxiety are responsible for almost half of work-related illnesses. According to the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE), of the 1.7 million workers suffering from a work-related illness in 2020-21, 822,000 were down to stress, depression or anxiety.

Poor mental health and wellbeing directly impacts productivity and performance so how do you proactively prevent the build-up of stress to improve your all-round wellbeing, relationships and outcomes? By giving your brain what it wants, life becomes easier.

Brains like:

  • Learning and making new connections. It happens most easily when you are positive. The brain says “I flourish when the ratio of good feelings to bad is approximately 3:1” The heart says “think of renewing emotions (good feelings) and we are both happy
  • Participation and activity. The brain says “less passive listening and more active doing please”
  • A multi-sensory ‘cafeteria’. The brain says “I know how best I learn – give me a wide range of experiences to choose from (seeing, hearing, touching, feeling)”
  • Repetition. Brains most easily remember things that have happened lots of times (frequency) and/or things with emotional impact. The brain says “build in repetition and plenty of experiences that trigger my emotions”
  • To develop strengths rather than wrestle with weaknesses. The brain says “to hell with no gain without pain, developing strengths is less of a drain”
  • Breaks. The brain says “build in lots of starts and stops please”. Have a break every 20 minutes and go out for short walks to improve circulation, respiration, health and the size of the brain. It will increase your efficiency, give you the essential reflective time and make you feel good. Never under-estimate the power of the “feel good factor”. It produces hundreds of important, supportive chemicals which boost morale, engagement and productivity.

The increase in online working and the sheer speed of communication has increased stress levels in the workforce dramatically so that we increasingly need proactive and preventative ways of managing stress and wellbeing.

These include limiting digital overload, getting enough good quality sleep and being mindful of what you eat and drink.

Combat digital overload by switching off automatic email updates, turning off phones when you are working on an important project and switching off all blue screens, phones, computers and TVs at least an hour, preferably two, before bed.

To help the quality of your sleep and reduce insomnia, get more physical exercise during the day but limit any high intensity training to the morning, limit lie-ins, have a hot bath before bed and keep your bedroom cool and dark. Don’t go to bed hungry, eat a small piece of protein to encourage satiety. Learn how to turn off a racing mind ahead of facing intense and/or prolonged periods of pressure and challenge.

Finally, diet. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” as advocated by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The importance of healthy eating cannot be overstated. Drink lots of water and eat foods that will help your brain to perform better, lower blood pressure and support your heart and liver – from berries and seeds to nuts, oily fish and avocado.

For more information regarding stress awareness week, visit:

We want to hear your views on stress prevention in the workplace. What are the challenges you are facing? What extra support do you require?

Please contact [email protected] to share your views or join our Policy Voice team to ensure that your opinions and experiences feed into the lobbying work being done by our policy team.

Paula Ruane is a member of the IoD, as well as a stress specialist, resilience trainer and speaker.  For her full tips and guidance, please see the download section.

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The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network and build successful, responsible businesses.
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