World Mental Health Day: Do your staff really want to return to the office?

A new study for World Mental Health Day reveals that ongoing Covid-19 uncertainty and pressure to get back to normal are causing high stress levels for many

Over a third (37%) of Brits say they have felt more stressed since the lifting of lockdown restrictions in July, and one in five (21%) still aren’t ready to get back to normal life – and that includes the office – a new study for World Mental Health Day has revealed.

The research by life insurance broker Reassured showed that over a quarter (26%) of UK adults are currently feeling ‘very stressed’ (at least 8/10), with parents of young children particularly frazzled.

The pandemic continues to be a massive stress trigger across the nation, with ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19 coming out as the top cause for concern (24%).

Many are also worried about their own health (18%) or personal finances (18%), while one in seven (14%) admitted that leaving the house for any reason was still distressing for them (14%) and something that left them feeling pressured and hassled.

Commuting again was also a big concern for around than one in ten (11%), with those using public transport more nervous about this. One in seven parents with young children (14%) said that being at home wasn’t any easier though, and that juggling work and childcare had them at their wit’s end.

According to the data, the UK’s most stressed city is currently Edinburgh, with one in three residents (32%) feeling ‘very stressed’. A similar number of people living in Cardiff (31%) and Leeds (31%) said they are also experiencing high levels of anxiety and frustration.

Those working in hospitality, media, design, marketing and business consulting are among the most stressed industries right now.

Monday morning was voted the most stressful time of the week across the nation, suggesting that while work may not be the main cause of high stress levels, it’s a contributing factor.

Kelly Feehan, Services Director at CABA, a wellbeing charity commented on stress in the workplace, saying: “It can often feel as though being stressed at work is part of our routine, and a perfectly normal emotion to feel during working hours. And in short infrequent bursts, it can be. However, recent research has found that 73% of us feel stressed at work, with the bulk of us feeling that pressure for up to 30 minutes of each day. Whilst a certain amount of stress is good for us, too much can begin to impact our mental and physical wellbeing.

“For some, a degree of pressure can be motivating and can help cross items off the to do list, but if these levels are excessive, we risk reaching a stress overload or even burnout, and that’s bad news for our health.

“Stress causes our adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol – and too much of it in our system puts us at increased risk of impaired cognitive performance, high blood pressure and heart disease. So, while a certain amount of pressure and stress may be part and parcel of modern life, it’s important to keep an eye out for the early warning signs that things are getting too much.”

Jodine Boothby who is the Owner & Manager of Gummee, and lives in Cornwall said that she’s secretly hoping for another lockdown because she’s found the last few weeks so challenging. She said:  “I have been feeling incredibly stressed since the end of lockdown. I can’t seem to get my head around what now feels like a hectic life, even though it isn’t really that hectic. I have found I’m depending more and more on things that help me relax and feel better. I’m more uptight and carry a lot of stress in my neck and shoulders.

“I run my business from home, and sales dipped at the end of lockdown (which is to be expected) but this added to the stress, too. In a way, I secretly hope for another lockdown, which feels awful to admit.”

Charlie Inman from digital happiness coach app, Mindshine said that it’s important that employers are helping employees who are struggling with high levels of stress. His five top tips on combating stress are:

  1. PLAN BETTER – At the risk of coming across as preachy, one of the best ways of avoiding stress is simply planning your life better so that you use your time more efficiently, and don’t end up getting stressed in the first place. Stop multitasking (the evidence shows we are rubbish at it). Plan your day thinking about how much time you actually have, rather than what you’d like to get done. Break your tasks up into micro goals to get them done.
  2. GET OUT OF FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT MODE – We are basically still animals, and the part of our brain that we have in common with all other animals exists in one of two states: rest and digest or fight and flight. In order to switch ourselves out of stress we need to learn to activate the vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve, which runs from your brain right down past our heart and lungs and into your gut) and engage our parasympathetic nervous systems. Luckily this can be achieved by practicing all sorts of things like breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises and progressive muscle relaxation, and best of all, it’s free.
  3. TRY COGNITIVE REFRAMING – How stressed we get about things depend to a great extent on how we view stress itself. When we see stress as scary and harmful, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we disappear down the rabbit hole. If we can learn to actually embrace the concept of stress as something normal, temporary, and entirely expected, we become more resilient and ultimately happier.
  4. REMEMBER YOU ARE CAPABLE – When you’re feeling stressed out by something, it can really help to look back at the times when you dealt with difficulties in the past and remind yourself that you can do difficult things. You have done it before, and you’ll do it again.
  5. THINK ABOUT YOUR EXERCISE & DIET – We know, we know, you’ve heard it a million times before, but that’s because it’s true. Eating the right sort of food and moving your body (doesn’t have to be running 10K, you can go for a nice walk, or have a dance around the living room) is scientifically proven to reduce stress. Just do it.

Steve Marshall, CEO for Reassured concluded: “Despite a summer free of Covid restrictions, it appears many across the UK are still dealing with high levels of stress. According to our data, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is still a major cause for concern, and those struggling the most are parents with young children, and adults aged 25 to 34.”

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