People are always affected by stress, and I haven't found myself more busy than normal. But I expect stress management is something companies are beginning to realise they need to provide for their staff.
Why do businesses contact you?
Employees' mental health at work should be a prime concern for companies. If people are emotionally disturbed they will obviously not put in a good day's work. If they are emotionally stable, they will be far more productive.
What type of businesses do you work for?
A lot of key companies whose staff may be under large amounts of pressure come to me. I've worked for well-known banks, pharmaceutical companies – any organisation that's worth its weight in gold will be concerned with stress management.
Do you have any dealings with construction companies?
Not that I can remember. But I recently had to train some health and safety executives; they were responsible for dealing with accidents in the workplace and were exposed to some disturbing things. They were trained in how to deal with traumatised people; I think this is very important, firms should be sensitive to these things.
Is construction a less stressful industry, or is it just that employees respond differently to stress?
It could possibly be that it isn't policy to use stress management at the moment. It is true that some people deal with stress better than others, but everybody is affected by stress, even if they haven't acknowledged it.
Blokes in the construction industry seem to have a "just get on with it" attitude. This can be good if you are dealing with things, but if you aren't, it can lead to great levels of stress. If people are doing physical work it probably helps keep their levels of stress down. One of the reasons we get so stressed is because a lot of us are no longer physically active.
Alternatively, there could be lots of issues they are hiding from one another – this wouldn't be healthy. Communication is the key to a lot of the problems.
What is the impact of stress on an individual and, in turn, a business?
We need stress to survive, it is very motivating, it can be very healthy – stress keeps your mind alert. It's just a matter of the level of stress. You can be just as stressed through boredom as you can be by an overload. There is a line to measure your stress level: at one end you are bored, then content, then stretched, and finally anxious and overstretched. It is perfect if you can be in this stretched phase in your workplace.
It is easier to stretch yourself when you are younger, you get used to it, but it is not good for you to maintain a high level of stress. Physical symptoms surface if you are under stress for a long time.
What are the main causes of stress?
Sometimes the workplace environment or the working conditions can be unhealthy and cause stress; very often high emotions from home are carried into the workplace and vice versa. You tend to carry the problems from one area of your life into the other.
Often people can't talk to one another in the workplace. They pent up the things that concern them. If people fail to realise and communicate their problems they begin to display signs of stress. People need to become more proactive rather than reactive. Acknowledge the things that trouble you emotionally and act on them, don't let them act on you. These times are particularly difficult; when people are worried about job cuts they are even less likely to express the fact they might be under emotional strain.
How should we deal with stress?
Take a step back. If you are an anxious person you should take steps to manage it better. Colleagues also have a responsibility to one another; if you notice a change in a colleague's pattern of behaviour, ask them if they are OK. Listen to people; do you actively listen to staff, colleagues, employees?
And take care of yourself. Learn to say no when you've got too much to do; learn how to relax. People often have the wrong ways of releasing pressure, like going for a drink. Even going to the gym can become obsessive, and then it is no longer good for your stress levels. Normally going to the gym is great for stress, it is a natural way to induce endorphins. Learn how to breathe properly; it's an important type of relaxation. Slow down, regulate the way your mind and your body deal with things. People are often more productive when they work at a regulated pace rather than in a rush.
Patricia Justice can be contacted at Docklands Counselling and Psychotherapy Services, telephone 020-7538 8228, email email@example.com.