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Take the stress test

A guide to help you identify workplace stress and develop ways to manage it effectively.

A little pressure is good and helps to keep you motivated. But too much can lead to stress, which can affect your health and performance.

Over the long term, stress can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), anxiety and depression.

Stress checklist

Common stress symptoms include:

  • anxiety, irritation, anger or feeling flustered
  • the feeling that things are hanging over you
  • poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
  • headaches, palpitations or hot flushes
  • dry mouth, lump in the throat and shaky hands
  • problems with sleep
  • excessive intake of caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol
  • a repetitive tic, such as scratching or hair pulling
  • tearfulness, depression or feeling suicidal
  • chest pain
  • problems eating or swallowing
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • loss of sex drive
  • worsening of skin conditions or breathing conditions

If you've had any of the feelings listed above, it could be stress.

Causes of stress

Possible causes of stress in the workplace include:

  • The type of work you do: long hours, a heavy workload, infrequent breaks, boring tasks that don't use your skills, poorly defined goals, too much responsibility.
  • Feeling left out of decisions: not being involved in decision-making, poor communication, a lack of family-friendly policies. 
  • Receiving no help or support: a lack of support or help from co-workers and supervisors; people having conflicting expectations of you. 
  • Worries about job stability: job insecurity, a lack of opportunity for growth or advancement. 
  • Working in an unhealthy workplace: unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions, such as overcrowding, noise, air pollution or ergonomic problems.

Keep a stress diary

If you're not sure what causes your stress, keep a stress diary at work for two to four weeks, then review it to spot the triggers. Each day, make a note of:

  • the tasks you did and meetings you had at work that day 
  • how you felt at the start of the day: whether you're cheerful and optimistic, or dread going to work 
  • specific times when your mood changed 
  • whether you avoided certain tasks or people
  • any situations that led to difficult scenes or unpleasant feelings
  • whether too much is being asked of you
  • whether you're worried that you might lose your job
  • how you feel at the end of the day: whether you've made progress or whether your in-tray seems bigger than ever
  • whether you left work behind you at the end of the day or took work home (literally or as worries in your mind) 
  • whenever the job demands more time and responsibility than you want, or are able, to give
  • whether there's pressure for promotion or career progression, which makes you feel uncomfortable
  • any threat that you might be made redundant 
  • whether you enjoy what you're doing, or not. Quite simply, are you in the wrong job?

It's important to know how stress affects you as that will help you identify what coping techniques will be most useful for you.

Keeping a stress diary helps you learn how you handle your stress.

Use the diary to:

  • know what triggers your stress
  • find out the stress levels you prefer
  • know how effective you are under pressure
  • develop better coping mechanisms

In some cases, prolonged stress can lead to physical and/or mental ill health. If you think you're currently experiencing stress-related ill health, you may benefit from a discussion with your GP.

For help and advice on better management of stress at work, read beat stress at work. You can also visit the Health for Work website, or call the adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44. 

Last reviewed: 12/07/2010

Next review due: 12/07/2012

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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

1701tribbles said on 02 December 2010

I notice that the stress test assumes it is all to do with work.

What about the caring role which can also produce a lot of stress?

What if you are lucky enough to be working as well as caring for a disabled person and the stress from the 2 happens to coincide?

I don't think they are looking at how severe stress can really become and includes symptoms like hearing loss, inability to hear or see what people are saying, tunnel vision, total inability to do very simple everyday things like saying the alphabet, speech extremely slow, not being able to talk or get information from the mind into everyday speech, hot flushes, severe night sweats while sleeping, panic attacks, increased panic attacks in several different areas of daily life eg agoraphobia, heights, lifts, car passenger, increased and heightened OCD, headaches become migraine attacks, partial loss of vision, and probably a few more symptoms not considered. I have heard that this is rather like the symptoms you get when you have "information overload".

Also the assumption is that once you talk to HR/ manager/ union rep at work that things can be put in place, but what if they also are unable to help you and put this support in place themselves? What then - how do you cope with the stress? And if it continues for 2-3 years? And there doesn't seem to be anyone with knowledge of what to do if you decide to leave work because of stress. There is not enough information out there and what there is in uninformed and uneducated as to true stress.

Take a course for those with mental health conditions and you will find out what questions to ask about stress and what it really means! Those are the tests that should be used to asses real stress, in all areas of life - home and work are not separate, you can't leave carer's or work stress behind you.

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K1983 said on 10 August 2010

What happens if you have identified with the factors of stress, know that it is work-related, received no support from work, found a new job where you can be happier... but your current stress-causing employer forces you to sit out your 3months notice period which actually causes you even more stress?

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K1983 said on 10 August 2010

What happens if you have identified with the factors of stress, know that it is work-related, received no support from work, found a new job where you can be happier... but your current stress-causing employer forces you to sit out your 3months notice period which actually causes you even more stress?

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Byesadness said on 05 July 2010

If you will dwell on bad things, then you will be more stressed. Try to think positively. Your girlfriend is not worth of your time and money...

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Marhee said on 10 March 2009

Try to manage your time well and be as organised as possible. That way work should stay at work and home life should be kept seperate. If your workload way exceeds the time allowed to achieve the demands it it time to have an honest discussion with your boss. All too often very competent people end up with a sense of under achieving as they do not have the right support and direction from others.

It is not in any organisations interest to have employees burn out through stress and it most certainly is not in a childs interest to have a parent too stressed and pre occupied with thoughts of work that family life suffers.

Try to tackle any culture of bullying in the workplace and be prepared to stand up and be counted as an advocate for dignity and respect.

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orelanic said on 18 January 2009

I agree that stress can be self replicating, being told to be less stress full and told how to do it is pointless, but some thing I have found that can help at times is a simple walk or a talk to a good friend, we are all different but a good old chat does help at times.

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hazard said on 18 August 2008

Depending on your age, you could always join one of the services, they provide accomodation, food clothes and a very good wage, they are also decent employers and have to work within contracts also

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Christopher99 said on 12 August 2008

I agree with Anonymous2
But also, what is the point of all these comments, if in the end we do not get the help we need. I am even more stressed now! I wish I could be positive, but when your car has been re-possesed, girlfriend moved out, can't pay the rent,all because of a selfish employer, it is very difficult to see any tunnel never mind light!!

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Anonymous2 said on 29 July 2008

Sorry, but last comment not at all helpful and of the "pull yourself together and count your blessings" level of advice which actually only exacerbates the problems of those feeling anxious and depressed.

If only you could focus on the positive elements of life and stop worrying ... But that's the point. That's the problem. You can't.

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Anonymous said on 05 June 2008

If you cannot move to another job, try to identify and change the elements of your job that cause you pressure. If you feel that you cannot do that , then identify the parts of your job that you do enjoy and focus on these. Also look at your interests and life outside work and focus on the positive elements of life and attach more of you emotional energy to enjoying the good things and less on worrying about the bad .

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Joe Bloggs said on 25 May 2008

The only way to change your job if you are over 50 and cannot reduce your salary is to go self-employed - which often increases the stress unless you are a brilliant manager. Much better to find a rich partner who is willing and able to keep you in the style to which you would like to become accustomed.

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Anonymous said on 11 March 2008

How can you change your job if you are over 50 and cannot reduce your salary?

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Tools

Coping with stress

There are many ways of coping with stress. Professor Cary Cooper provides some techniques for managing stress, such as exercising and using relaxation techniques, and explains who you can talk to if you're feeling under pressure.

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