From education to employment

How to deal with pressure and build resilience at work

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services, AXA PPP healthcare

Following reports that half of teachers in Scotland are made unwell by work pressures, here are some tips on how to deal with pressure and build resilience. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with pressure; however they all require action from you.

Taking responsibility for yourself in a stressful situation can give you a feeling of greater control. Remember that you have the option of either changing the situation or changing your reaction. Below are some tips that can help you achieve this.

Changing the situation

Express your feelings. If something or someone is causing you concern, communicate in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment can build and the situation will not improve.

Be flexible, within reason. Focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t, can really turn the situation in your favour.

Be assertive when saying ‘No’. Saying ‘No’ doesn’t have to upset anyone, the way you say it can make all of the difference. Explain your position, for example if you are too busy to help out a colleague. If possible explain what you are able to offer in terms of assistance instead.

Manage your time. Plan ahead and make sure you don’t over promise on what you can achieve. This can put you in control and alter the amount of pressure you’re under.

Changing your reaction

Find a quiet place. If you feel pressure increasing, take yourself out of the situation and find a quiet place where you take a few moments to breathe deeply and calm down. You may find it useful to count to ten before going back to the situation.

Look at the big picture. Try to get some perspective on the situation. Ask yourself if it is worth getting upset over and frame within the wider business context.

Accept what is good enough. Trying to be perfect in every way is not achievable, and can often leave you feeling like you’re falling short of expectations. Give yourself a break. It’s OK to lower your expectations of yourself a little.

Know what you can change and accept that there are some things you cannot change. Some sources of pressure are unavoidable. In such cases, the best way to manage it is to accept things as they are and move forward.

How can you build your resilience?

Resilience isn’t a trait that you either have or don’t have. Like any skill, resilience can be developed, it just takes some practice. So if you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can build on your existing skills to become more so.

There are some simple things you can do that can make a big difference. For example, moderate exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting plenty of good quality sleep and some ‘me time’ are great things to start with. With this in mind, Dr Mark Winwood has come up with five ways to help you not only survive, but thrive in work, rest and play.

1. Improve your energy

A physically or mentally demanding lifestyle can leave you feeling drained, especially if you don’t balance this out by getting enough good quality sleep. This, in turn, affects how resilient you may feel. To help you reduce sleep disturbance and feel more alert, try:

  • Reducing caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon.
  • Exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water and eating healthily.
  • Managing boundaries between work and home and finding ways to switch off.
  • Taking regular breaks at work, including having a lunch time walk to get away from your desk, soak up some daylight and help maintain strength and energy.

2. Create meaningful relationships

Loneliness can take a real toll on both your mental and physical health. Having meaningful relationships through a support network of family, friends, colleagues and other social groups helps us feel connected and valued. This is important when you’re facing tricky situations because you know where to find support, advice and comfort.

  • Supporting and comforting others (either friends and family, or volunteering for a local group or charity) can nurture and strengthen our relationships and enable us to learn from each other.
  • Who is your support network and what types of support they offer? If you’re not getting the types of support you need, consider where this could come from.

3. Get some perspective

When your attitude towards something is balanced and rational it can support your resilience as it helps to have a clear view of reality and see the bigger picture. Stepping away (emotionally, mentally and physically) from a challenging situation – perhaps by taking a short, brisk walk – can help you think about different ways of viewing it. Allowing yourself some time to reflect can give you clarity of thought and help with problem solving. It can help you to:

  • Recognise that it’s the way you view a situation, rather than the situation itself, that is making you feel sad / anxious / afraid.
  • Challenge negative beliefs and focus on positive ones.
  • Reflect on your successes – take time to acknowledge and celebrate what you’ve done well.
  • Focus on the things you can control and change, rather than those you can’t.

4. Think about your priorities

Having a clear sense of purpose based on your values and strengths is vital to developing and maintaining a positive outlook. This includes understanding what matters to you most – from what makes you tick, to how you spend your time and who you want to spend it with. It’s important to take time for yourself in order to relax and think about your goals in life. Consider things like:

  • What’s your purpose both inside and outside work?
  • What’s most important to you?
  • What changes can you make to give you more time to focus on what matters most to you at work / at home?
  • What are your strengths – how can you use more of these at work or home?

5. Work on your emotional Intelligence

What is emotional intelligence? In short, being able to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as identify other people’s emotions. This can help you to see things objectively and respect others’ views. Emotional intelligence comes when you are able to feel it (an emotion), name it (anger, love, jealousy), and then express it to others.

This can help when you feel threatened or when you have a disagreement with someone. Our interpersonal skills also help us connect emotionally with others, developing closer relationships and a shared understanding. To help you become more aware of your emotions you can try techniques such as mindfulness.

An important aspect of building resilience is learning to ask for help when you need it, says Dr Mark. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to admit that you need the help of friends and family from time to time – asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It’s also important to look at what you’ve achieved in your life, rather than focus on the negative things – think about what you have the power to change in your current circumstances and prioritise these things.

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services, AXA PPP healthcare

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