How JCT600 support colleagues in managing work related stress, by Nicola Tordoff‑Sohne, Group Head of Wellbeing at JCT600

As Head of Wellbeing at JCT600, why do you personally feel it’s important to reduce workplace stress?

We work hard at JCT600 on creating a physically and psychologically safe work environment. This is foundational for us, but complex beings that we are, we all have different thresholds for stress and different triggers. So, although doing what we can to reduce work-place stress in the environment is essential, I’m also focused on helping our colleagues to learn better ways to manage stress and increase overall resilience. We can’t always control what happens in the environment, but we do have some capacity to control our response to it.

What do you think contributes to the main reasons individuals experience stress?

We generally experience four different categories of stress – environmental, social, physiological and psychological. When talking about what contributes to stress, most people think of what is contributing to psychological stress – the kind of stress that is produced internally via our own thoughts, beliefs and interpretations, that can turn into feelings and lead to unrest and rumination. Fears, uncertainties, feeling a lack of control are all common triggers of psychological stress.

However, psychological stress isn’t the only contributor. We also have to consider environmental, social and physiological stress to get the full picture. Our environment constantly places demands on us to adjust. Environmental challenges may include, things like traffic, noise, pollen, moving house or travel. Social stressors are a drain on our time and attention and include things like deadlines, competing priorities, financial concerns and major life changes. Physiological stresses are taxing on the body – think menopause, pregnancy, injury, illness or neglect of self-care such as lack of exercise, poor nutrition or inadequate sleep. Your physiological reaction to an environmental or social stressor could also be creating physical stress such as digestive issues, headaches and muscle tension.

What are the warning signs of stress overload?

There are immediate physical signs of the stress response are recognisable to us all. Increased heart rate and blood pressure are characteristic of the fight or flight response – an evolutionary response that provides a heightened sense of alertness and ability to act fast. This is perfectly fine when it happens occasionally and is short-lived but when we’re triggering the stress response often we can experience the chronic effects of stress.
As blood is diverted away from non-essential systems such as the digestive system and reproductive system, chronic stress can lead to digestive issues and fertility issues or increased PMS in women. Prolonged stress can impact on the immune system and some may find that they are more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.
When stressed our blood sugar rises, this can lead to weight gain (particularly around the middle) and cravings for sweet, salty or spicy foods. Raised blood sugar increases the risk for obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol in the long term. Our blood clots more easily during the stress response, increasing our risk of heart attack and stroke.

In our stress management course, participants identify their own individual symptoms of stress overload. These included: worry, anxiety, irritability, anger, resentment, muscle tension, fear, headache, backache, indigestion, sleep issues, lower productivity, reduced cognition, memory issues, and troubled relationships. How we experience stress as individuals can vary and I think it’s important that everyone recognises their own ‘stress signature’ so that they can identify when it’s time to take action to manage their stress levels.

JCT600 recently launched a Stress Management Course, can you tell us what this involves? 

The stress management course at JCT600 was designed to help our colleagues develop better ways to manage stress and avoid burnout. Colleagues sign up for a three-week course that includes short daily activities and a weekly virtual meeting to review learning and share insights.
The aim of this course is to tackle all elements of stress management. For me, that included gaining a good foundational understanding of what stress is and the impact it has on our health. We explored symptoms of stress and coping mechanisms. We gained greater body awareness by learning how to find and release physical tension. We connected the dots between lifestyle and stress – in particular looking at the role of diet, exercise and sleep in managing stress. Finally, we looked at our beliefs and perceptions and worked on mastering our emotional response to stress.

Can you share practical advice to our followers with regards to managing stress levels?

  • Perspective is a great stress reliever. We can shift our focus to things that promote feelings of gratitude or reframe our interpretation of an event to try and gain a new or broader perspective that might help to nudge away at those anxious feelings.
  • Question what irrational beliefs you are perpetuating, that are feeding the emotional response. People create unnecessary anxiety for themselves when they overestimate the danger of a possible future event and overstate the likelihood of it actually occurring.
  • Practise self-compassion. All humans are fallible creatures. We make mistakes. Allow yourself to fail sometimes and be aware of how you talk to yourself.
  • Try to let go of worry around the things that are outside of your control, and focus on what is within your circle of influence.
  • Learn what helps you to relax and keep it in your toolbox. A quick body scan can help you to identify tension in areas of your body. Consciously relaxing physical tension can help to unwind psychological tension.
  • And finally – practice self-care. Exercise, eat well and get sufficient sleep to increase physical
    and emotional resilience to what life throws our way.
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