Work can be stressful. Shift work can be very stressful. But what is stress and how can you cope with it? We asked Occupational Psychology Student, Naomi Booth Wade to tell us about the common causes of work stress. And how shift workers can build up ways to manage and cope with stress.

What is stress?

According the the official definitions, stress is a response to situations in our lives. Typically, these are situations that cause nerves or anxiety. They are times when we feel as though the demands on us are beyond our normal experience. Situations that cause us stress might be a performance evaluation at work, extra workload, or a difficult relationship.

Other more obvious ones are conflict or clashes of opinions that becomes personal rather than productive.

Our reaction to this becomes known as stress when the situation starts to affect our health and behaviour.

How does stress affect my health and behaviour?

Stress is linked to anxiety, tiredness, unexplained aches and pains, heart disease, depression, memory loss, and loss of attention. It is also associated with behavioural changes, such as sleep disturbance and poor decision making.

Stress often has an impact on your performance and wellbeing at work. For example, research has found that high volumes of stress can lead to difficulties making rational decisions. Stress can impact your weight, through stress-eating, and is also a cause of strain in your marital and social relationships. This is called the Spill-Over Effect.

Prolonged or intense stress can have a particularly negative impact on an individual’s mental and physical health.

What causes stress?

There are many sources of stress and these can vary between individuals. People naturally vary in how easily they become stressed and what makes them stressed.

A common source of stress is shift work. Public service industry jobs such as healthcare workers, emergency service workers and those who have public responsibility, show particularly high levels of stress compared to other jobs.

Night shift work (starting work after 7pm and finishing before 9am) is particularly regarded as being bad for health. This is because it can lead to disruption of the circadian rhythm, fatigue, sleep problems, disrupted appetite, reliance on stimulants such as caffeine and social problems. These can all lead to more stress.

Common sources of stress within the workplace, identified by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) are;

  • Excessive demands
  • Lack of control
  • Lack of support
  • Failure to build good relationships at work
  • Ambiguity about job role
  • Change

How can I reduce my stress levels?

First of all, stress is never and should never be “just part of the job”. The need to reduce stress in the workplace is recognised in law, under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Act 1999.

Your workplace may already be offering ways to help you reduce your stress, such as stress management training or workplace counselling. But , here are some simple ways you can cope with the most common causes of stress.

Excessive demands – “I have too much to do!”

Check whether it is possible to get more flexible hours. If this is not possible, see below for some general tips on reducing stress

Lack of control – “I have no say in when and how I do my work.”

Don’t be afraid to contribute or make suggestions to your employer. Formal/informal meetings provide good opportunity to raise any concerns you have. Councils and committees are also there for you to consult with.

Lack of support – “There is no-one I can talk to about this.”

Don’t be afraid to talk about any issues you have with your employer. It is there job to make sure you can do the work you’re given. And they have a duty of care their employees.

Failure to build good relationships at work – “My manager and I just don’t get on!”

Whether you are experiencing, bullying, harassment, or grievance your work place should have polices for handling these issues.

Ambiguity about your job role – “I am unsure what is expected from me.”

Review your application process, form an accurate job description and or keep in mind your targets and goals of the organisation you work for.

Change – “I don’t know how to manage the changes that have happened at my workplace”

Plan ahead and prepare for different (even unlikely) situations. Work with others to solve the problem.

For more information go to;

Naomi Booth-Wade

July 2017