We all commonly find ourselves saying, ‘I feel stressed’,‘I’m so stressed out’ or ‘Today is such a stressful day.’ However, we often don’t consider ‘Why am I stressed?’, 'What is stress?’ and ‘Why does it make me feel this way?’ The most important thing that many of us need to ask, however, is: 'how can I deal with stress and prevent it?'
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) based in the UK describe stress as ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.’
Stress can be caused by a variety of different factors. Generally, it can be sourced to situations which cause negative emotions, such as anxiety. These environments can cause the body to react to negative, anxious thought processes. Stress is a state of being, it is not actually an illness, but if stress is excessive, drawn out or uncontrollable it can cause mental and physical illnesses. It is important to understand that pressure and stress are distinct. Pressure is not always negative, however; it can spark positive emotions such as motivation and high levels of performance. Stress takes place when levels of pressure become excessive and the individual cannot cope. Stress, in other words, is a natural reaction to extreme pressure. For example, a person might encounter feelings of stress if they are concerned that their work demands are above their coping abilities.
What is work related stress?
One of the most common places where stress is elevated is in the work place. In fact, if you were to ask most people what causes their most frequent feelings of stress, the large majority of individuals would answer with ‘my job.’ This is known as ‘work related stress.’ ‘Work related stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.’ An organised and well-managed working environment is a good for you, but disappointing organisation, poor management and other factors can cause work related stress. If an individual feels they are unable to cope with the demands that our set upon them, work related stress is likely to occur. The HSE quoted an employee from London who said, ‘For me it was a new boss. I found myself crying 'cos I couldn't keep up suddenly. Stress is when you can't cope, there's too much and you don't know what to focus on any more.’
Work related stress has been linked to a significant amount of illnesses and is also connected with high levels of sick-leave and absences. It has also been revealed that stress is associated with high staff turnovers and errors being made in the work place. Stress is something that can affect anyone, at any time and at any level. Recent research has proven that work related stress is widespread and is not restricted to any particular industry or sector.
How to tackle work related stress
The HSE has established Management Standards, which aim to overcome work-related stress. These are a set of conditions, which, if implemented, will result in good health, well being and quality performance in the work place. The HSE believe that this method will help individuals, particularly in key roles to encourage organisation, general well-being and initiate systems which will help to reduce stress and prevent any stress-related illnesses. Hans Selye,a pioneer of stress theory, said, ‘Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive’.
Stress in dental nursing
In the dental nursing world, you might feel pressure from your management or dentist to keep up a high level of performance. Some dental nurses might feel that they do not have the skills or abilities to achieve what is expected. This way of thinking has the potential to lead to work-related stress. Stress can also be brought on my having a low amount of demands. A dental nurse may feel bored, undervalued or lack recognition. Often dental nurses who have not attempted to develop their careers can feel this way. If they lack feelings of motivation and confidence then work-related stress can be brought on. If you are familiar with these feelings then the key in overcoming them is to balance your demands and pressure with identification, knowledge, skills and action.
Coping With Stress
This means that the first step in overcoming stress is to determine and evaluate your own position. You need to address the challenges in your working life and determine whether you feel you are coping. By taking a step back and considering all factors of your working life, you can take control of stress. If you feel you are suffering from stress yourself or if you notice your colleague suffering from stress you should talk to your Practice Manager, Head nurse or dentist. In some cases you might want to also consider talking to your GP.
Signs that you are stressed
There are some clear, obvious signs of stress in people’s behaviour in the work place but there are others which aren’t as easy to identify. It is important for individuals to evaluate their own behaviour. If you feel you are suffering from stress yourself or if you notice your colleague suffering from stress you should talk to your Practice Manager, Head nurse or dentist. In some cases you might want to also consider talking to your GP. Here is a list of signs and symptoms of stress to look out for which can affect all elements of your health:
Head and Mental Health: Increased blood flow to muscles and muscle tension. This can lead to loss of muscle function, structure, stiffness, soreness, regional pain syndromes or osteoporosis.
Heart, Lungs and Circulation: Increased cholesterol in blood or increased glucose availability. This can cause inefficient energy use, increased fat deposition, insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
Skin: Sweating, Reddening, Blushing. This can result in eczema or psoriasis.
Metabolism: Mobilisation of energy sources, increased cholesterol in blood and increased glucose availability. Long term this can bring on inefficient energy use, increased fat deposition, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Digestion System: Dry mouth, suppression of digestion/nausea. Long term effects on the digestive system when stressed can cause appetite suppression, stomach ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Muscles and Joints: Increased blood flow to muscles and muscle tension. This can lead to loss of muscle function, stiffness, soreness or regional pain syndromes.
Reproduction and Growth: Suppression of reproductive and growth systems which effect hormones. This can cause reproductive abnormalities, decreased testosterone, erectile dysfunction or loss of libido.
Immune System: Immune suppression which increases susceptibility to some infectious diseases.
If you recognise any of these symptoms this may be an indicator that you are suffering the effects of stress. There are other signs you need to be aware of:
• Feelings of disappointment
• Mood swings
• Poor concentration
• Poor memory
• Increased smoking
• Increased drinking
• Drug taking
You can identify your levels of stress and the cause by asking yourself some questions:
• Are the demands too much for me?
• Is the organisation of my team getting to me?
• Can I communicate with my colleagues and superiors?
• Am I being bullied?
• Do I lack confidence?
• Am I in control of my work load?
• Am I happy with my role?
• Am I happy with my responsibilities?
If you understand and recognise the factors which can have a negative effect on your stress levels then this is the first stage to overcoming work related stress. ‘Instead of always asking how to get others to approve of you... learn to ask: What do I really want, the applause of the crowds or to quietly have my own life?’ said Guy Finley. Once you have identified what the cause might be, the next stage is to figure out how to fix the issue and take action. Here are a list of actions you can take:
• Reduce or filter high demands
• Take control
• High levels of support
• Team work
• Address bullying or harassment
Practical ways to reduce stress in your team
Management should also take control of stress concerns in their teams. Managers, such as Practice Managers or Head nurses, need to consider if they think their team may have problems with stress. If they decide there are issues, management need to think about what to do or what to change to reduce this stress. If they decide no, they still need to consider how to prevent stress from becoming a problem in the future. In the HSE Management Standards, the HSE have identified good practice guidance which address these factors. The HSE hopes this will encourage a proactive approach in preventing and managing stress in the working environment.
By tackling stress in the workplace this can benefit individuals, the dental team and the practice as a whole. There is a domino effect in that if the team are happy, patients are also likely to feel happier too. This can also have many positive knock-on effects for the practice, including increased business – from patients having a happy experience, therefore giving practice recommendations or visiting more regularly. It's a no brainer!
You can view the HSE’s stress statistics here.