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How Can You Support Someone Who Is Stressed At Work?

It is very difficult for someone to ask for help and support when they are feeling very stressed at work.

Stress is the state that you experience when you perceive that you cannot adequately cope with the demands being made on you. You feel under pressure and don't have the physical and mental reserves to cope.

You don't have to be an expert to provide help and support, to someone who is stressed - just being there for them can make a big difference to how they feel.

So what can you do to help and support someone who is stressed at work? Here are some ideas for you to try:

Pay attention to others and be there for them. How often do you notice how your work colleagues are behaving? If you are busy at work you can become very self and task focused and not notice what is going on for other people. However if you pay attention to how other people are you may notice that someone is stressed or struggling to cope at work.

Recognise the symptoms and signs of stress. So what are the symptoms and signs that someone may be feeling stressed? There are many different symptoms and these may be physical, behavioural or emotional. You may notice a person is looking unwell or tired (and perhaps struggling to sleep), they may not be eating much or they may be over eating or they may be neglecting their self care. You may notice mood changes, they may have become withdrawn, have lost their sense of humour, are easily irritated and short tempered, they may have trouble concentrating, be agitated, perhaps can't switch off, are indecisive or error prone and they may flit around between different things. You may also notice that they have become emotional or they are expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or self blame or they may have become very negative about everything including the future. Often it may not be something specific but the person just seems to be different to how they normally are.

Try and engage the person in conversation. The first step is to try and engage the person in conversation. It may be better do this somewhere away from the workplace. A simple 'How are you?' may get a response or you may need to try something like 'You don't seem your normal self. Let's have a coffee and a chat?' or maybe something more direct such as 'You seem very stressed, what can I do to help and support you?' This can be very difficult to do but it could be the start of them moving forward and getting help. If you don't feel comfortable doing this then tell another colleague, your boss, HR or someone else that you think the person is stressed and struggling and ask them to speak to the person who is stressed.

Acknowledge you have noticed they are stressed and are worried about them. It is good to show concern, tell the person you are worried about them and verbalise that they seemed stressed. This will help them to feel that someone may be able to help and also help them to make sense of how they are feeling. They may not want to engage any further but this is okay too.

Encourage them to talk. Try and encourage the person to talk about what is going on for them and how they are feeling. They may seem quite jumbled up in what they are saying. Try reflecting back what they are saying to you e.g. They say 'I have felt the pressure increasing for some time and now I am struggling to cope' and you say 'It sounds like you have.... (repeating what they have said to you).' When you are stressed telling someone else often helps you start to feel better.

Give them your time and really listen. It is very important to give the person your time and really listen to them. If you are due to be somewhere else, it will be best to rearrange that as once you have enabled the person to talk you don't want to impose time limits on the conversation. Don't try and solve anything for them just allow them to talk. Also you can help them to gain some perspective by focusing on the positives as well as the stress as when someone is stressed they become very negative focused and everything seems bad. Offer help and support and be there for them and remind them that there are always choices and options.

Don't get out of your depth. It can feel uncomfortable listening to someone who is stressed but talking will help them make sense of the situation. If you don't feel confident to have the conversation, then go and get someone else e.g. someone more senior or HR who you feel can help.

Try to understand the causes. Whilst listening to the person you may pick up on what is causing them to feel stressed. You can also ask open questions to help them explore what the causes may be. You may also be able to help by reflecting back what you think the causes are e.g. 'From what you have said it sounds like x and y are contributing to you feeling stressed'. This may help them realise what the causes are or may actually help them think of what is really causing the stress. Try not to push the person or be intrusive, as just allowing them to think about the causes may help them to explore this further later.

Encourage them to take action. For a person to really feel less stressed they need to take some action on the root causes of their stress. Gently encourage the person to think about what they could do and what action they could take. To begin with one small action is enough e.g. they may decide to discuss it with their boss or their partner or they may decide to do one specific thing. You don't need to give any solutions just support them to think about what they could do.

Suggest they speak to someone who may be able to help. You are not an expert on stress and you should not try and be an expert or get yourself into a situation you cannot cope with. At any stage of the above you can suggest that they speak to someone who may be able to help them e.g. their boss, HR, their partner, a doctor, a counsellor or other forms of help. Equally as I said earlier if you are not confident to speak to a person who is stressed you can still help them by letting someone else know at work and asking them to speak to the stressed person.

Hopefully the above tips and ideas will help you to think about how you may be able to support someone at work who is stressed.

We can all play our part in making it easier for someone to ask for help and support when they are feeling stressed at work. Take time to help someone if they seem to be struggling, check in with people to see how they are and give your colleagues your time and really listen to them. These are small things but they can make a big difference to a person who is having a difficult time.

Author: Liz Makin
Published: January 2017

Through Makin It Happen - Coaching, Mentoring & Stress Management, Liz Makin provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals. If you are looking for a business coach, business mentor or help with stress please contact Liz on 01780 765270 or email Liz@makinithappen.co.uk to arrange a free consultation session.


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