What is Workplace Stress? - How to Cope and How to Help

If you have experienced stress at work, you are not alone. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that there were 914,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22. Issues have been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees are more likely to take time off because of stress now than in pre-covid times.

The impact is significant. Workplaces lost 17 million working days due to stress, depression or anxiety relating to work in the same period. This is just over half of all working days lost because of work-related health issues.

But what is stress? What are the causes and signs? Is there anything we can do to find some relief, and how can we support those dealing with work-related stress? Keep reading to find out more.

What is Stress?

Stress is a typical response we experience when placed under pressure. It can be a positive feeling when we manage stress efficiently. Stress can help us achieve goals, motivate us, and improve focus and productivity.

Too much stress takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Excessive stress can make us feel unstable, uneasy, and worried. Enduring stress over extended periods leads to what we commonly call ‘burnout’. This is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

What are the signs of stress?

Understanding the main signs of stress can help us take steps to prevent feelings of burnout. Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Feelings of overwhelm.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Headaches.
  • Irritability
  • Low self-confidence. 
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Eating more or less than usual.
  • Drinking or smoking more than usual.

Experiencing the above signs is concerning and can impact our relationships, careers, and physical health. If you notice any of these symptoms, you may also need to consider anxiety as the cause, as these two mental health issues share common indicators. The main difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is temporary and caused by an external trigger, whereas anxiety can persist even when there is no apparent provocation.

What causes stress?

Feelings of stress emerge when we experience excess pressure or lack the resources to navigate a situation. Workplace stress can result from a problem at work, but it can also be because of external factors. Feelings of stress about situations from one area of our life can often spill over into others.

Several life events can result in stress. These include:

  • Personal: Illness, pregnancy, bereavement, or organising a complex event such as a holiday, wedding, or home move.
  • Friends and family: Going through a breakup, struggling with a problematic relationship, or caring for someone.
  • Employment and study: Losing a job, facing exams and deadlines, or differences with co-workers.
  • Housing: Living in poor conditions, looking for new housing, or living with neighbours displaying antisocial behaviour.
  • Money: Having problems with money or benefits, experiencing poverty, encountering an unexpected bill or being in debt.


How to deal with stress

One of the first steps to dealing with stress is to understand more about it and what causes it. Reading articles like this one is a great starting point. If you want to know more, try one of our courses, like Health, Well-being and Wellness Awareness.

Stressful situations are an unavoidable part of life. Learning some coping techniques can help combat the symptoms of stress and prevent reaching the burnout stage. One coping technique is ‘Mindfulness’.

How does mindfulness help feelings of stress?

How we think and process thoughts can significantly impact our feelings and behaviour. When we encounter stress, it can help us to be mindful of thoughts that negatively affect us.

Mindfulness is a method that involves taking time to be more aware of what’s going on in our mind, body, and surroundings. The goal is to boost our self-awareness and ability to catch negative thoughts and physical cues, like headaches or craving comfort food. Doing this allows us to spot what is happening early. Then, we can adjust our behaviour to be more positive or try to reduce the cause of the stress.

Many mindful practices are simple to incorporate into everyday life. Mind, a mental health charity, has produced a list of methods to help you find an exercise that suits you.

Helping others deal with stress

Supporting others in coping with stress starts with open conversations. It’s easier to initiate discussions when we know how to respond, especially when someone confides with us about mental health. Many people worry about saying the wrong thing, but even the gesture of offering a listening ear can make a big difference.

How to start conversations about stress

If you notice that a colleague may be dealing with stress, try showing concern and offer your help. Expressing your concern and willingness to support them can help them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Even if they haven’t yet asked for help, showing you care can help them feel more comfortable talking to you.  

Some may find it difficult to talk about their mental health. Be patient and gentle. Let them know that you are available, but don’t pressure them to speak, as this can lead to feelings of discomfort.

How to listen to someone dealing with stress

Listening is a powerful tool that encourages openness. When talking to anyone dealing with stress, give them your full attention, ask open-ended questions, and avoid interrupting.

Once they open up, try to stay calm. Acknowledge their struggle. Offering recognition can be a huge relief for someone dealing with stress.

Next, let them know you are there for them and that they don’t have to face stress alone. Reassurance can reduce feelings of fear and encourage them to open up more about what they are struggling with.

If you feel that you or your colleague need further support, several organisations and charities are available. A visit to the GP or a call to NHS 111 service can also help you explore therapeutic options on offer.

Gaining a greater understanding of workplace stress can help us to navigate its challenging symptoms. Knowing the signs and causes of stress can help you use coping techniques and offer support to others. Whether you practice mindfulness, offer a listening ear, or seek professional help, support can help you to deal with any stressors. For more insights, take a look at our Health, Well-being and Wellness Awareness course.

Further Reading

Mental Health: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Mental Health: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Mental Health

Get answers to common questions about mental health. Understand its prevalence, some common conditions, signs to look out for and what help is available.

Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace: Understanding the ISO 45003 Guidance

Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace: Understanding the ISO 45003 Guidance

Health and Wellbeing

Learn about the ISO 45003 guidelines and how it is helping organisations to improve psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Techniques for Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing

Techniques for Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing

Health and Wellbeing

Discover effective techniques to improve your mental health and wellbeing. From cognitive reframing to mindfulness and sleep routines, prioritise your mental wellbeing and promote positive emotions.

A Guide to Health and Wellbeing: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

A Guide to Health and Wellbeing: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Explore the physical, mental, and social aspects of health and wellbeing as we provide some answers to commonly asked questions.

How To Promote Physical Wellbeing?

How To Promote Physical Wellbeing?

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Discover how to promote physical wellbeing through healthy lifestyle choices and supportive workplaces. Improve health and happiness.


Bethany Wesson

Bethany Wesson

Bethany is a freelance content writer and has produced articles for the Commodious Knowledge Bank since 2023. She has written about various health and safety topics, from asbestos to mindful business practices.

  • Business
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Awareness
  • Stress