Most of us will feel stress at work in one way or another. Physiological symptoms of stress such as the release of adrenaline are a healthy and necessary bodily reaction. In moderation these are nothing to worry about. However continuous or overwhelming levels of stress can become unmanageable and will have a detrimental physiological and psychological impact.
What is stress?
Stress is a broad term used to describe negative emotional and social reactions, and in extreme instances mental ill-health. The hypothalamus is a region in the base of the brain which controls the release of different hormones and is responsible for regulating things like body temperature, thirst, hunger, sleep, circadian rhythms, moods and sex drive. Specifically, it regulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline raises your heartbeat, increasing blood pressure, whilst cortisol triggers the release of glucose into the blood stream. Together a release of these hormones gives you a burst of energy whilst also suppressing other, seemingly less immediate bodily functions such as digestion. This is the body preparing itself for a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. From a physiological perspective a little stress is healthy and our bodies’ response to this will usually regulate itself. However when we experience stress that is too intense or prolonged, too much adrenaline and cortisol will be released into the blood stream and our bodies will no longer be able to self-regulate. There can be all sorts of physical and mental health implications to this, which include headaches, an impaired immune system, stomach upsets, high blood pressure (and in extreme cases this can lead to heart attacks), anger issues, anxiety and depression. Secondary effects can also include insomnia, relationship issues, amnesia and changeable moods.
Stress related absences in schools
Average length of absences…
The average length of an absence is 12.97 working days. By contrast the average stress related absence is more than twice as long at 26.69 working days – over five weeks. With the exception of maternity, heart problems or serious diseases, a stress related absence is longer than any other type of absence.
Prevalence of stress related absences…
Every year 3.7% of teaching staff and 3.0% of support staff take an absence due to stress. Teaching staff are 25.6% more likely to take a stress related absence than support staff. On average 57.7% of schools will have at least one member of staff absent due to stress at some point during the year.
Top three causes of absences…
Stress is the third most prevalent reason for staff absence periods of any length, after colds, flus and viral infections and bowel / abdominal problems. In other words, 7.78% of every absence taken by a member of staff is due to stress.
Top three causes of absence days…
Aside from maternity, stress is the biggest reason for absence days. 16.02% of all days taken absent within schools are due to stress. This means that amongst males it is the single biggest reason for absence days. This is almost three times greater than the next most prevalent cause of absences which is operations, responsible for 5.97% of all absence days.
Avoiding stress at work
Although stress is inevitable, in some instances it is avoidable. Here we give you five tips on how to minimise stress.
1. Avoid unnecessary stress
Stress can’t always be avoided, and it isn’t healthy or appropriate to shirk responsibilities. However, there will be a surprising amount of stressors in your life that can be eliminated. For example, if there are individuals in your social life or work life who cause unnecessary stress, avoid them. If there are other things in your environment which you find stressful, such as traffic on a particular route to work, try and avoid them too. You must also know your limits and not take on any more than you can cope with. It’s important to know when to say “no”.
2. Attitude changes
Arguably the toughest but most important way to eliminate stress is through a change in attitude.
Often you can’t change or eliminate the thing that’s making you stressed, so you need to change the way you deal with it. This is a technique that counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy will teach you. Some of the ways we can do this is by reframing problems and looking at the bigger picture, adjusting your standards by not always seeking perfection and above all, focussing on the positives.
3. Behavioural changes
It’s important to accept that not everything is within our control. We need to let these things go and concentrate on being assertive with respect to the things that are within our control. For instance, express your feelings rather than bottling them up, which may include speaking to your line manager or HR Manager or even seeking counselling or therapy. It is also beneficial to concentrate on effective time management to ensure you aren’t stretched too thin or running behind schedule.
4. Work/life balance
It’s something of a cliché but a work / life balance is important to our mental and physical health. Extra-curricular activities like socialising and exercising are important, and if you have a hobby such as gardening, art, sport or something hands on like restoring a car, you should try to do that as regularly as possible. In short, do something every day that makes you happy.
5. A healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle will support your body with any physiological reactions to the stress you encounter. Eating healthily, reducing the amount of nicotine, caffeine or alcohol you consume will help, as will getting the necessary amount of sleep and exercising.
How can we help?
At Absence Protection we have more than 10 years’ experience in insuring schools against staff absence and therefore we know first-hand how prevalent stress is and how costly it can be. To tackle this issue head on, we have engaged specialist educational wellbeing providers APL Health to offer our schools the very best occupational health support available. APL Health services are included at no extra cost to our clients and include a range of services designed to prevent and manage staff absences. APL Health provide tailored healthcare solutions using a mixture of face-to-face, personal healthcare and digital wellbeing solutions. Together, these create a best-in-class service, ensuring fast, proactive support with effective results.