CBT Treatment For Work-Related Stress

Stress is now the number one cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK. The research shows that stress has overtaken chronic musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and other acute medical conditions such as heart problems, with between 40% and 50% of all absences rooted in stress related issues.

If you have experienced difficulty concentrating, irritability, withdrawn or avoidant mood, tiredness, loss of confidence, aggressive or defensive behaviours, this is often an early indication of work-related stress.

 

What Are The Key Causes of Work-Related Stress?

The causes of stress are complex and varied, but usually centre on a real or perceived inability to cope with work demands or threats. Stress levels run high in organisations where employees are continuously required to work to unrealistic or ambiguous expectations, receive insufficient guidance or support, experience high levels of demand and low levels of personal control, undergo continuous restructuring or change, poor communication and engagement, experience bullying or isolation and receive little recognition or reward.

 

How Stress Affects Performance

We all need a certain level of positive stress to motivate us to take action, engage in tasks and approach challenges with energy and determination. Positive stress creates a focused improvement in performance up to a certain point. Once we cross the red line however, each additional increment of stress delivers a reduction in overall performance and wellbeing. Where this continues, people experience chronic stress or anxiety problems and eventually reach burn-out or break-down. This is normally the point at which we acknowledge the debilitating effects of stress.

The following simple diagram illustrates how positive stress increases performance and learning to an optimal point. Crossing the red-line is the point at which we start to feel the effects of negative stress and where every additional increment of pressure actually causes a reduction in our performance and personal wellbeing.

Yerkes Dodson

Whilst there are a number of valid psychometric assessments to measure the impacts of stress, we can also follow our own personal judgment. We all possess an intuitive sense of when we are feeling the effects of negative stress and we can choose to tune into our own internal pressure barometer. Understanding and acting upon the following stress indicators is an important part of maintaining a longer-term approach to how we personally manage our own stress levels.

 

Stress Indicators

Work related stress is often first identified by the effect it has on the individual's personal life.  This often involves increased tension in key relationships at home, problems with sleep, relaxing and engaging in social activities, overuse of alcohol and other substances, arguements and mood swings.

Although there are no universally agreed upon  diagnostic criteria for work related stress, the commonly acknowledged signs and symptoms typically involve:

  • Tiredness and fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating and irritability.
  • Mood swings and emotional outbursts.
  • Loss of personal confidence.
  • Low mood and poor motivation.
  • Catastrophic thinking - blowing things out of proportion.
  • Problems maintaining a balanced home and working life.
  • Continuously checking, ruminating over and undertaking post-mortems about work related problems.

 

How CBT is used in Work Related Stress

At Think CBT we have developed a fully integrated approach to managing the effects of stress and building emotional resilience at work. This covers the three key areas of:

  1. Undertaking a stress assessment to identify the precursors, triggers and reinforcing factors that increase vulnerability to stress.
  2. Completing a full cognitive and behavioural assessment to understand and change the psychological factors that maintain unhealthy levels of stress.
  3. Developing a personal action plan to reduce future risks of stress and improve resilience to unpredictable or negative situations. 

 

What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are terms which are often used interchangeably due to their common triggers and symptoms. People can experience distressing psychological and physical symptoms from chronic stress and a wide range of underlying anxiety conditions. The principle difference, is that stress is a normal biological response to a potential threat and anxiety is a consequential response to the stress reaction.

Everyone experiences some stress in their life and healthy levels of stress can motivate us to achieve our goals or act with urgency. The problem is that this protective response can sometimes be inappropriately or continuously triggered. This is because we don't always rationally distinguish between direct and implied threats.

Stress becomes a problem when we are unable to manage excessive demands or expectations and the burden of stress exceeds our capacity to cope effectively. Anxiety becomes a problem when our normal psychological coping mechanisms are affected.

For this reason, we tend to think of unhealthy stress as the negative effects of "coping with problems" and anxiety as the negative effects of "problems with coping." This subtle but important difference means that the CBT techniques and approaches to therapy are different for each issue.

 

How Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Used To Tackle Stress?

Building individual resilience involves a process known as cognitive restructuring, in which the individual’s perceived ability to cope, appraisal of potential threats and willingness to learn and bounce back are the primary focus of change. These cognitive changes are underpinned by systematic behavioural changes, in which the individual is encouraged to identify, rehearse and test out ways of acting that are consistent with increased resilience. Individuals are encouraged to work through, define, practice and test out new behavioural strategies that strengthen resilience beliefs and undermine perceived weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These changes are normally supported through a structured process, either taylored to the individual’s needs or delivered as an adjunct to other development activities.

It’s crucial that employees already experiencing the effects of unhealthy stress or the consequential effects of anxiety or depressive problems, are provided with access to good CBT based psychological interventions to identify and resolve the problem

Stress management training or coaching can provide a basis for profoundly changing the individual's experience of work and increasing personal health and wellbeing.  If you want to talk to an expert about how personalised stress management support can help you, contact info@thinkcbt.com  You can also organise a free initial telephone consultation by completing the simple contact form on this page. 

 

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