Understanding what’s stressing you – and how to fix it

Stress is a complicated condition; one whose symptoms can manifest in your body and mind long after the causal event. And yet understanding the root cause of your anxiety is key to addressing your dip in wellbeing. So where do you start? And how do you fix the problem?



Take a big picture analysis

You seem to be presenting some of the symptoms of burnout. But does one week of late evenings or team clashes really constitute wanting to take to your bed for the weekend, shutting out every one and every thing? When your feelings don’t seem to tally up with current circumstances, ask yourself what major events have occurred in the last 12 months that could only now be having a real impact on your health.

Some people find it helpful to be able to put a figure against the impact of events on stress. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale was created by Thomas Holmes & Richard Rahe at the University of Washington School of Medicine in the late 1960s, to provide a standardised measure of the impact of a wide range of common stressors.

Each life event is assigned a value in arbitrary ‘life changing units’ chosen to reflect the relative amount of stress the event causes in the population studied. Stress is cumulative, so to estimate the total stress you are experiencing, add up the values corresponding to the events that have occurred in your life over the past year.

You’ll find the full list of events in our everywomanNetwork workbook Avoiding Burnout. If you’ve already reached burnout and are struggling to cope with tasks like this one, ask a friend or mentor to work through the scale with you.

If you discover that you’ve a high score, get help sooner rather than later. That help can range from informal chats with your boss, occupational health manager or mentor, right through to seeking professional guidance from a health professional.



If you don’t prioritise your wellbeing, commonplace stressors, like clashing with a colleague or working towards a tight deadline while juggling childcare, can easily overwhelm and send you into a tailspin.

If you’ve taken the Holmes & Rahe scale and concluded that your reactions to stress are not due to an accumulation of stressful events, examine if you’re particularly susceptible to anxiety. The UK’s Stress Management Society has produced a diagnostic tool: How vulnerable are you to stress? Be as honest as possible in answering questions about your lifestyle, to determine if you're doing anything to undermine your ability to cope with and bounce back from challenging times.

If you determine that you’re not looking after yourself as best you could, put in place some practical measures and solutions to start making a difference. That doesn’t have to mean a total lifestyle makeover; small, incremental changes will be much easier to implement for the long haul.The UK government has done some research around resilience and produced their 5 ways to wellbeing – evidence-based actions every individual can do in their everyday lives to promote their own happiness and wellbeing. They are: connecting (reaching out to others in your community), being active (taking exercise); keep learning (stimulating those brain cells); taking notice (observing what’s going on around you) and giving (helping others). The everywomanNetwork workbook 60 minutes to wellbeing delves deeper into each of these core areas.



Understanding personality types

We all know a Type A personality – the office go-getter who’s always on the ball, always hitting their targets ahead of others… and always super-stressed. Perhaps you know better than anyone because it sums up you to a tee? There are many benefits of this type of personality – ambition, competitiveness and drive are great qualities to possess in business. But unfortunately they also come with a not-so-healthy set of potential characteristics – a propensity for anger and hostility, to name one; being so focussed on the destination there’s no joy taken in the journey, being another. There’s another reason that possessing this type of quick-to-stress personality might not be working in your favour: cardiologists Friedman & Rosenman who defined the Type A and Type B personalities based on a questionnaire found that those possessing the former are more likely to suffer heart problems.   

Clearly an A Type can’t change overnight into a chilled out, patient, easy-come-easy-go Type B, but if you do possess this type of personality, it’s crucial that you build up your toolkit of techniques for dealing with the kinds of situations that you know stress you out. Read up on some of our stress-management advice.

Quiz: Are you a ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ perfectionist?

The 3 most common workplace emotions and how to manage them

Using stress to your advantage: 4 strategies you can implement today

If you’re a Type B, one of your biggest stressors might indeed be dealing with the stressed-out Type As in your proximity. We recommend the following reading list:

Passive, assertive or aggressive: where do you sit on the curve?

‘P.O.K.E.R’: Your guide to handling difficult conversations

5 videos that can help you understand difficult co-workers