Stress is common, sometimes a little bit too common. Information around stress can be confusing; on one hand we need stress to perform whilst on the other stress is damaging to our health; so which one is it?! Well, it’s both; whether stress is good or bad for us is dependent on our own personal thresholds for stress interacting with the current environment. As stress is unique to each person, learning about our own stress responses is an important part of managing our wellbeing.
Often, we will only think about stress when it is negatively affecting us. This can be less than ideal due to the impact that stress will has on us in the moment. Often this process becomes cyclical, bouncing from one stressful situation to the next. With this in mind, it is important to try and get an idea of how the “land lies” with ourselves and ask:
What do we start to notice in when things ‘get a bit wobbly’?
How do I feel?
What do I think?
How does my behaviour change?
This list was originally devised by Watson et al (2013) looking at fire fighters, but can you recognise any of the feelings, thoughts and behaviours in the scale? Whilst our tolerances and causes of stress might be different there is a lot of overlap in how our bodies respond as our stress levels increase.
Spotting the signs
Being able to spot the signs of stress in ourselves and others can be particularly helpful in helping to manage stress.
Case study: John
Let’s look at a typical case study. Here are some questions to think about as you read through the below.
Can you identify any of the signs above?
What signs and symptoms make you concerned about John?
What factors can you identify that may be contributing to John’s stress levels?
Is John experiencing burnout, vicarious trauma or secondary trauma?
What do you think would help?
Components of workplace wellbeing
• Burnout is usually the result of prolonged stress or frustration, resulting in exhaustion of physical strength, emotional strength and/or motivation (Maslach 2003). Burnout tends to be associated with the workplace, and is often a predictable outcome when the workplace demands a great deal from workers. It’s cumulative and occurs over a fairly long period.
• Secondary Trauma (or in-direct) trauma occurs when a service provider (teacher) relates to someone who has undergone a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events to the extent that they begin to experience similar symptoms of that the victim experiences. This concept is sometimes used interchangeably with compassion fatigue.
• Vicarious Trauma is a permanent change in the service provider (teacher) resulting from empathetic engagement with a client’s (pupil’s) traumatic background (Pearlman & Saakvitne 1995). Symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, isolated and disconnected. Impacts on all factors of daily life, including the body, mind, character and belief systems.
We tend to not think health and safety in non-physical terms; that is despite us all at times feeling stress and intuitively knowing it harmful to us; it is therefore important therefore to consider “where we are?”, “who are we supporting?” and importantly “who is supporting us?”.