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Identification of stress and stress-related problems


One of the difficulties with stress is that people experience it in different ways. This contributes to stress manifesting itself in different ways also. So, it would be wrong to over-generalise when giving advice on how to identify stress in others. However, what we can say is that in some way ‘stress will out‘. By this we mean that, because stress has negative effects, it will usually manifest itself one way or another.

Previously, we looked at how stress could be prevented. But, it isn’t always possible to prevent stress, so a key action in order to minimize risk is to identify stress-related problems as early as possible, in order that action can be taken before serious stress-related illness occurs thus preventing this costly outcome for all concerned.

3 sources of data

Early identification of stress-related problems can be best achieved by reflecting on three sources of data:

  • Negative changes in the individual. Your perceptions are important. Are you seeing or hearing negative changes? Are those changes sustained?
  • Objective data related to the impact of stress on the team/individual. Is the stress having an effect that is measurable or quantifiable e.g. on performance, absence etc.
  • Qualitative data. Others perceptions are also important. How do people describe their experience? Data like these can come from chance remarks, one-to-ones or, perhaps most importantly, from team meetings.

For the purposes of this download we can introduce the first one, Negative Changes in the Individual …

Negative changes in the individual

Of course we all experience ‘bad days’, so we are really talking about situations when people don’t quickly revert back to normal, where negative changes are sustained.

To be able to identify negative changes successfully, it helps to know your staff well. This takes an investment of time and energy in really getting to know them so that you know when they are behaving normally, and when they are not.

There are many specific changes that people can show when they are experiencing stress. Below you can see a table of ten of the most typical changes you might see or hear.

The important thing is to become more aware. As you do so you will notice that, where stress is concerned, there are some things you can see, some you can hear, and even some you can feel. Its a good idea to use all your senses to pick up potential problems.

Are team members:

  • Making more mistakes and forgetting things?
  • Showing a negative change in mood or fluctuations in mood?
  • Avoiding certain situations or people?
  • Using more very negative or cynical language?
  • Becoming withdrawn?
  • Showing a prolonged loss of a sense of humour?
  • Becoming increasingly irritable and short-tempered?
  • Showing a change in appearance, especially poor self care?
  • Showing changes in habits e.g. increased smoking, drinking?
  • Looking haggard or exhausted all the time?

You can use this stress identification tool as a kind of ‘early warning system’: a warning that you need to act. It would be wrong to make assumptions at this stage. Rather, use the ‘warning’ as a cue to investigate further, to try to find out the stress-related problems cause so that it can be tackled, or to find out what support may be appropriate for the person or team concerned.

This is not an exhaustive list. Any sustained negative changes in people should alert you that they may not be coping.

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