Employee Wellbeing - Coping mechanisms for stress

Stress - "The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them."  This factsheet is aimed at raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of stress and also offers you some simple coping mechanisms for stress.

Not all pressure is bad for you, a little pressure can lead to increased productivity, improved performance and increased motivation, it only becomes a problem when the pressure becomes excessive or prolonged – this may then lead to stress. Our individual tolerance levels vary, what may be perceived as a stressful situation to one person may be completely comfortable to another.

Stress has a detrimental effect on our health. Increased stress levels may lead to a number of physical and psychological health problems, for example, cardiac problems later in life. A proactive approach and learning some simple coping mechanisms for stress you can help to reduce these risks.

Sings and symptoms of stress

Cognitive Physical
  • Memory lapses
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Negative thinking
  • Becoming more anxious/depressed
  • Worrying
  • Easily distracted
  • Becoming vague
  • Loss of creativity
  • Aches/pains/digestive problems
  • Nausea/panic attacks/increased heart rate
  • Diarrhoea/constipation/IBS
  • Increase heart rate/blood pressure
  • Colds/flu/infections
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Skin condition – Eczema/ashes/allergies
Emotional Behavioural
  • Mood swings-angry/frustrated/tearful/irritable
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness/reduced self esteem
  • Unhappy/depressed
  • Sensitive/defensive
  • Feel loss of control
  • Lack of motivation
  • Change of eating/sleeping habits
  • Dependency on alcohol/drugs/cigarettes
  • Absenteeism or increased hours at work
  • Poor time management/procrastination
  • Change in appearance/self worth
  • Social disengagement/need to be alone
  • Nervous habits – Nail biting/fidgeting


Stress may seem to appear suddenly but is usually the result of a build up of pressures that become overwhelming and result in your ability to cope. By learning to recognise the symptoms you can reduce your risk of becoming stressed.

Coping mechanisms for stress

  1. Recognise what causes your stress and take control

Many of us know we get stressed but often do not take the time to understand what causes it. It could be something simple such as sitting in traffic or the queue at the supermarket checkout but unless you know what causes your stress you will never break the cycle and will continue to place unnecessary pressure on yourself.

Try this:

  • Keep a diary for one week detailing: date, time, location, situation and people that make you feel irritated/stressed
  • After one week take a look at the diary and see if you can establish a pattern (traffic on the way to work, dog barking or unsympathetic boss)
  • Now, create an action plan to address these issues (take a different route to work, speak to the neighbour, book a meeting with the boss)
  • Keep going back to this exercise as your triggers may change
  1. Make time to relax

Relaxation is the perfect antidote for reducing stress. Popular relaxation methods include yoga, meditation, massage, listening to music, reading a book, taking a hot bath and deep breathing. When we are born our natural breathing pattern is to inhale oxygen deep into the Diaphragm, as we grow our breathing becomes shallower and our intake of oxygen is restricted resulting in increased stress on the body. Deep breathing releases tension from the mind and body and will help to reduce stress levels.

Try this:

  • Sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed and place both hands on your tummy with fingers touching - concentrate on your breathing and how this feels
  • Now, inhale through the nose and breathe deep into your tummy (your hands should expand if you are doing this correctly)
  • Hold for 2-5 seconds whichever is more comfortable
  • Breathe out through your mouth (keep your face and tongue relaxed)
  • Repeat as necessary
  1. Manage your time

How much time do you waste during the day worrying about not having enough time? Do you procrastinate on the jobs you dislike and then stress at the end of the day as you have not had time to do them? Could you work smarter (not harder) and make more time for yourself?

Try this:

  • For one week keep a record of how your time is split between work, home and pleasure
  • Break each section down into hourly slots and record everything from making a cup of tea to finishing the report for your boss
  • At the end of the week highlight how much time has been spent on priority tasks and how much has been wasted (remember you will never get this time back – it’s gone forever)
  • Think: What could I do differently to manage my time and make life less stressful?
  1. Take a positive approach

Are you a glass half full or half empty sort of person? The way you see life can have a profound effect on your stress levels. Sometimes our view on a situation is justified but often it is not. By talking to friends or colleagues you may get a different perspective on a situation and will often find that it is not as bad as you first thought.

Try this:

  • For every negative thought you have replace it with a positive one (this may seem strange at first but it really does work)
  • Practice positive affirmations – I am good at my job, I am a good mother/father, I am happy in my life
  • Before you say “I can’t” think positively and access if the situation is achievable and should you really be saying “I can”
  1. Keep yourself fit and healthy

To perform to our optimum level we need to be fit and healthy both physically and mentally. By ensuring we eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise, reduce our intake of alcohol, quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight we will be giving our mind and body the support it needs to be healthy and cope with pressure.

Try this

  • Diet – eat a balanced diet that includes: starchy foods, fruit and veg, diary, protein and limited fats and sugars
  • Exercise – Aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days of the week.
  • Alcohol – Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 21 units per week for men and 14 for women
  • Smoking – If you quit smoking you will reduce the risk of illness immediately.
  1. Connect with others

Things are often not as bad as you perceive, by talking to a friend or relative about your situation it will help you see things in a new light and address the issue with a more positive approach. When we connect with others it has a positive effect on our emotions and helps reduce our stress levels.

Try this:

  • Speak to people rather than email them. When you communicate via email emotions are lost and comments/views are often interpreted incorrectly
  • Join a group activity such as a Yoga, Salsa or Laughter class. Engaging in activities helps our bodies to relax and reduce our stress levels.
  1. Find a hobby

When you are stressed you often spend time focusing on the negatives and stress can spiral out of control. By engaging in a hobby that you enjoy and that has no pressures or deadlines will help you take your mind off your stressors. Engaging in a hobby can bring many benefits such as an increase in creative thinking, a heightened sense of belonging and a feeling of achievement.

Try this:

  • Write a list of things you enjoy such as history, taking photos, drawing, reading etc
  • Research what local amenities fit in with your likes such as the National Trust, local points of interest, art galleries, reading groups, college courses
  • Plan time in your diary to take up your new hobby
  1. Accept that change is inevitable

Change is happening all the time, how you deal with that change will affect how you feel. If something in your life is not going the way you wish and you have the chance to change it, do so. If the situation is out of your control then you have to accept this and move on. Spending time and energy worrying over the issues you have no control over will just lead to more stress.

Try this:

  • When change is taking place ensure you look at all the details (sometimes things are not as bad as they first seem)
  • Break the change down into positives and negatives and the impact each will have on you
  • If you think you can change the situation, make a plan and look at benefits and pitfalls, who it will affect and if the challenge would be worthwhile
  • If you can’t feasibly change the situation accept it and move on

(Read “Who moved my cheese” by Spencer Johnson, as a simple guide to change management)

  1. Avoid turning to unhealthy habits

When people are stressed, often the first thing they do is turn to alcohol or cigarettes to ease the situation but in reality this only makes it worse. Drinking alcohol may give an instant feeling of calm but side effects include: dehydration, disturbed sleep patterns, sweating, liver disease and addiction. Nicotine is a stimulant and too much makes the body react to trigger the stress response system increasing anxiety symptoms and only exasperating stress levels.

Try this:

  • If you currently smoke and drink alcohol but are looking to reduce or quit, firstly set yourself a goal plan and include: a date to quit (make it a stress free day), a date to see your GP (or NHS Guide ”Quit smoking”, Alcoholics Anonymous or other local support network) current triggers (and how to avoid them) and the amount of money you will save and what you will use this for (holiday/new car)
  • Try to avoid situations that expose you to alcohol and smoking (they usually go hand in hand) rather than go to the pub suggest a restaurant where the temptation is reduced
  1.  Volunteer

People who volunteer their time often use this to balance their lives and are often more resilient to stress. You can volunteer your services in many organisations from the National Trust to your local charity shop. Helping those less fortunate than yourself can often lead to reduced stress levels by readdressing your own issues and you can gain so much by connecting with others.

Try this:

  • Link your hobby and volunteering together so that you gain and give in at the same time
  • Speak to your elderly neighbours to see if they need any help with their shopping or gardening
  • Speak to the local scout or girl guides group about becoming a volunteer, this can be lots of fun while also making a difference

If you are concerned about your stress levels it is recommended you seek medical advice or for further info visit: 



For further information on stress management training or any of the services offered by Midlands Workplace Wellbeing please call us now on: 01202 987 916 or email Renee@mwwellbeing.co.uk 

This fact sheet has been adapted from the NHS website – www.patient.co.uk and is for information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Every care has been taken when compiling this information but we make no guarantee to its accuracy.

BlogRenee Clarke