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December Named the Most Stressful Month for UK Employees

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As we enter one of the busiest working periods of the working year, stress levels amongst UK employees are predicted to rise.

The pressure to deliver a month's work in a matter of weeks combined with less people in the office due to a myriad of Christmas parties, left over holiday days and official bank holidays, are all expected to takes its toll as the festive season gets into full swing.

In fact, December is the month when the biggest increase in work related stress is reported. Work related stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them," and triggers include, workload, deadlines, having to take on other people's work, having to work long hours.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, stress is now the biggest cause of working days lost through injury or ill-health, with an estimated 10.4 million lost days each year. According to the CIPD Absence Survey 2011, stress is the most common cause of long-term absence from work in the UK and costs the UK economy more than £26 billion.

In fact, depression and issues from work are one of the main causes of stress reported by patients in a doctor's surgery. The number of people being admitted to NHS hospitals as a result of stress is also on the rise, with data released in September by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (Hscic) revealing that the number of people treated at hospitals in England, as a result of stress, has risen by seven per cent in the last year.

With working people, aged 18 to 60, identified as being under too much emotional and mental pressure, both employers and employees need to do more to tackle stress in work place, with the symptoms tackled sooner rather than later to avoid a number of stress-related health problems amongst the UK's workforce.

A recent Stressed Out survey by the Samaritans, found: "People's jobs are the single biggest cause of stress... with over a third (36 per cent) of Britons citing it as one of their biggest stressors."

It is estimated that around 10.4 million working days* were lost over the last 12 months due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety illnesses, accounting for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health.

Stress related illnesses are thought to affect around 430,000 people in Great Britain, with each person taking an average of 24 days sick leave.

Stress affects most working people at some point in their lives; it is when it exceeds a person's ability to cope, over a long period of time that it can have a severe effect.

Stress is ultimately a response to pressure. Pressure is part and parcel of all work and helps to keep workers and managers motivated. It is excessive or uncontrolled pressure which can lead to stress which undermines performance. This is costly to employers and above all can make people ill. To some degree pressure can be beneficial, when it inspires motivation and commitment, but excessive pressure becomes stress which is harmful and can lead to major illness, even death. There is no such thing as 'good' stress.

Studies have shown that the first step in tackling stress is to become aware that it is a problem for you. The next stage is to make a plan to take control of the causes and effects of stress.

Some top tips for dealing with stress include:

1. Holiday - try to plan at least one each year with a change in activities and surrounding.
2. Open up - if your relationship is part of the problem. Communication is very important.
3. Work - is that the problem? What are your options? Could you retrain? What aspects are stressful? Could you delegate? Could you get more support?
4. Try to concentrate on the present. Don't dwell on the past or future worries.
5. Own up to yourself that you are feeling stressed - half the battle is admitting it!
6. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Don't take too much on.
7. Eat a balanced diet. Eat slowly and sit down, allowing at least half an hour for each meal.
8. Action plan - try to write down the problems in your life that may be causing stress, and as many possible solutions as you can. Make a plan to deal with each problem.
9. Time management - plan your time, doing one thing at a time and building in breaks. Don't make too many changes at once in your life.
10. Set priorities - if you could only do one thing, what would it be?
11. Talk things over with a friend or family member or someone else you can trust and share your feelings with.
12. Relaxation or leisure time each day is important. Try new ways to relax such as aromatherapy, reflexology or yoga. Relaxation exercises are described more fully below.
13. Exercise regularly - at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on five or more occasions per week is excellent for stress control. Walking is good - appreciate the countryside.
14. Say no and don't feel guilty.
15. Seek professional help if you have tried these things and still your stress is a problem.

Those looking for advice on how to cope with stress can find further information at http://www.covwarkpt.nhs.uk/IAPT/Pages/Resources.aspx

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