Friday, 26 June 2009

Stress - Illness or Excuse To Skive?

Apologies boring stress posting alert but I think quite relevant for my blog. Please read this article by A.N. Wilson from The Mail where he comments about the huge number of day's lost to Stress in this country. Of those 13.5 million days no doubt the police contribute a fair number. I would hazard a guess that the true figure will be actually higher as some of those suffering are off with an embarrassment sparing diagnosis. A few of my fellow blogger's have commented recently that their reason for posting is to off load pressures caused by work or life. Unfortunately Mr Wilson has bracketed everybody as whingers, living a life of luxury and thinks we should all pull ourselves together. He has correctly identified that some stress is good for you and is obviously aware that he has worked in the zone performing at a high level. I think he is well off the mark on most of his views apart from when he stated we should try and analyse our anxiety. I did send him a polite comment suggesting he might be in the stressed closet himself, but it must have been deleted on moderation. *

I believe stress, prefer that label rather than depression for me, is an illness of the mind that also affects your physical condition. I've suffered outbreaks of Hives (large raised itchy welts on the body) and also Reflux (burning in the chest). At the time I didn't think I was particularly stressed but was dealing with intense pressures in my personal life, which came out physically. It's strange this link between the mind and the body. Also I have not had any time off work with stress at all. I've dragged myself into work and until my injury had gone 13 years at work without a day sick. I like to call it straight acting. Prior to that I'd had one day to undergo a barium meal to diagnose the reflux. There are many stress triggers and I have seen a list prepared by experts where number one is dealing with bereavement. The life changing things are well up there like divorce or relationship break up, serious injury or health issues and further down comes work related stress. If you get combinations of these life does become difficult, some cope better than others.

We all listen to our mind and our thoughts will often dictate and drive our actions. In certain jobs it is easy to become automated and actually go into overdrive. As Mr Wilson states in his article this type of healthy stress provides energy to complete tasks. It's very primal and comes from the fight or flight syndrome. Of course some are permanently in this state pumped up to deal with personal issues, pumped to deal with stressful work (for this read police work - constant pressure to perform complete tasks) and are unable to turn it off so sleep deprivation kicks in. You then immediately are into the cycle pumping yourself up again to get through the day fighting against fatigue. Eventually you drop from peak performance and feel bad about that until it all gets out of control. See the burnout link in the sidebar it explains it better than I can.

These lost days must be costing millions of pounds so it's not just a case of pulling yourself together. Long shifts and the time constraints in police work build pressure, and there needs to be a better understanding of work related stress to achieve solutions not just in the police but everywhere. We are too focused on doing doing and striving so your thought programmes will keep driving you on relentlessly. Even when you get time off your mind will still be in doing mode so you don't get proper rest. Once you recognise this you need to take some time out. Try doing that as a police officer and the stressed radio dispatcher will become even more stressed as his outstanding calls to be dealt with mount up.

The article also mentions deep breathing, see the link for the mindfulness video and take it a step further examining your thought processes. You might see you tend to have certain thoughts like judging or planning forwards, all striving activities. If you can learn to let go of these and not automatically react into doing then things might just improve. Stressedoutcop is trying out meditation and is actually more chilled. I don't know if my posts have been less ranting the past few months but I'm feeling more in control of myself. I will always be judgemental because in this job decision making is important but in time I'm hoping I won't need this blog as an outlet because I'll just let things go. But first the powers that be need to get away from all this need for more performance themselves, they might just find find that happy workers actually become more productive in the long run. I don't know if some people use stress as an excuse to skive. No doubt some do but I don't think that would add up to 13.5 million days.

Stress is a killer .. already there are concerns that the death of Michael Jackson is down to the impending workload he was about to take on. No inappropriate comments please about his demise.

* My moderated comment is now in their thread .. minus my enquiry asking if A.N. Wilson is in the stressed closet. Is he qualified to comment? was only asking


MarkUK said...

A N Wilson, as usual, talks tosh. (He does, however, have an excellent recipe for cooking shoulder of lamb!)

The HSE says: We need to disentangle pressure from stress. Pressure can be good; it's that which gives us the impetus to perform better. Stress is always negative. Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive
pressures or other types of demand placed on them.

Stress is not depression, but can lead to it. Unless you have experienced it, you don't really know what it's about. Unfortunately, I have first-hand experience.

Stressed people often don't really recognise that they are stressed until they reach crisis point. Enlightened managers can really help here, recognising moderate stress and dealing with it before it becomes a serious matter. This not only spares the employee grief, it also saves the organisation money - lots of it.

Dandelion said...

Well, it's good to see you posting on this eponymous topic.

I concur with MarkUK. A sufficient level of stress over a sufficient length of time will cause anyone to become depressed. And long-term exposure to excessive levels of stress hormones can also have a severely detrimental effect upon one's physical health as well.

It is therefore in an employer's economic interest to limit stress levels, even if that means spending a bit more on staffing. Where a job by its nature involves a significant level of unavoidable stress, it would also make sense to not employ people with a low tolerance for stress. Unfortunately, the people who run the police seem to be far too stupid (or stressed) to appreciate this. Funny old world, eh?

Stressed Out Cop said...


I think you have made a good point about reaching the crisis point. Recognising "team fatigue" is important for managers and easing off is better in the long run.

I didn't like it when the "D" word was put on me, even though medically I was, I just felt over stressed. Flashing red and beyond is not a good place to be.


I'm not sure if some people have a low tolerence for stress or if like a sponge some in time just get saturated. I know at one time I used to soak it up - unfortunately it comes out in negative ways, which doesn't always look good for the individual or employer.

Senior managers are under stress themselves to hit targets and pass it on their teams, so perhaps the targets are the problem.

Enjoy the sun today - it's lovely ..I'm working on my day off again.

Dandelion said...

It's both, SoC.

There are variations in stress tolerance between individuals, and there can also be variations over time for each individual.

Belittling work-related stress as "skiving" shows a lack of understanding, and also a certain amount of aggression towards people who either have a low constitutional tolerance through no fault of their own, or who work in stressful environments and are treated as automatons by their employers (eg the target-setters).

A.N.Wilson has always been a tw*t. But if you will read the Mail, that's what you get. You could always try reading a more sensible paper.

MarkUK said...

SoC, it's not just teams, but their individual members that can hit a crisis (as I'm sure you are aware).

Managers can do themselves no end of good if they can spot stress and nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, as you point out, managers themselves are often under stress and it clouds their judgement.

Organisations should be aware how having someone go through moderate or severe stress, too often ending in depression, brings them into breach of statutory duty.

Putting someone off work with stress is a breach of the Health & Safety at Work Etc Act 1974. A person with depression is covered under the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005, requiring the employer to make "reasonable adjustment" for such a condition.

I agree with Weed that individuals vary as to how much pressure they can take before they become stressed. Not only does it vary between individuals but it can vary over time with the same individual.

I'm now a Health & Safety Officer, so guess what one of my priorities is for the workforce (once I've stopped them amputating bits of themselves, cutting themselves and getting hold of hot objects).

An ex-colleague of mine wrote a very interesting book on some of the psycho-social aspects of stress, called Stop Paddling/Start Sailing. It's available on amazon

I don't agree with some of Roger's ideas but there is some distilled common sense in his basic argument.

Dandelion said...

Umm, yeah. Occupational stress (causes and effects) is actually a pretty big bit of occupational psychology. Never mind Roger whatsisname, there's a whole empirical literature out there for the Googling.