By Carina Marques – Swood Team
Considered by many to be “the disease of the 21st century”, the term “anxiety” has long been familiar to us. More and more people are talking about topics such as stress, burnout, anxiety and, on the other side of the spectrum, mental health and psychological well-being. Stress and anxiety are not restricted to a certain age group in the population, nor is it exclusive to a certain occupation. Both young people and adults, whether they are students or work in a particular job, are exposed to situations of stress and pressure, and experience anxiety.
By being able to identify possible factors contributing to the increase or decrease of stress and anxiety levels, it will be easier to find measures to avoid this negative state and promote psychological well-being. Furthermore, the importance of topics such as this one is related, among other aspects, to the effects, already widely studied, that they provoke on the individuals’ health, eventually extending to other domains of their lives.
Based on the work context, several conditions influence employees’ perceptions and the way they react to factors that may cause stress. In the academic literature, the relationship between demands and resources is often mentioned, which here translate into demands and resources, respectively. Thus, a relationship is established between what a particular job demands and needs from the employee, in physical and cognitive terms for example, and the tools, e.g. physical or cognitive, that the employee has to cope with the requirements of a particular job. Thus, stressful situations may be perceived by the employee when he/she considers that there is a mismatch between the resources available to him/her and the demands of the job, i.e. when he/she perceives that the demands are greater than the available resources.
The characteristics of the job, the leadership style, the perceived support or lack of it, as well as certain personality characteristics of individuals influence how certain situations are perceived, i.e. whether they are perceived as stressful or not. Leadership style, for example, may influence how employees deal with situations of stress and anxiety. This influence can be felt through the presence or absence of certain elements in the leaders’ behaviour. A leadership style that gives employees an appropriate degree of autonomy and allows them to manage their time and the way they carry out their tasks may reduce perceptions of misalignment leading to stress. In addition, the support and assistance given by managers and the organisation may also reduce stress-inducing factors, since employees perceive that the organisation cares for their well-being and that they can receive help if they need it.
However, individual characteristics may also influence the way employees perceive and deal with possibly stressful situations. Individuals with a greater tendency towards pessimism and mental rumination, for example, may be more inclined to perceive certain situations as stressful and may find it more difficult to cope with them.
The question then arises of how to deal with stress and anxiety. If we ask within our family and friends, we will get as many different answers as the number of people we ask. If we add to this an Internet search, we will come to the conclusion that there seems to be no single way of dealing with stress and anxiety. Thus, each individual adopts coping strategies, that is, strategies that allow them to face situations considered stressful or challenging. Since this is such a complex and subjective issue, each person seeks to find the strategies that best adapt to him/her and his/her reality throughout his/her life and development process, which may vary over time and with changes in certain circumstances.
Despite its broad subjectivity, some strategies can mitigate the negative effects when we perceive a stressful situation. From an organisational point of view, in addition to a leadership style that reconciles the organisation’s objectives and the well-being/needs of employees, there are some practices that can be implemented with good prospects for individual, group and organisational results, such as coaching and mindfulness and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) practices. In addition, flexible working hours and autonomy in performing tasks can mitigate perceptions of pressure and stress. On an individual level, the employee may seek moments when he/she “disconnects” from work, such as the weekend or off-hours, dedicating him/herself to his/her family, as well as to activities which he/she enjoys and which bring him/her satisfaction, such as doing sports, reading, watching television, going for a walk. In addition, individuals may consult a professional, such as a psychotherapist, to gain the necessary tools to deal with adversity and challenges.
This is a recurring and current theme, given that the positive effects of the individual’s well-being or the negative effects of stress and anxiety may have consequences not only in the organisational environment, but also in the employees’ private sphere. Thus, the subject of mental health and psychological well-being is of extreme importance for individuals, organisations and, consequently, for society.