There are many potential pressure points in your life as a researcher. They may include:
- too much work
- impending deadlines
- unanticipated changes in procedures and practices
- conflict with colleagues
- being bullied or harassed
- approaching the end of a contract
- poor work/life balance
- not being able to say ‘no’.
However, it is not these pressures in themselves that cause stress; it is your response to them.
Pressure can cause both positive and negative reactions:
- You rise to the challenge
- You work more effectively
- It can give you a ‘high’
- You give up
- You work less efficiently
- You seek comfort in food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
Your reaction to pressure may depend on your personality and your preferred working style, as well as on outside factors such as your personal and family life. Reflecting on your own working style can help you to understand how you react to pressure, and how you can cope more effectively.
How do I know if I'm experiencing stress?
Common signs of stress include:
- a ‘churning’ stomach, ‘butterflies’
- difficulty in sleeping
- always feeling tired
- a racing heartbeat
- tightness across the chest
- depression, a feeling of hopelessness
Tips for reducing stress
- Try to minimise negative thoughts. Explain your situation to other people and see how they view it. Different perspectives may help you view the situation more positively
- Focus on the things you have control over, rather than the things you don’t
- Talk to other people. Make sure that your response to a stressful situation is based on awareness of all of the facts, and not just your perception of them
- Learn to manage your time more effectively
- Communicate your views and feelings. Other people may be able to help you change the situation
- Learn to say no
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Sometimes ‘good enough’ really IS good enough
- Keep your body and mind healthy. Exercise, eat a balanced diet and find time to switch off and relax
- Call on your friends and colleagues for help and support
- Smile! It may not be easy, but research shows that if we begin to smile, we start to feel better.
Are you creating stress for others?
We can also try and ensure that our own behaviour does not cause stress for our work colleagues. Examples of behaviour that may create stress include:
- not meeting deadlines, creating time pressure for colleagues
- not sharing important information
- working late and expecting others to do the same
- being overly noisy or interrupting the work of others.
What should my employer be doing to help?
Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. This responsibility includes a duty to prevent harm arising from stress at work. More information about your institution’s responsibilities can be found on the ‘Your employment rights’ page.
Sources of support
All universities have a Counselling Service that can be accessed by staff who are worried about their stress levels, and the things that may be causing it. Counselling is a gentle and ‘non-directive’ approach to dealing with problems. A counsellor will not give advice or impose their own opinions but will help you work through the problem at your own pace and help you discover the solutions that are best for you.
Your institution’s Occupational Health Service will also have a responsibility to help employees deal with work-related stress and its consequences. Some institutions will allow you to ‘self-refer’ to an Occupational Health specialist. Others may want the referral to come from your line manager or the institution’s Personnel Office.