Every year, a week during the month of May is celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the theme was stress, and how we’re coping with it. The Mental Health Foundation notes that:
‘As we are all likely aware, stress can contribute to us developing mental health problems and can also have a huge impact in workplaces, where it can affect staff engagement and productivity, falling quality of work and increased levels of absenteeism and staff turnover.’
During my 11 years co-leading a suicide prevention charity, I developed a stress peer support plan for use in workplaces. This plan is an inclusive, creative and respectful way to prevent and respond to stress in our teams. It invites all team members to meet in a non-hierarchical way and consider their own and each other’s needs.
I suggest that at least once a year you take time out as a team (outside the workplace if possible) to work on this plan; you can review it when new team members join, or if workplace stressors change and/or increase. The session takes the form of asking one of the below questions at a time and going around the team to hear each person’s responses. Team members can take turns to ask the questions and write up each other’s responses, creating one document that captures each person’s ‘stress signature’ and their needs.
One of the premises behind this plan is that we don’t always recognise when we are stressed, and sometimes we need feedback from someone else familiar with the signs that we are stressed. When I am very stressed, for example, I develop tunnel vision and find it very hard to pause, instead getting my head down and pushing through my work without realising I need to take a break and do some self-care. What helps me most is when a colleague reflects that my stress signs are showing, asks me how I’m really doing and helps me to take a break – helping me laugh is even better!
Once we’ve developed a record of how we can recognise and support each other with our stress responses, we can keep the document in a shared drive, with permission of all team members, so anyone can refer to it if they need a reminder about dealing with their own stress levels or how a colleague might need support.
From personal experience, this is a great way to equalise all team members and develop a compassionate, aware and supportive team. Enjoy!