One of our Team Leaders, Rachel, reflects on what we have learned from sharing experiences and tips for managing stress.
The theme of this year’s Stress Awareness Month was ‘community’, which the Stress Management Society defines as more than just a group of people. It’s about having a sense of belonging and connection to others and feeling supported and accepted by them. This theme was chosen because a lack of support and lack of feeling of community can cause loneliness and isolation. This in turn lowers people’s wellbeing, impacts mental health, and can lead to mental illness.
This month, some of our team members got together to reflect on stress awareness in more detail. We discussed what stress is, how it can affect the body, and aspects of the intermediary role that can contribute to feeling stressed. We shared our strategies and tips for dealing with stress and most importantly, how you create a keep a sense of community when you work on your own most days.
What we learned from Stress Awareness Month 2022
We approached the definition of stress using a visual aid, of course! The team found the bridge analogy to be handy when considering what stress is. When a bridge is carrying too much weight, it will eventually collapse. It is possible to see the warning signs before this happens, for example, the bridge would bow, buckle and creak, or you might see some cracks appear. When we apply this to ourselves, excessive demands and challenges placed on our bridges might create early warning signs. However, stress can creep up on some of us, resulting in an unexpected breakdown or health issues.
When reflecting on how stress impacts us individually, one thing that stood out in our discussions was that no individual is affected in the same way – parts of our job that one person found stressful for example, didn’t impact on another so much.
We thought about how this can make it hard to give advice to someone who is experiencing stress, because what might work for us might not work for them. It also makes it hard to identify stress in others.
The Stress Management Society highlighted three categories of change that might occur in someone when they are feeling stressed:
- Emotional, eg. moodiness, irritability, frustration, panic, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed etc
- Physical, eg. chest pain, rapid heartbeat, aches and pains, frequent colds, skin complaints etc
- Behavioural, eg. sleeping too little or too much, demotivated, isolating yourself etc
As a group, we decided how important it was to look out for these changes in ourselves and in others (friends, family and colleagues).
Community at Communicourt?
As intermediaries, we often spend a lot of time working alone. Even before the pandemic we were considered remote workers, travelling to courts and solicitors’ offices across the country without an office as a base. There are times when this can feel quite lonely, especially when you are on a particularly early or late train or are in a hotel away from home!
One of the main things we all took away from our group discussion is that we are never actually alone. We all share very similar experiences and stresses, and we all felt a level of comfort and connection in knowing that.
We reflected on whether we felt there was a sense of community in the workplace (despite us all living and working separately) and everybody agreed there was. We all believed that everybody does what they can to make others feel accepted, connected and like they belong, whether this was through informal Teams sessions, group chats, group challenges, team days, or just keeping in touch with our cohorts.
We also drew on the final aspect of the definition of community – feeling supported. We thought maintaining wellbeing lay more in the clear expectations we have of our roles and responsibilities. Having the opportunity to come together, if only virtually, for regular training and CPD sessions gives us an opportunity to share ideas and experiences. We have also been making a team effort to recognise and appreciate our colleagues more, and of course it is always lovely when we get appreciation from our service users.
Sharing some personal experiences of stress, and the strategies we used to overcome this, also gave us a feeling of being part of a community. We all left our group discussion knowing that it wasn’t ‘silly’ to feel stressed about something that could be perceived as being a small issue by others. We are feeling grateful for the opportunity to try a new strategy.
A big part of being an intermediary is about making recommendations for others, looking out for warning signs that might lead to emotional dysregulation, for example, and putting strategies in place to assist. Stress Awareness Month allowed us to focus on and consider ourselves, how stress may impact us and put some strategies in place for each other.
Our top tips for stress management:
- Talking to each other or the wider team
- Doing something creative in our spare time
- Exploring the different places we visit and stay in, e.g. taking a trip to an art gallery, museum or the zoo!
- Going for a walk or having a change of scenery, especially when working at home or when in the middle of a long piece of written work
- Breathing exercises