INCLUSIVE SUPPORTIVE CONNECTED

Stress

WHAT IS STRESS?

Stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.

It is a totally natural reaction to excessive pressure and occurs when the perceived demands exceed the individual’s ability to cope. The effects are normally short-lived and cause no lasting harm. It is not a disease, but if it is excessive, or prolonged, then it can lead to mental and physical ill health; stress itself is not a recognised medical condition. As such there is no such thing as positive stress (only positive pressure) - stress is always negative.

STRESSORS

Any event (or pressure) an individual experiences that is likely individually, or cumulatively, to induce stress is known as a stressor. They can be related to both work and/or domestic environments.

The following list of generic stressors can be applied to most workplaces. The list is not exhaustive and is intended for guidance:

Organisational/Work Factors

When considering organisational factors, management should look both up and down organisationally and consider the following:

  • Physical conditions.
  • Task demands.
  • workload, hours of working.
  • Role conflict / Role ambiguity / Job design.
  • Responsibility – lack of empowerment.
  • Work environment.
  • Job security / insecurity.
  • Culture.
  • Group pressures.
  • Change.
  • Team-working.
  • Performance feedback.
  • Training and development.
  • Management support.
  • Tools and equipment.
  • Communication.
  • Skill under-utilisation.
  • Effort-Reward imbalance.

Domestic Factors

Whilst domestic factors are, in the main, more difficult to influence, awareness of an individual’s domestic stressors can put in context their behaviours in the workplace where further stressors are applied. Additionally, the RAF has a distinct work-life environment where stress in the workplace more likely affects the domestic / life environment and vice versa.

  • Individual needs and values.
  • Individual aspirations.
  • Life events – birth, death, marriage / divorce, house move (major transitions / life changes).
  • Financial pressures.
  • Family pressures and commitments.
  • Flexibility – ability to plan.
  • Work/Life Balance.
  • Public image and perception.

Physical Factors

Physical factors can appear in both Organisational and Domestic environments

  • Poor Nutrition.
  • Dehydration.
  • Illness & Injury.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Space (Privacy).
  • Noise.
  • Weather.
  • Temperature.

RECOGNISING STRESS – SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

Stress can manifest itself as physical, behavioural, mental or emotional effects, or as a combination of these.

The key for individuals and line managers, at all levels, to recognising any stress-related indicator is to put it into context which is most easily observed as changed behaviours in individuals e.g. a normally outgoing person becomes introverted. The problem with some of the indicators is that they can only be recognised by the individual themselves or family members living with them (e.g. disturbed sleep patterns).

The following list of indicators may assist in the detection and recognition of stress in individuals. Individuals suffering stress would normally exhibit several indicators and context should be applied to each case. It should be noted that the categorisation of these indicators is not clear cut; what may be a behavioural issue to one person, could be an emotional indicator to another. These indicators are given for guidance purposes:

Physical

  • Dry throat, muscle tension, headaches.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia).
  • Lack of energy or apparent listlessness.
  • Change of appetite; usually a loss of appetite or abnormal eating habits at inappropriate times, indigestion, but could equally be ‘comfort eating’.
  • Increased reporting to medical staff with unexplained or vague physical complaints – stomach complaints / aches and pains.
  • Loss of sex drive.

Emotional

  • Life being out of control.
  • Inability to enjoy or participate in recreational or physical activity.
  • Apparent lack of capacity for enjoyment.
  • Sense of helplessness or hopelessness, worthlessness.
  • Deteriorating relations with friends and peers.
  • Inability to handle relationships and domestic upheaval, relationship breakdown.
  • Concern expressed by others family, peers or management.

Behavioural

  • Changed behaviour pattern /personality.
  • Excessive, abnormal or irrational mood swings (anger outbursts).
  • Changes in alcohol / nicotine / substance use / misuse.
  • Impulsive or reckless behaviour, such as binge drinking, fighting or inflicting self-harm by punching a wall, drink driving or speeding.
  • Poor anger control and management, such as throwing objects or swearing/yelling at a superior, subordinate, family member or friend.
  • Deteriorating work performance for no apparent reason.
  • Inability to cope with day to day activities - poor functioning at work or home.
  • Poor military bearing or evident and inexplicable disenchantment with the RAF.
  • Disciplinary action / sporadic minor incidents (e.g. increased lateness for duty).

Mental/Cognitive

  • Excessive forgetfulness.
  • Apparent inability to concentrate or focus on issues at hand.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Seeing only the negative.
  • Anxious or racing thoughts.
  • Excessive worrying or daydreaming.

Long term stress has been associated with high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

TRAUMA RISK MANAGEMENT (TRIM)

What is TRiM:

TRiM is a peer delivered proactive human resource management tool for supporting individuals following exposure to traumatic events. Its purpose is the early identification of the signs and symptoms of stress; it is not itself a treatment for stress.
TRiM is not therapy or counselling and does not involve the medical treatment of personnel; this remains the responsibility of the Medical Services.
The TRiM process also intends to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, which may prevent those who need help, and for whom help is available, from seeking it.

How does it work:

Although it is thought that post-traumatic illnesses cannot be prevented, they can be successfully treated. The key to a successful outcome is early identification. It is this premise which has led to the research, development and usage of Trauma Risk Management (TRiM).
After a traumatic incident individuals may experience a range of psychological responses, which may be difficult to predict. For this reason a 'one size fits all' management strategy is not appropriate. The majority of personnel will dust themselves off and simply get on with the job; however there may be a small number who need some additional support.
TRiM is a simple strategy which if applied correctly, identifies those individuals and groups who may be at risk of developing psychological problems and who would therefore benefit from additional support.
TRiM is essentially dependant on a simple risk assessment process organised around an informal interview conducted by TRiM trained personnel. During the interview an assessment is made of how the individual is coping and a record is kept of the findings. A follow up interview is conducted one month later in order to ascertain whether or not the individual is recovering from the experience. If an individual is not doing well they are likely to be encouraged to seek help from the established medical chain. A further interview at the 3 month point may be conducted in order to confirm the well being of the individual.

WHAT TO DO

If an individual is suffering from stress they may hope that it will get better in time, but the likelihood is that it won’t. The best way to deal with stress is to seek help. A good support network of family and friends that the individual can easily access will go a long way to helping individuals deal with stress. However, help can also be sought from a number sources: it could be from line management to find ways to resolve any organisational factors that may be creating stress; it could be through the Unit welfare support organisations if domestic factors are involved; the unit medical officer will also be able to provide professional support. There are a number of external organisations that can also provide support whose details can be found on the Mental Health and Wellbeing page of this website – see link below:

Mental Health and Wellbeing

RAF Policy for Stress Management is contained in AP 9012.