Stressors

Definition

Stress is defined as a situation where the demands you are experiencing exceed your capability to meet them. A stressor is an event that places you under stress.

Stress is a neutral term, as stressors can include negative or positive events and experiences. One example of a positive stressor is beginning a new relationship, which is emotionally demanding even though we might enjoy it and find it very meaningful.

Keeping an eye on stressors is important, as it may become necessary to activate your self-care practices, contact your support network, and make changes to your role, in order to maintain your wellbeing.

Stressors

According to HeadsUp, an initiative promoting workplace health, generally negative stressors can include:

  • working long hours or overtime, working through breaks or taking work home
  • doing shift work
  • time pressure, working too hard or too fast, or unrealistic targets
  • having limited control over how you do your work
  • limited input into broader decisions by the business
  • not receiving enough support from supervisors, managers and/or co-workers
  • job insecurity
  • high mental task demands, work that requires high-level decision making
  • a lack of role clarity
  • poor communication
  • conflict with colleagues or managers
  • bullying
  • low levels of recognition and reward
  • work that is emotionally disturbing or requires high emotional involvement
  • poorly managed change, lack of organizational justice
  • discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnicity, race or sexuality.

We say ‘generally’ because some people might thrive in mentally and emotionally demanding work — but pretty much everyone would find bullying and discrimination highly negative experiences.

Generally positive stressors can include:

  • emotionally intense but satisfying work
  • working at your peak performance
  • helping clients undergoing hard times
  • achieving ‘stretch goals’
  • returning to work after a long break

There may be stressors that are specific to the peer navigation role:

  • being reminded of painful or negative experiences
  • supporting clients in intense distress
  • working via video call or through translators
  • references to alcohol and other drug use

Stress outside of work

Your overall stress level also reflects all the stressors you experience in other areas of your life, not just your work as a peer navigator. These can also affect your work, and it should feel safe and acceptable to talk about that with your supervisor. For example, if you or a family member is facing illness, you are entitled to take sick leave or carer’s leave, and you may request reasonable adjustments to your work arrangements. Taking this action is not a sign of weakness or being bad at your job; it shows self-awareness and concern for your clients and their wellbeing.

Taking action

Response-focused

Response-focused action means positive actions you can take to reduce the discomfort that stressors can create. It means changing the way you respond to stressors and reducing how much stress you feel.

For instance:

  • recognising the stressor
  • interpreting it differently
  • accepting the stress
  • self-compassion
  • self-care

It is not always appropriate to try and change your response to a stressor, especially if it should not be occurring in the first place, or if there is action you can take to remove or change the source of the stress. In such cases a source-focused response is appropriate. If you are unsure, raise it for discussion with your colleagues or supervisor/manager.

Source-focused

Source-focused responses change the situation that is the source or cause of the stress you are experiencing.

For instance, a client who repeatedly tries to cross the boundaries you have expressed might be a source of considerable stress. There could be multiple causes of this behaviour. You could raise the situation with your supervisor and agree on a course of action to address the causes, with an agreement to end the client relationship if this does not work.

Avoidance

Avoidance includes action you take to stop thinking about the stress you are under, or to distract yourself from a specific stressor. For instance, coming home after work and watching television, or drinking more than you usually might in an effort to forget what’s happening.

There is nothing wrong with avoidance as a short-term strategy. For instance, if you are obsessing (thoughts going around and around the same topic), distracting yourself can be a helpful strategy. But avoidance can be a terrible long-term strategy, because it means you’re not taking action to address the source of the stress you are feeling.

Monitoring and responding

Your overall stress level reflects a balance of the stressors you are encountering and the actions you are taking to deal with them.

It is important to monitor (keep an eye on) your stress level and make continual choices about how to manage it, otherwise it can begin to affect your wellbeing and your effectiveness as a peer navigator.

One way of monitoring and responding to your stress level is to make a wellbeing plan that identifies the triggers for taking action – in this case, how you know when to escalate the action you are taking, e.g. by activating your support network when you need additional help.

Optional exercise. Making a wellbeing plan. The link below can be used to download a template from BeyondBlue. You can use the template to develop a wellbeing plan.

If you would like assistance developing your plan, you can contact the NAPWHA LPO or your supervisor/manager. It may also be helpful to talk with members of your support network, e.g. a counsellor or close friends and family. If you don’t have a counsellor it may be possible to access one through the supervision arrangements available for Peer Navigators at your place of work. Many workplaces offer counselling appointments via Employee Assistance Programs as well.

Exercise

Please check your workbook for two exercises related to this topic.

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