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How to support a colleague with stress, without overburdening yourself

Learn practical tips to help a stressed colleague navigate through challenging times while safeguarding your own mental health.

No one can escape stress – it’s a natural part of life and we all go through periods of dealing with it. But statistics show there has been a significant increase in work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

The Burnout Report 2024 by Mental Health UK warned that the UK was on the verge of becoming a “burnt-out nation”, as nine in 10 adults said they experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress at some point in the past year. 

Not only that, but of the 1.8 million workers in the UK suffering a work-related illness, stress, depression and anxiety make up around half of the cases.

Workplace stress has become an all-too common experience for many employees and it’s important to understand how we can support and care for one another’s wellbeing. 

With that in mind, Michelle Robinson Hayes, mental health trainer and preventative services lead at Vita Health Group has shared 11 top tips on how you can support a colleague with stress, without becoming overburdened yourself.

1/ Express concern and empathy

Begin a conversation with your colleague by expressing your genuine concern for their well-being. Use empathetic statements to let them know that you understand they are going through a challenging time.

2/ Actively listen
Allow them to share their feelings and concerns without interruption. Demonstrate active listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding when appropriate and providing verbal cues to show you are engaged.

3/ Validate their feelings
Let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to feel like they do. Avoid dismissing their emotions and offering immediate solutions to their struggles.

4/ Encourage open communication
Create a safe and non-judgemental space for them to express themselves. Encourage them to share their thoughts and concerns openly and ensure them that their feelings are valid.

5/ Offer practical help

Ask your colleague if there is anything specific you can do to help alleviate their stress – help with tasks, share workload, and provide useful resources. Be specific in your offers of assistance to show your genuine commitment.

6/ Suggest resources
Recommend resources that may help them to cope with their stress better, such as your company’s employee assistance programme (EAP), a counselling service or a stress management workshop.

7/ Respect boundaries

Be mindful of their comfort level and avoid pressuring them to share more than they are comfortable with. Respect their need for privacy and confidentiality.

8/ Encourage self-care
Emphasise the importance of self-care and taking breaks. Suggest activities or strategies that promote well-being such as exercise or meditation.

9/ Check in with them periodically

Follow up with them regularly to see how they are doing. Let them know that you are there for ongoing support and that they can reach out to you whenever needed.

10/ Alert appropriate channels of support if necessary

If their stress levels seem to be very severe or you feel they may be at risk to themselves or others, consider informing management, HR, or OH. If you think there is an immediate risk to life, contact the emergency services.

11/ Be flexible and adaptive in your approach

Everyone responds to stress differently. Your goal is to create a supportive environment that encourages your colleagues to seek the help they need.

Robinson Hayes said: “We know that stress is an unavoidable part of life, but too much stress could be a recipe for disaster and the human cost, catastrophic. Left unchecked and unmanaged, stress can interfere with someone’s ability to lead a normal life for a significant period of time. 

“In the workplace, you might notice the impact of stress in an employee’s emotional wellbeing. Symptoms can include reduced work performance, social withdrawal, emotional outbursts, poor concentration, and reduced confidence. 

“Knowing how to support a co-worker with stress could make a really big difference to how they feel. But it’s important to ensure that helping a colleague does not come at the detriment of your own mental health.”

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