According to the Health and Safety Executive, stress is “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”. It is normal to be under pressure at some points in life, and pressure can be motivating and energising. However, when pressures become overwhelming, stress can be unhealthy both physically and mentally.
In research settings, demands and pressures can come from all angles. In addition, according to the International Stress Management Association, teaching professionals and healthcare workers are typical jobs that experience higher stress levels as compared to all jobs. We consulted mid-career members of the Society in early 2018 to ask about the factors that affected their work and career progression. Many suggestions were made, including specific feedback related to mental health and stress including:
- High teaching and administrative workload, often reducing time for research
- Pressure to find, and competition for funding
- Stress related to the above.
This adds to widely reported issues; a recent US study involving a global survey found that postgraduate students were more than six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety compared with the general population, with female researchers being worst affected. Additionally, a recent Times Higher Education survey found that university staff around the world reported feeling overworked and underpaid, and believed that their careers had a detrimental impact on relationships with friends, families and partners.
It has been reported that many of us find it hard to talk about workload pressures and mental health for fear of appearing to not be coping. Research by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU, now part of Advance HE) found that academics play an important role in supporting the mental health of their colleagues and students, and that staff are more likely to talk to their line managers rather than anyone else while students are more likely to speak to academics about getting support than accessing specific mental health services such as counselling or disability services.
As a Society, we are focused on the advancement of microbiology worldwide and we acknowledge that we are not a source of knowledge on stress. We also acknowledge that members may require advice on where they can find support for stress management from organisations who provide practical and simple advice in order to improve their own general wellbeing, but also to direct colleagues to if they need it.
Although a certain level of stress can be normal, and even useful, too much stress can be very detrimental and have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. It can be helpful to find out how stressed you are so that you can begin to understand how you are feeling and take steps to minimise the stress you experience and this quiz (works best on the explorer browser) does just that.
If you would like to find out more about stress and how to manage it, the resources below provide further information. The resources have been produced by professionals at the organisations listed.
Titles cover a range of mental health issues. The 'Stress' leaflet provides guidance on what stress is and how to cope with it, in PDF, audio and BSL video formats.
Mind is a mental health charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health difficulty. They have produced a booklet on stress: 'How to manage stress'.
International Stress Management Association
ISMA is an international organisation of Stress Management professionals. It provides a wealth of information about the prevention, reduction and management of personal and work-related stress and has a series of short, free factsheets: ISMA free factsheets.
Stress busting is a free website providing a range of free information about the causes and symptoms of stress. This website also provides practical information on treatment options.