You’re having a bad day at work. Everything’s going wrong; your manager has snapped at you, your to-do list has doubled and all you want to do is go home. But this could increase your chances of an accident, according to research conducted by motoring experts Confused.com.
A recent study by Confused.com found stress at work has been the cause of many accidents on UK roads, with data indicating 3.2 million drivers have had an accident or near miss because of heightened emotions while driving.
This year, Wednesday November 2nd is National Stress Awareness Day – a day dedicated to recognising the impact stress has on our lives. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has revealed that around half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress.
Confused.com have partnered with behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings to explore the psychological and physical effect stress has on our minds, bodies and actions, providing tips on how to reduce stress and the impact it can have on our driving ability.
The top six causes of work-related stress, according to behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings
- Too many demands: being overloaded with tight deadlines and high expectations
- Lack of control: feeling like you don’t have a say in the way you carry out your workload
- Lack of support: not receiving necessary training and information or not getting a constructive response to questions and inquiries
- Poor workplace relationships: suffering bullying at work, feeling isolated or excluded, not having an effective process to express concerns
- Feeling insecure in your role: not fully understanding how to execute your role
- Uncertainty about change: worrying about the consequences of change within the business, worrying about job security
Besides these factors, other elements, such as work-life balance, financial worries and even the traffic jam on the way to the office can have an impact on our stress levels.
Are you stressed? Signs and symptoms
Stress makes itself known in a variety of mental and physical ways. Some common symptoms to look out for in yourself and your co-workers are:
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed
- Often feeling depressed or disappointed
- Heightened emotions and mood swings (such as hypersensitivity or frustration)
- Inability to concentrate
- Rapid weight gain or loss
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping
- Increased absence from work
Heading home: How dangerous is driving under the influence of stress?
Whether employees are having a hard time hitting sales targets, have had a run-in with their boss or are generally feeling overworked and undervalued, chances are they’ll take this mood with them on the journey home.
A recent study by Confused.com indicated 13.7 million motorists continue to drive home after a bad day at work, with some experiencing feelings of anger, stress and exhaustion. And, while over half of respondents (51%) believe their emotional state doesn’t impact on their ability to drive, the equivalent of 4.5 million admitted to committing a motoring offence, such as speeding or running a red light, because of their emotions.
When we drive in this state of mind, it may be that we’re not always able to make appropriate, sensible decisions. Drivers experiencing stress could drive erratically and are more likely to speed, overtake or commit other inappropriate driving behaviour.
When you worry or become stressed, your heart rate may accelerate and your blood pressure can rise. Your muscles could become tense, especially in the neck and shoulders, and concentration levels can slip. People suffering from stress could lose focus on surrounding drivers, and this can be dangerous. Stress can also lead to anger, which may be even more perilous to drive under the influence of.
Over half (52%) of Brits in Confused.com’s recent study admitted to speeding due to feeling angry. And it appears anger has caused the highest number of near misses or accidents of any emotion – the equivalent of 992,000 drivers said they had either crashed or had a near miss because of feeling angry.
The full impact of driving under the influence of stress and anger can be explored using the interactive tool.
How to reduce stress in the workplace
It may be sensible to address work-related stress before it turns into a bigger issue and has a lasting impact on your health and wellbeing. Here’s what to do:
- Take breaks: the brain struggles to concentrate after 90 minutes of work therefore regular breaks can reduce stress and also help when it comes to being more productive.
- Eat a balanced diet: Although food is most commonly linked to physical health, evidence shows that good nutrition can help maintain mental health too. Food is key in developing, managing and preventing a range of mental illnesses.
- Make small changes: If stress is related to manageable things in your routine, you may want to make necessary changes to reduce it. You could leave 10 minutes earlier to avoid traffic, designate time for tasks that tend to pile up (such as answering emails and making calls) and take a walk on your lunch break to clear your head.
- Be active: Physical exercise releases endorphins, which can reduce the emotional intensity of stress, and can help you tackle the causes. Take a walk on your lunch break, cycle to work, do some gardening and even housework can help.
- But also know when to slow down: taking on too much mentally is one of the main causes of stress therefore don’t be afraid to say no or delegate your workload. Be honest with your manager and don’t think this shows weakness. Admitting this to your manager and taking the necessary steps to be more productive and efficient will be welcomed.
- Talk to your employer: Your manager is obligated to follow Management Standards, which are designed to prevent you from feeling stressed at work – you may want to use these guidelines to identify where the problem lies and to find a solution.
- Get in touch with HR: Your employer is under a ‘duty of care’ to protect your health and welfare in the workplace. If your manager is the source of your stress, or if they can’t help you resolve it, you could speak to HR or your workplace equivalent to find out what procedure you need to follow to report the problem.
- Speak to a GP: If you believe stress is having an impact on your life, it should be possible to speak to your GP to find out how they can help you – they may recommend counselling or advise you on strategies for dealing with stress.
Also there are a few tips that may help when in the car:
- Listen to soothing music during your journey and keep your car as cool as possible to help restless feelings and aid concentration.
- Keep as hydrated as possible.
- If you are feeling especially anxious, if it’s safe to do so, pull over and take a few minutes to calm down.
- Don’t use your phone while driving, even on Bluetooth, and switch it off if possible.
- Allow as much time for your journey as possible – if your working hours are flexible try to avoid the rush hour.
- Stress can sap our energy, making us feel irritable and jumpy. As well as having a bottle of water, keep a few snack bars to hand.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, says: “After a bad day at work, getting in your car and heading home can sometimes feel like a relief. However, our study shows that our emotions are not always left behind in the workplace. The actions that caused us to get angry are likely to play on our minds throughout the journey home.
“This this can have a serious impact on our ability to drive safely. It’s important to be aware of how your feelings can affect your driving and what you must do to minimise the risk of an accident. Drivers who are involved in road accidents will need to notify their insurer, which could result in increased premiums.”