20 December 2018

The statistics surrounding the impact of stress in the UK are becoming increasingly alarming. 74 per cent of people in a 2018 survey stated they had felt overwhelmed and unable to cope; 16 per cent said they had self-harmed because of stress; and 34 per cent described having suicidal feelings as a result of stress.

A 2014 report suggested the UK was losing an estimated £70 billion due to poor mental wellbeing in the workplace through lack of productivity, healthcare and benefits.

When it comes to stress in the workplace, we may be our own worst enemy as culturally we have encouraged the ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’ mentality. Leaving little room for offloading and sharing of troubles and concerns.

The modern educational curriculum has done us no favours either, as during educational years current business owners and decision makers were not offered classes on stress management in the workplace or informed on how personal and professional pressure can impact on wellbeing and productivity.

So we’re at a disadvantage; we’re under prepared and with the speed at which modern life is moving and the ‘always on’ culture no wonder we are often left feeling overwhelmed in our roles at work and in life.

In this blog we explore: stress, its purpose, the impact it has on us, how to identify signs of stress and finally the Offload approach to supporting your workforce. 


Looking for a mental fitness programme for your business? Learn about Offload


Areas covered:

  • What is stress

  • Why we have stress

  • Physical impact of stress

  • Emotional and psychological impact of stress

  • The signs

  • Offload approach


So, let’s kick off: 

  • What is stress?

Stress is the reaction we have when we feel overwhelmed by circumstances. The reasons stress can happen or affect us in the work place are broad.

We can feel like we have unrealistic workload expectations on us as employees, feel unsupported in our roles, confused about responsibilities and concerned about not being able to fulfil set role duties or even feel overworked and fatigued.

There can even be human elements that create stress such as: awkward relationships with peers, subordinates and/or superiors, problems in our personal lives which haunt us during the working day or even self confidence in operating as an integral part of a team.

Stress can impact on us both physically and mentally, resulting in a plethora of potential health problems.


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  • Why we have stress

Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or at least it didn’t have bad origins. Actually, stress might be the reason I have the ability to write this blog and the reason for you to read it. 

What do I mean?

Let me explain: stress was/is a defence mechanism or ‘Fight or Flight’ response our prehistoric ancestors used to keep themselves out of the jaws of sabre tooth tigers.

In stressful situations our bodies are flushed with hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline) which trigger increased heart rate, muscle preparedness and heightened senses. This state is brilliant for physical survival but not composure, calmness and rationalisation.

Now, a body pumped full of these hormones can make us a superhuman when being chased by a 350kg wild animal but in situations like the workplace they can become more of a hinderance than a help.

Returning to this segment’s opening paragraph, our great grandparents (125,000 times removed) might have only survived because of stress and you’ve got to think that of the 125,000 generations that have gone before us, right back to our cave man ancestors, some of them surely must have used this survival mechanism to survive, bear more offspring and ultimately lead to us eventually being here today!

So thanks stress? Hmm? I’m not so sure!


  • Physical impact of stress

Now we know stress occurs as a result of a chemical release of hormones into our system, often though this unconscious action will have negative repercussions felt in our bodies.

Research suggests the physical impacts of stress are many and the broad scope can range from changes in body temperature through to life threatening ailments and even death.

There is evidence of stress having a negative impact on the cognitive ability of the brain (recording of  loss of memory), affect sex drive, suppress the immune system, raise the heart rate placing a higher demand for oxygen and also detrimentally affect the digestive system leading to either weight loss and/or obesity.

People who are working or living in stressful situations or circumstances are also more susceptible to the extreme physical and psychological impacts of stress.


  • Emotional and psychological impact of stress

PNI research suggests that chronic stress can lead to, or exacerbate mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, cognitive (thinking) problems, personality changes, and problem behaviours.

Emotional changes to people dealing with stress can culminate in them feeling anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and depression.

The longer you’re in a stressed state or if you are consistently hit with ‘stressors’ (circumstances that lead to being in a state of stress) you are less likely to cope and manage with finding a solution and positive outcome and can become more susceptible to mental and psychological disorders.


  • The signs

Ever wondered how some people can act so cool in pressured situations? Imagine being a professional footballer taking a ‘do or die’ kick in a penalty shootout in the World Cup. Potentially hundreds of millions of people watching globally, a packed stadium and just you the ball and a goalkeeper.

You see some athletes walk up, put the ball down with purpose, take their run up and nail it in the back of the net. Whereas another player will step up, look frightened and nervous and completely scuff the shot sending the ball 10 metres over the crossbar.

Both of these players are elite footballers, they both took the same shot and possess similar footballing ability BUT have different ability to cope with the stress triggered by the pressure, and so have different outcomes. The signs were probably felt inside the second player as they were seen by those watching.

Everyone deals with stress in their own way. How we react to stress can be both in your nature or how you were nurtured. Your genes have an effect but also upbringing, environment and experience play a part. Different extremes will trigger how you experience the impact of stress but the signs will be similar.

Stress can lead to signs of fatigue, low energy and depression. Physical signs are chest pains or pressure in the chest. You can experience dizziness, the shakes and difficulty breathing. Further signs can feel more personal with erectile disfunction (impotence) and a loss of libido (sex drive).

Over saturation with stressors coupled with the inability to manage with the discomfort stress can often result in Burnout in its many forms. This will need to be addressed accordingly utilising the different coping strategies research has shown are effective.




  • The Offload Approach

Rugby League Cares’s ‘Offload’ programme was created to help members of the public learn from the experiences of elite athletes on how they deal with the stress of life as a professional sportsman: the media, competitive environment and most importantly as a person.

Offload uses former professional athletes and coaches to deliver support for workforces by exploring:

  • The current stress levels of the participants involved;
  • Identifying the stress trigger points;
  • Implementing supportive systems to help a mate and themselves. 

The athletes share anecdotes and examples of highly-stressed situations, both on the field of play and in their personal lives to connect with participants whilst identifying similarities between the stressors of the participants and those of the athletes. This approach helps to normalise the message and make the lesson engaging and ‘sticky’.

Activities and discussions are entered into over the course of the fixture (every Offload class is called a fixture). Participants are exposed to a number of different coping mechanisms from breathing exercises to tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Employees are encouraged to write down and take away at least three of the options experienced during the class and encouraged to use this in their personal and working lives.


Find out more about Offload


Final thoughts

Stress in the workplace is affecting how business is operating here in the UK and having a massive impact on national GDP.

The government and businesses are looking for support mechanisms that can help employers to help support their workforce.

Rugby League Cares’s ‘Offload’ offers a programme of fixtures built to educate employees on their mental fitness working towards a support system and helping to create a happier and more productive working environment and workforce.


If you are struggling or know someone who might need support urgently click here for extra resources from Rugby League Cares.