This is an interesting one. Doctors do put workplace stress down on medical certificates in order to sign people off work. Yet how can that be when stress isn’t an actual medical condition?
So if stress isn’t a medical condition then just what is it? It’s actually a descriptive term for the many harmful physical and mental responses you experience when you feel too unable to meet excessive demands. This is also known as the flight or fight reaction. The fight or flight hormones are released from the brain and the adrenal glands and then quickly flood the body. Depending on the situation the impact of this can last from 20 minutes to many weeks. If your body experiences the fight or flight with frequently, or it is prolonged or severe enough there will begin to be significant impact on health.
Your repeated exposure to stress leads to health issues – some of which can be severe – high blood pressure and chest pain is one just one of many examples, digestive issues are another one – and one that women in particular experience in relation to stress. Stress also affects mental health too – from affecting concentration to issues with feeling overwhelmed and memory recall.
What’s particularly interesting about stress is that it is unique to each and every one of us as an individual – what triggers it is different for each of us. And the way it affects each person is also unique – although there are a wide range of symptoms which are collectively recognised as likely to be associated with stress.
When your symptoms get bad enough you make an appointment to see the GP. GP’s see patients everyday who cannot sleep, are tearful, have high blood pressure and aren’t coping with work. There are a variety of things you can do to help yourself but you may be feeling so bad that you need some expert help. If it’s work related then your GP may consider the best thing may be to take some time off work. Possibly that will be enough for some form of recovery to take place. And so you may get signed off work – usually initially this is for 2 weeks (because you can self-certificate for 7 days) and then a longer period of time if you don’t feel able to return just then. Stress commonly then progresses to anxiety and depression – both of which are recognised medical conditions.
The benefit of having a medical certificate with work related stress on it is that the individual’s workplace is more likely to sit up and take notice. And if others in that workplace are also off work with stress then a pattern is emerging that needs a strategic organisational approach.
New figures show that workplace stress is a massive issue. Given the stigma attached to seeking out a GP about this and then having this on your sickness certificate, it is likely that the real figure is much, much higher.
Employers have a duty of care to ensure that employee’s health and safety are protected – stress is also covered as part of that legislation so once it has been identified they should work with you to create a workplace that doesn’t harm your health.
The Sweet Potato Consultancy is passionate about workplace wellbeing and mental health. We work strategically with forward thinking companies and leaders to reduce people, skills and financial wastage and create workplace cultures where people and organisations thrive.