It is sadly ironic that, for many, the NHS is a source of stress. I am not talking about patients - that is another article - but about the service's staff.

The very organisation whose business it is to treat the symptoms of stress generates the stuff in spades in many of its staff.

In certain sectors, and certainly in acute sector management, there is a culture of long hours and short deadlines. While some people thrive in such environments, for many they are a source of distress, resulting in what is commonly called stress.

Under pressure

In a culture that starts early, finishes late and does not encourage breaks, stress will inevitably raise its ugly head, causing problems for employers and staff alike.

Stress contributes to a list of ailments as long as your arm: gastric complaints, headaches, backaches, insomnia, and almost everything in between. In addition, the chemicals released during long periods of stress affect our joints, age us prematurely and lower our immunity. What's more, stress makes us irritable, awful at relationships, and much more likely to abuse alcohol, food or drugs.

Failing to eat regularly or healthily, not taking time out at the end of the day to relax, and skipping exercise just compound these problems.

For employers, all this adds up to a lot of sick leave. Even for staff who are well enough to work, stress immediately cuts productivity because it prepares the body for physical action - fight or flight - not mental actions such as writing a business case or bed management.

Healthy attitude

As managers, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to those who work for us. Ask yourself, are you leading the charge into work at 6.30am? Do your staff feel that lunch breaks are unacceptable? Do you expect them to be at their desks until 7pm? Some of us even indulge in competitive talk about working into the small hours. But does this make for good productive teamwork?

If you are often snappy or flustered with your staff, you infect them with your own stress. Leading by example and encouraging others to have outside interests and take their annual leave would be much kinder, and might even improve staff retention.

To handle pressure well, we need to have a good balance of energy drains and rechargers in our lives. For a car battery to work, it must be charged. Human bodies work in the same way: they recharge by relaxing, taking exercise, having fun or doing something creative.

Tips for self-management

  • Take breaks. Finish a task, then take a break. It will set you up for the next task.
  • Do the biggest or most taxing task first thing in the morning, when you are freshest. Emails do not need much concentration, so save them for the afternoon.
  • Turn your phone off when in meetings so you can focus on one thing at a time.
  • Try to achieve a balance between energy drains and rechargers in your life.
  • Look after yourself by eating healthily, taking exercise and drinking within safe limits.
  • Have fun. Taking work too seriously can drag you down. Be prepared to see the funny side.