Why Stress Awareness Month Matters – Interview with Annie Wykes

This Stress Awareness Month we chat to Wellbeing Champion Annie Wykes to find out her top tips for combating stress in the workplace.

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This month marks Stress Awareness Month, a great time to promote awareness of the causes and symptoms of stress. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to share key ways to mitigate stress and improve wellbeing. Here at the Romero Group, we prioritise the health and wellbeing of our team. That’s why we’ve got an in-house wellbeing provider, We Are Wellbeing, that also services many of our fantastic clients. 

We Are Wellbeing offers several services, from seminars and training sessions right through to annual health checks. They’ve also trained up a select team of Wellbeing Champions to help promote health and wellbeing initiatives throughout the business. 

“We are (hopefully!) a friendly face to both new and existing colleagues,” says Annie Wykes, Account Handler and Wellbeing Champion at Romero Insurance Brokers. “Wellbeing Champions are there to give information on what support is available, and to lend an ear if colleagues would find it helpful.” 

A key part of the role is generating ideas for activities, seminars and regular newsletters. The experts at We Are Wellbeing are always on-hand to help and often visit our offices, but having a team of people in-house to continually promote a positive workplace culture day in, day out is invaluable. “We try to get everyone involved. All our Wellbeing Champions are invested in finding ways to enjoy good mental health and wellbeing. The thing we all enjoy most is the possibility of brightening someone else’s day,” says Annie. 

Anyone throughout the business is welcome to join the Wellbeing Champions team. Having wellbeing advocates in every department means it’s much easier to communicate key messages and encourage a business-wide positive attitude to our initiatives and campaigns. For Annie, becoming a Wellbeing Champion was a personal decision, driven by her passion to de-stigmatise mental health. “Wellbeing and mental health, in my own experience, has always been treated as some sort of taboo. I’ve been in the position where you’re struggling mentally and historically it has affected my work, relationships, friendships and confidence. So when I joined Romero and the opportunity to become a Wellbeing Champion came up, I didn’t have to think twice.  If I can help others directly or indirectly to practise some self love and care, and find additional support, that honestly makes me happiest.” 

The Romero Group is dedicated to helping staff achieve and maintain a good level of wellbeing. Annie says, “I have never worked anywhere that has this sort of focus and encouragement when it comes to wellbeing and mental health.” We believe many of our colleagues feel the same way! Employees are encouraged to feel part of a team, always supported and encouraged by their work family. 

As well as training and supporting our team of Wellbeing Champions, we offer a whole host of wellbeing benefits here at Romero: mindfulness sessions, walks on the Chevin at lunchtime, Pilates classes, magazines in our break out areas and free counselling sessions. Stress management is a priority for us, and we try to give all colleagues the tools they need to manage their own stress. This includes offering all staff free access to the We Are Wellbeing self-care webinar and stress management advice. 

Stress Awareness Month gives us all the opportunity to sit back and really think about how stress is impacting us. According to MentalHealth.org.uk, stress is defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.

“We all know a bit of stress is good and healthy, to kick start us into getting something finished or give us that bit of oomph when we need a kick. But bad stress is different, and is disguised as so many things – headaches, bad dreams, anxiety, inability to focus, stomach problems, bad memory, the list goes on,” explains Annie. “I have suffered with chronic stress, and it was over two years in before I actually realised what was ‘wrong’. You might manage every single day, but is stress perhaps affecting how you feel? It is so important to listen to your body. If Stress Awareness Month can bring this to light then for many it could be the first step to huge personal improvements. When you feel healthier you mentally become able to do so much more and that can never be a bad thing.”

The modern world and rise of technology has led to a number of new stresses being introduced into our day-to-day life. These include being constantly contactable, the demise of the traditional 9-5, high workload, long commutes, financial difficulty, mental and physical health and societal changes. Identifying key causes of personal stress, and finding helpful techniques to combat the negative impact of stress is incredibly important. 

High levels of stress can cause physical symptoms. Stress naturally elevates heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol and, if this goes on for too long, it can be damaging. Recognise physical symptoms such as weight gain or loss and mental symptoms such as change in mood – these could be signs of high stress. The next stage is finding ways to bring that stress down. Negative coping strategies such as reliance on alcohol, shouting / losing your temper or isolating yourself may help combat stress in the short-term, but will be damaging in the long-term. Finding positive ways to deal with stress is a personal process, as finding activities or techniques that work for you may not work for others. Exercise, mindfulness, socialising or taking regular breaks from stressful situations are all common ways to reduce stress. 

Annie’s top tips on combating stress in the workplace

  • Set times when you will be starting and finishing work – having a cut off point is important, and you need to ensure it leaves enough time in the evening to properly unwind.
  • Speak out if you are struggling, whether that be workload, personal struggles, money problems or anything else on your mind. There is always somebody who can help – either a work colleague, friends and family or external help. Wellbeing Champions can help signpost you to the best place. 
  • Always take a break. A flat out 9-5 with no air in between makes for a meltdown – believe me! It’s important to have some time to switch off or deal with your personal business during the day, so that you feel calmer later on when you have finished work.
  • Stay connected to friends, family and colleagues. Social interaction is important as human beings, and it might just reset the situation and bring you back to calm!
  • If you feel you need 5 minutes, take it. Make a cuppa, take a walk up and down the stairs, take a breath. Your head will thank you for it.
  • Keep physically healthy. Some days I’m doing Joe Wicks workouts from Youtube, or going for a walk outdoors. Find the kind of exercise that works for you. 
  • Try new things or take part in activities you enjoy. Read a book, watch a TV series you’ve been meaning to try or do some home improvement work. 

Businesses must recognise the importance of supporting colleagues and giving their team the techniques needed to recognise and combat signs of stress. For more information and advice, get in touch with the We Are Wellbeing experts.

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