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What civil engineers and their employers need to know about stress and anxiety

14 May 2024

Many things can cause anxiety, more recently, cost of living. Mental Health Matters’ Charlie and Kelly offer helpful tips.

What civil engineers and their employers need to know about stress and anxiety
A spiral exists where poor mental health can make managing money harder and worrying about money can make your mental health worse. Image credit: Shutterstock

Anxiety – we've all had it at one point, but how much do we understand about it?

We thought we’d take a closer look at its causes, and what you can do about it.

First, the difference between stress and anxiety.

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety

Stress is a natural response to an external cause. Whether that’s feeling the pressure of a work deadline, having an argument with someone, and/or feeling afraid or threatened.

This usually reduces or disappears once the situation changes.

Anxiety affects people in different ways, often with no obvious trigger.

It’s often described as a feeling of dread, fear or unease, where there’s no actual real threat. It can range from mild to severe.

Unlike stress, anxiety can be persistent even once the situation has resolved.

In severe cases, this can escalate into an anxiety disorder and impact an individual’s everyday life and ability to complete daily tasks.

What causes stress and anxiety?

Stress and anxiety may occur because of:

  • professional or personal relationships;
  • emotional trauma;
  • financial concerns;
  • a medical condition; or
  • as a side effect of medications.

Cost of living anxiety

In the UK, interest rates have hit 5.25%, and though inflation has come down from last year's double figures, the increased cost of living is still being felt by many.

This isn’t just influencing people’s purchasing power, but their mental health and wellbeing.

Data from the Office for National Statistics highlights that more than a third of people said that the cost of living has had an impact on their mental health.

For those who were unemployed, it was more than half.

Did you know?

The ICE's Benevolent Fund can offer workplace and wellbeing support through a range of services available to members and their families. Some former members may also qualify for support.

Financial support is also available. Fill in the eligibility questionnaire to find out if you qualify for financial assistance.

Find out more

Stress and anxiety at work

Work related triggers for anxiety and stress can include a demanding workload, discrimination and bullying, lack of employment stability, relationship conflicts with a manager and colleagues, and more.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service recently launched new advice following findings that one in three workers believed that their organisation was not effectively managing stress in their workplace.

According to statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2021/22, 1.8 million workers in Great Britain were suffering from a work-related illness with stress, depression and anxiety identified within approximately half of these cases.

For workplaces, this meant 17 million working days were lost.

However, there’s support out there for employers and employees alike.

Finding the right support

The workplace regulator launched a major campaign last year to remind employers of their responsibilities to their employees’ mental health.

Improving mental health in the workplace has been identified as a key priority in Health and Safety Executive’s 10-year strategy ‘Protecting People and Places’.

Additionally, the Working Minds campaign has information and support to help employers support their employees with their mental health.

It's important that employees and employers are aware of the symptoms and support available to people with anxiety.

Symptoms to be aware of include:


  • butterflies in the stomach
  • headaches, stomach aches or muscle pain
  • feeling shaky or trembly, dizzy or sweating more
  • loss and/or gain of appetite


  • feeling tired, restless or irritable
  • worrying about the past or future, or thinking something bad will happen
  • feeling like you want to run away from the situation
  • inability to maintain concentration or make decisions


  • avoiding socialising, making excuses to meet up with family and friends
  • leaving situations in a hurry
  • changing daily patterns – for example journeys. Using taxis instead of public transport, changing route to avoid busy main roads
  • compulsive behaviour, for example constantly checking things
  • avoiding lunch breaks with colleagues
  • checking work before submitting it

Self-help tips

There are many things you can try to manage symptoms of anxiety:

  • Try talking about your feelings to a friend, family member, work colleague, health professional or counsellor.
  • You could also contact telephone helplines if you need someone to talk to.
  • Try calming breathing exercises – many of these are now available on the internet and there are dedicated apps to support.
  • Exercise.
  • Sleep - the NHS has some tips online.
  • Eating a healthy diet and at regular intervals during the day to maintain your energy levels.
  • Look for peer support opportunities.
  • Consider listening to audio guides.

Moving more for our mental health

The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 (13 May - 19 May) is all about the role movement plays in our mental health.

Find out more

Things to avoid:

  • Try not to overwhelm yourself – set small targets that you can easily achieve.
  • Avoid focusing on the things you cannot change – focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better.
  • Do not avoid situations that make you anxious – try slowly building up time spent in worrying situations to gradually reduce anxiety.
  • Try not to tell yourself that you're alone - most people experience anxiety or fear at some point in their life.
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve anxiety can all contribute to poor mental health.

Clinical treatment options

Your GP may decide to refer you to an NHS Talking Therapies for Anxiety and Depression service.

The psychological therapies offered are evidence based and the type of therapy is matched to the mental health problem you’re experiencing.

The clinicians are suitably trained to an agreed level of competence and receive regular supervision.

They routinely monitor the effectiveness of the treatment using standardised measures on a session-by-session basis.

Sessions take place with a therapist or practitioner to discuss the problems, overcome current difficulties and work on achieving your goals.

The therapy involves talking but also some practical exercises which may be used in and outside of the sessions.

Your GP may also prescribe a variety of different types of medication to support you with your symptoms. Some are designed to be taken on a short term while others for longer periods of time.

Mental Health Matters (MHM) is a nationwide charity providing a wide range of support to people with mental health needs.

Those needing mental health support can find local services using the 'Hub of Hope', now available on the MHM website.

Find out more

  • Charlie Campion, external affairs and policy manager at Mental Health Matters
  • Kelly Winstanley, interim national clinical lead at Mental Health Matters