Being Stressed At Work
Stress is a normal response to the demands of work. It can be beneficial in short bursts, helping you stay alert and perform at your best. However, prolonged or excessive job stress can be damaging to your mental health. Some of the many causes of work-related stress include:
- long hours,
- a heavy workload,
- job insecurity and
- conflicts with co-workers or bosses.
- a drop in work performance,
- anxiety and
- sleeping difficulties.
Stress isn't always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace.
Symptoms Of Stress
Stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in physical, emotional and intellectual responses. Stress management training can help you deal with changes in a healthier way.
Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In fact, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress.
Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. For example, if you have an important test coming up, a stress response might help your body work harder and stay awake longer. But stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.
What Happens To The Body During Stress?
The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body face stressful situations.
When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms develop.
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Aches and pains.
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
- Stomach or digestive problems.
- Trouble having sex.
- Weak immune system.
- Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Panic attacks.
Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviours, including:
- Drinking alcohol too much or too often.
- Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
- Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet browsing.
- Using drugs.
Causes Of Stress
There might be one big thing causing you stress, but stress can also be caused by a build-up of small pressures. This might make it harder for you to identify what's making you feel stressed, or to explain it to other people.
What Causes Stress?
Feelings of stress are normally triggered by things happening in your life which involve:
- being under lots of pressure
- facing big changes
- worrying about something
- not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation
- having responsibilities that you're finding overwhelming
- not having enough work, activities or change in your life
- times of uncertainty.
Why Do Certain Things Make Me Feel Stressed?
The amount of stress you feel in different situations may depend on many factors such as:
- your perception of the situation – this might be connected to your past experiences, your self-esteem, and how your thought processes work (for example, if you tend to interpret things positively or negatively)
- how experienced you are at dealing with that particular type of pressure
- your emotional resilience to stressful situations
- the number of other pressures on you at the time
- the amount of support you are receiving.
We're all different, so a situation that doesn't bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. For example, if you're feeling confident or usually enjoy public speaking, you might find that giving a speech in front of people feels comfortable and fun. But if you're feeling low or usually prefer not to be the centre of attention, this situation might cause you to experience signs of stress.
Stress can be caused by a variety of different common life events, many of which are difficult to avoid. For example:
- illness or injury
- pregnancy and becoming a parent
- long-term health problems
- organizing a complicated event, like a group holiday
- everyday tasks such as travel or household chores.
Friends And Family
- getting married or civil partnered
- going through a break-up or getting divorced
- difficult relationships with parents, siblings, friends or children
- being a carer for a friend or relative who needs lots of support.
Employment And Study
- losing your job
- long-term unemployment
- exams and deadlines
- difficult issues at work
- starting a new job.
- housing problems such as poor living conditions, lack of security or homelessness
- moving house
- problems with neighbours.
- worries about money or benefits
Can Happy Events Cause Stress?
Some of the situations listed above are often thought of as happy events – for example, you might feel expected to be happy or excited about getting married or having a baby. But because they can bring big changes or make unusual demands on you, they can still be very stressful. This can be particularly difficult to deal with because you might feel there's additional pressure on you to be positive.
Why Do I Feel So Stressed At Work?
Some of the many causes of work-related stress include long hours, heavy workload, job insecurity and conflicts with co-workers or bosses. Symptoms include a drop in work performance, depression, anxiety and sleeping difficulties.
Work-related stress is a growing problem around the world that affects not only the health and well-being of employees but also the productivity of organizations. Work-related stress arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness/injury in Australia, after musculoskeletal disorders.
Work-related stress can be caused by various events. For example, a person might feel under pressure if the demands of their job (such as hours or responsibilities) are greater than they can comfortably manage. Other sources of work-related stress include conflict with co-workers or bosses, constant change, and threats to job security, such as potential redundancy.
In Australia, more than $133.9 million was paid in benefits to workers who had made claims related to workplace stress during the 2004/2005 tax year. According to the National Health and Safety Commission, work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism.
What one person may perceive as stressful, however, another may view as challenging. Whether a person experiences work-related stress depends on the job, the person’s psychological make-up, and other factors (such as personal life and general health).
Symptoms Of Work-Related Stress
The signs or symptoms of work-related stress can be physical, psychological and behavioural.
Physical Symptoms Include:
- Muscular tension
- Heart palpitations
- Sleeping difficulties, such as insomnia
- Gastrointestinal upsets, such as diarrhea or constipation
- Dermatological disorders.
Psychological Symptoms Include:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Cognitive difficulties, such as a reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions.
Behavioural Symptoms Include:
- An increase in sick days or absenteeism
- Diminished creativity and initiative
- A drop in work performance
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Mood swings and irritability
- Lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
What Are The Main Work-Related Stressors?
All the following issues have been identified as potential stressors at workplaces. A risk management approach will identify which ones exist in your workplace and what causes them. They include:
- Organization culture
- Bad management practices
- Job content and demands
- Physical work environment
- Relationships at work
- Change management
- Lack of support
- Role conflict
Causes Of Work-Related Stress
Some of the factors that commonly cause work-related stress include:
- Long hours
- Heavy workload
- Changes within the organization
- Tight deadlines
- Changes to duties
- Job insecurity
- Lack of autonomy
- Boring work
- Insufficient skills for the job
- Inadequate working environment
- Lack of proper resources
- Lack of equipment
- Few promotional opportunities
- Poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
- Crisis incidents, such as an armed hold-up or workplace death.
How To Deal With Work-Related Stress?
Workplace stress isn't a bad thing, but too much of it can damage your mental health and your performance. The good news is that it's easily treatable.
Self-Help For The Individual
A person suffering from work-related stress can help themselves in a number of ways, including:
- Think about the changes you need to make at work in order to reduce your stress levels and then take action. Some changes you can manage yourself, while others will need the cooperation of others.
- Talk over your concerns with your employer or human resources manager.
- Make sure you are well organized. List your tasks in order of priority. Schedule the most difficult tasks of each day for times when you are fresh, such as first thing in the morning.
- Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- Consider the benefits of regular relaxation. You could try meditation or yoga.
- Make sure you have enough free time for yourself every week.
- Don’t take out your stress on loved ones. Instead, tell them about your work problems and ask for their support and suggestions.
- Drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, won’t alleviate stress and can cause additional health problems. Avoid excessive drinking and smoking.
- Seek professional counselling from a psychologist.
- If work-related stress continues to be a problem, despite your efforts, you may need to consider another job or a career change. Seek advice from a career counsellor or psychologist.
Taking Steps To Manage Stress
Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also, make time for hobbies and favourite activities.
Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts, or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities nor thinking about work.
That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best. When you’re not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on non-work activities for a while.
Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking, or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.
Talk to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job.
While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program, including online information, available counselling, and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour.
How Does Your Body React To Work Stress?
Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time, you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.”
Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task. Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.
But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.
Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.
When Is Workplace Stress Too Much?
Stress isn’t always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today’s hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster.
Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body—as well as to your job satisfaction.
You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. If the stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, what your ambitions are, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.
Benefits Of Preventing Stress In The Workplace
- Reduced symptoms of poor mental and physical health
- Fewer injuries, less illness and lost time
- Reduced sick leave usage, absences and staff turnover
- Increased productivity
- Greater job satisfaction
- Increased work engagement
- Reduced costs to the employer
- Improved employee health and community wellbeing.
When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.
While meditation isn’t a cure-all, it can certainly provide some much-needed space in your life. Sometimes, that’s all we need to make better choices for ourselves, our families, and our communities. And the most important tools you can bring with you to your meditation practice are a little patience, some kindness for yourself, and a comfortable place to sit.
Here Are 5 Reasons To Meditate:
- Understanding your pain
- Lower your stress
- Connect better
- Improve focus
- Reduce brain chatter
Take Regular Breaks
So taking a break improves focus and concentration and provides the opportunity for an employee's mental reset. After a break, work can resume with more energy and motivation. Working without taking one or more breaks only leads to mental and physical fatigue. It can even lead to burnout in the long run.
Taking A Break Leads To Breakthroughs
When you just can't figure it out, when your mind gets stuck on the same problem, it's best to take a break or do something completely different for a while. Trying the same thing over and over again will lead to nothing. For example:
- Clear out your inbox or answer a few emails
- Read a book or magazine (not digital)
- Clear out your desk or office
- Take on a simple task
- Use a brain training app on your mobile phone
The world we live in is exciting, and we can make a difference in the world around us by engaging in meaningful work. Find a career that you like, that you feel good about, and that makes you feel like you are contributing to a cause bigger than you because job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, By thinking about these things, you are more likely to be happy at work.
I trust you enjoyed this article about Being Stressed At Work. Please stay tuned for more blog posts to come shortly.
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