Stress can be a helpful influence in your life. It can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently, stay focused, boost your memory, and meet new challenges in the workplace. It can keep you on your toes during a presentation and help you stay alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes.
However, when stress surpasses your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your health and wellbeing.
While many people enjoy their employment, recent studies show that 83% of Americans experience stress over at least one work-related issue.
Common causes of workplace stress include:
- Job insecurity or fear of being laid off
- Unclear job responsibilities
- Excessive travel
- Extremely long work hours
- Increased workload and/or hours due to reductions in staff
- Intense pressure to perform at peak levels all the time
- Lack of control
- Too much time away from family
- Office politics
- Conflict with coworker(s)
- Harassment or any other traumatic event
In addition, problems in one’s personal life can cause significant stress on the job. Financial trouble, marital trouble, grief, and other family or personal issues can cause distraction and stress throughout the day, impacting a person’s job performance and health.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs of stress will vary depending on the person, situation, duration, and intensity of the stressor(s). Some signs and symptoms indicating job stress has become extreme include the following:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of mental concentration
- Feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable
- Loss of interest in work
- Substance abuse
- Extreme anger or frustration
- Social withdrawal
- Family conflict
- Loss of sex drive
- Health issues and illnesses, such as muscle tension, headaches, back problems, stomach problems, and heart disease
Negative Effects of Job Stress
Research indicates many medical problems stem from stress. These medical problems are costly, in the form of lost wages, increased medical costs, and decreased productivity. In addition, on-the-job accidents occur more frequently with stressed employees. Stress can cause shorter attention spans and fatigue, both of which heighten the risk for workplace injuries. Also, when workers are feeling pressured to complete more work in less time, they are more likely to take risky shortcuts.
Managing Job Stress
Here are a few simple and healthy ways to manage stress.
Plan and prioritize. Don’t panic when faced with stressful situations. Set realistic deadlines for yourself and prioritize your tasks to stay focused.
Slow down. Think things through before you act on them and begin with the end in mind. If you take the time to complete a task safely and accurately, it will reduce your stress in the long run.
Think outside the box. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break from your task and come back later with a fresh perspective. Try approaching situations from a new angle or asking a colleague for input if you are feeling stuck.
Keep in contact. Consistently communicate with co-workers, managers, and clients. Their priorities and deadlines could change (and so can yours), so proper communication will ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Build a solid support system. You are not completely on your own. A solid support system can help create a buffer from the negative effects of job stress. Seek the help of co-workers and lean on your friends and family members. Talk with your manager if you are feeling confused or overwhelmed or need additional resources or direction. Reciprocate the favor by being a listening ear and offering support when your co-workers, family, and friends are in need.
Spend time around other people. The lonelier and more isolated you are, the more vulnerable you are to stress. Take steps to be more social and build new friendships – meet new people with common interests by taking a class, joining a club, or volunteering in your community.
Address your personal problems. If you are having family or personal issues that are carrying over into your workday and causing you constant stress, do your best to address those issues. Work can be less stressful if you are not worrying about other problems as well.
Take care of your health with exercise and proper nutrition. Good nutrition and exercise can make you stronger and more resilient to stress. Make exercise a daily habit to help boost your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax your mind and body. Cut back on sugar and refined carbs, and eat more foods that boost your mood, such as fatty fish, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, bananas, oats, berries, and beans and lentils.
Everyone experiences periods of stress. Some stress is normal, but if your feelings of stress become persistent and overwhelming it may be an indication of a serious problem. In such a case, you should see your doctor or use your company’s employee assistance program if one is available.