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The Effects of Workplace Stress on Your Health – And What To Do About It!

Greg Justice

46452433 - photo of burnout office worker lying on desk

It’s no secret that everyone is stressed out.

We’ve all had those days where we feel flustered, irritated, and anxious.  We’ve all had those nights where it’s too difficult to fall asleep – that all you can do is worry about what you have on your plate.  In fact, sometimes it feels like it’s far more normal to be stressed out; that in today’s hectic modern world, being relaxed means you’re doing something wrong.

For some people, sources of stress can be difficult to target; that life itself is just providing different sources of stress. But what if you can pinpoint that source of stress…and it happens to be your workplace?

As it turns out, workplace stress is quickly growing into a major health epidemic, with serious consequences for both employers and employees.  Sky-high absenteeism rates and burnout make it difficult for employees to be productive; employers often see a dip in productivity reflected in revenue.  At the end of the day, both employer and employee have a vested interest in helping to manage workplace stress.

Stress in the workplace is more than just rushing to meet a deadline or feeling a twinge of frustration at your job role.  The most insidious workplace stress is consistent and unrelenting; in fact, this type of stress is known as chronic stress, and it can be deadly. Whereas episodic (or acute) stress can be defined as the stress that’s directly related to a particular incident, chronic stress is unrelenting and can follow you around day in and day out. This is the type of stress that’s the worst for your health – and unfortunately, the kind that’s most common in the workplace.

That’s why this article is dedicated to helping readers not only understand what workplace stress is, but why it’s on the rise in the first place.  You’ll learn about the primary factors that are making you so stressed in the office, and why you’re particularly vulnerable to those triggers.  Additionally, you’ll learn the most common signs of workplace stress – many of which might come as a surprise to you.  Finally, readers will be provided the tools and techniques they need to minimize the impact of workplace-related stress on their health.

Ready to loosen the grip of workplace stress on your health?  Let’s go! 

What’s Making You So Stressed? 

At first glance, it might seem pretty obvious why the workplace is making you so stressed out – it’s work! However, there are very specific triggers for the kind of stress you’re experiencing at the office.  In a StressPulse survey by EAP provider ComPsych, workers listed the following reasons as their main causes for stress:[1] 

People-Related Issues (28%)

Do you sit next to someone who constantly chews with their mouths open?  Are you on a team with someone who refuses to pull their own weight?  Regardless of what annoying behaviors you’ve experienced in the workplace, it should come as no surprise that “people-related issues” ranked as one of the top stressors in the workplace. 

Think about it this way – you’re spending upwards of eight hours each day with people who are otherwise virtual strangers to you.  You’re not allowed to deal with conflict in ways that feel comfortable to you; for example, you can’t exactly demand that someone stop chewing with their mouth open for fear of creating an even more toxic workplace.  Ineffective managers and complacent HR departments can make it even more difficult for you to deal with coworkers, especially if they refuse to help with a toxic situation.

Workplace bullying (including sexual harassment) is on the rise. According to non-profit Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying can be defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.  It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; or work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from being done; or verbal abuse.[2]  For people who are on the receiving end of workplace bullying, the effects aren’t just stressful; they’re downright deadly for one’s health and well-being.

Workload (46%)

It’s no surprise to see this stressor at the top of the survey.  Employers are consistently asking their employees to do more with a lot less.  Cut budgets, lack of resources, or inefficient staffing solutions can make it hard for a worker to get his or her job done in an effective manner.  When you’re feeling overburdened by your workload, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly drowning under all the tasks you’re being asked to do.  This statement is especially true if you feel as though your manager isn’t invested in helping you manage an especially large workload.

Work-Life Balance (20%)

Many workers report feeling as though their work-life balance is skewed in favor of employers.  It’s no wonder – with more of us feeling pressured to put in long workdays and be constantly connected to employers, work-life balance can feel like a fragile balancing.  This balance is especially at risk if you’re raising a family, a single parent or dealing with a stressful situation in your personal life.  

The same could be said for workers who feel as though they need to endure a hellish commute just to make it to the office.  If you find yourself stuck in traffic on a consistent basis or spending more than 30 minutes in your car during your commute, you’re especially at risk for developing debilitating workplace-related stress.

Lack of Job Security (6%)

Finally, respondents placed lack of job security as one of the biggest stressors they encounter in the workplace.  It makes sense – the old employer-employee relationship that defined earlier generations has given way to a transactional, at-will employment agreement.  Your employer doesn’t owe you any loyalty; additionally, employees are almost expected to hop from job to job to build up their resume.  With all of these factors combined, it’s no wonder respondents feel stressed out by the lack of job security. 

While this survey was performed back in 2006, many of these reasons still exist in the workplace today.  What’s more, additional triggers have been added to the stockpile.  These may include:

Feeling constantly connected to the office

Thanks to the advent of smartphones, mobile email, and the diminishing boundaries between work and home, many employees feel as though they’re constantly connected to the workplace.  Think about the last time you were home during the evenings or away on vacation – were you bothered by a supervisor?  Did you find yourself feeling guilty if you didn’t constantly check your work email?  When left unchecked, all of these interruptions can add up to serious stress. 

Employers aren’t exactly in a rush to respect the boundaries between work life and personal life.  In fact, France recently made it illegal for employers with more than 50 employees to contact those workers after 6pm and on weekends.[3]  This “right to disconnect” bill is a landmark in that it acknowledges the growing (and stressful!) intrusions that modern technology is creating in our lives.  When you feel like you can’t disconnect from your boss without running the risk of losing your job, it’s hard to feel like you can relax and enjoy your time away from work!

Not getting enough hours/working too late

On one side, you have employers who are determined to cut hours in order to avoid paying benefits. On the other side, you have employers who are requiring employees to work late without paying overtime.  No matter which side of the schism you find yourself on, the truth is that neither is good for your health.  Part-time hours make it difficult for you to plan out your budget, while working too late without compensation can quickly lead to some serious burnout.

Ageism in the workplace

It’s no secret that Baby Boomers are becoming a larger part of the population. Yet instead of retiring, Baby Boomers are doing something interesting; they’re choosing to remain in their jobs or continue to search for work well past the typical age of retirement.  Economic experts have attributed this growing trend to rising living costs and prolonged lifespans.  In other words, we’re no longer retiring at 63 and living until 75; we’re living well past our 80s (and even into our 90s!). 

That means older workers are still searching for work – work that they might not always find.  Although ageism (defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as discrimination against workers over the age of 40) is illegal, older workers are still finding themselves being squeezed out by employers favoring younger workers.  Add this stress to the growing lack of job security, and it’s no wonder older workers are far more stressed in the workplace than in previous years. 

If you’re lucky, you might not recognize yourself in any of these scenarios – at least, not in any way that immediately leaps off the page at you.  So how do you know how much stress you’ve been dealing with at work? 

Signs You’re Dealing With Some Serious Stress 

For some, the signs of workplace stress can be immediate and obvious.  But not all of us have heart palpitations as soon as we walk into the office, or constantly feel as though our adrenaline is at an all-time high.  What are some other, less-obvious signs that you’re dealing with serious workplace stress?

  • You constantly feel anxious or depressed
  • You’re easily irritated, whether at work or at home
  • You suffer from fatigue, but you have a hard time sleeping
  • You find it difficult to concentrate or stay focused
  • You feel apathetic about things that once interested you
  • You’re getting sick much more often
  • You’ve experienced a sudden dip in your sex drive
  • You’ve been turning to alcohol, drugs, or both to deal with the stress

If you recognize yourself in any of these symptoms, it’s likely you’re on the track to developing a serious case of workplace stress.  Once you’ve recognized the problem, what can you do to stop it?  Is there any way to reverse the toll that workplace stress can place on your health?

Here’s What You Can Do About It 

Reading about workplace stress can be, well, pretty stressful.  Given that stress in the office can be hazardous to your health, are there any steps you can take to prevent your stress from growing out of control?

Fortunately, the answer to that question is yes – and here are the best techniques to make your workplace stress a little more manageable:

Invest in positive relationships

Studies have shown that people who enjoy positive workplace relationships are less likely to suffer from stress and burnout.  In fact, a recent study by Tel Aviv University showed that “workplace friendships can increase job satisfaction, productivity and job commitment while decreasing stress and turnover.”[4]  

If there are people in the workplace who you enjoy spending time with, invest in these positive relationships.  While you don’t need to be best friends with every coworker you meet, having a buddy in the office can make it easier to deal with those tougher days at the cubicle.

Be more active

If you’re spending too much time at your desk, you’re far more likely to feel stressed out, fatigued, and any other assortment of negative emotions. Try to get up and stretch your legs every hour.  Take a brief walk around the office, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.  If you get a lunch break, take off your allotted time – and don’t just eat lunch at your desk!

Eat a better diet

It sounds basic, but improving your diet can make a world of difference in terms of battling stress in the workplace.  Make sure you load up your plate with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.  That includes fish, spinach, nuts, and other healthy fats.  On that note, be sure you’re getting plenty of sleep – when you’re tired, you’re more likely to give in to the temptations of junk food.

Organize and prioritize

If you’re stressed out at work because you feel like you’re doing a million things at once, it’s time to prioritize the most important tasks.  At the beginning of each day, make a list of everything that needs to get done.  Of all these tasks, mark down the ones that absolutely need to be done by the end of the day.  Anything else can wait until these tasks have been finished.  When you’re going through your list, you may find that there are fewer tasks that need your immediate attention. 

Prioritizing and organizing your day is an excellent way to feel more in control of your workspace.  When you’re feeling flustered and cluttered, it’s much easier to feel stressed out.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an organized person, try this technique out – you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make in your day!

Find the humor

When things get rough, sometimes you just have to laugh.  Find humor in the things that are stressing you out at work.  This technique is where having a good support system at home or at work helps out.  For example, if you’re having conflict with a manager, spend time with a coworker who never fails to make you laugh.  Sometimes laughing at a stressful situation can be enough to help make it seem a little less severe.

Invest in your personal life

If you define yourself by your job, it’s much easier to let job insecurities and workplace issues take over your life.  That’s why it’s vital to find joy and purpose outside of your workspace.  Don’t just treat your home as a place where you rest before clocking in another shift at the office.  Spend real time with family members and loved ones.  Unplug your computer and turn off your phone so you can truly get lost in the moment. Take up a hobby or activity you’ve always wanted to do. 

Whatever it is that makes you happy, find the time to incorporate it into your personal life as much as possible.  That way, you won’t feel like your entire existence relies on your job – and that will take the punch out of any episode of workplace stress!

Move on

If you’re trying all of these tips but you’re still not seeing relief, it might be time to find a new job opportunity. No matter how many stress-busting techniques you might have up your sleeve, they won’t come in handy if you’re dealing with a workplace bully or a toxic manager.  Recognize when it’s time to let go of a job, especially if it’s become damaging to your health.  Find a job with an employer who will appreciate you for who you are – and won’t make your blood pressure rise every time you walk into the office!

Learning how to deal with stress at work won’t always feel natural, nor should you expect to master it right away.  But with the right techniques and attitude, you can definitely take a bite out of any stress that might be plaguing you.

Photo – Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

Endnotes

[1] https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

[2] http://www.workplacebullying.org/

[3] http://fortune.com/2017/01/01/french-right-to-disconnect-law/

[4] http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/01/relationships.aspx


 

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