Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline
or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming — and harmful to both physical and emotional health.
Common Sources of Work Stress
Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:
Effects of Uncontrolled Stress
- Low salaries.
- Excessive workloads.
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement.
- Work that isn't engaging or challenging.
- Lack of social support.
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.
Unfortunately, work-related stress doesn't just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being.
In the short term, a stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood
pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy
ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
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? Eat something unhealthy immediately? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions
- 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 favorite activities. 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.
- Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a licensed mental health professional, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.
This article has been reproduced with permission from the American Psychological Association. Link to the original article: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx