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Jobs and careers are an important part of our lives. Along with providing a source of income, they help us fulfill our personal aims, build social networks and serve our professions or communities. They are also a major source of emotional stress.

Stress at work

Even "dream jobs" have stressful deadlines, performance expectations and other responsibilities. For some, stress is the motivator that ensures things get done. However, workplace stress can easily overwhelm your life. You may continually worry about a particular project, feel unfairly treated by a supervisor or co-workers, or knowingly accept more than you can handle in hopes of earning a promotion. Putting your job ahead of everything else can also affect your personal relationships, compounding the work-related pressures.

The body reacts

Along with its emotional toll, prolonged job-related stress can drastically affect your physical health. Constant preoccupation with job responsibilities often leads to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise, resulting in weight problems, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Common job stressors such as perceived low rewards, a hostile work environment and long hours can also accelerate the onset of heart disease, including the likelihood of heart attacks. Your age is also a factor. Studies have found that as stressed workers get older, their blood pressure increases above normal levels.

A loss of mental energy

Job stress also frequently causes burnout, a condition marked by emotional exhaustion and negative or cynical attitudes toward others and yourself.

Burnout can lead to depression, which, in turn, has been linked to a variety of other health concerns such as heart disease and stroke, obesity and eating disorders, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Chronic depression also reduces your immunity to other types of illnesses, and can even contribute to premature death.

What you can do

Fortunately, there are many ways to help manage job-related stress. Some programs blend relaxation techniques with nutrition and exercise. Others focus on specific issues such as time management, assertiveness training, and improving social skills.

A qualified mental health specialist can help you pinpoint the causes of your stress, and develop appropriate coping strategies.

Here are some other tips for dealing with stress on the job:
  • Make the most of workday breaks. Even 10 minutes of "personal time" will refresh your mental outlook. Take a brief walk, chat with a co-worker about a non-job topic or simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe.
  • If you feel angry, walk away. Mentally regroup by counting to 10, then look at the situation again. Walking and other physical activities will also help you work off steam.
  • Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Don't expect perfection. Talk to your employer about your job description. Your responsibilities and performance criteria may not accurately reflect what you are doing. Working together to make needed changes will benefit your emotional and physical health.

This article has been reproduced with permission from the American Psychological Association. Link to the original article: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx

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