Are you stressed out from your job? If so, you’re not alone. According to a Louis Harris poll, about 32% of Americans report stress-related work symptoms. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers the following as the most common job conditions leading to stress: heavy work load, no rest break, long hours, shift work, hectic and routine tasks with little or no meaning, lack of control, poor design in work tasks, job insecurity, uncertain job expectations, conflicting roles, rapid changes, and dangerous or unpleasant physical conditions.
The causes of stress are individual. High volume with an intense pace may be heaven to one and hell to another. It is all in your perception and experience of your surroundings. A tough and directive boss may be a relief to those who don’t like making decisions or taking responsibility for how work is done. Conversely, it might prove exasperating for those who prefer to set their own pace and design their own tasks.
The early warning signs of stress include sleep difficulties, feeling burned out, excessive tiredness, poor appetite, frequent injuries, negative thinking, frequent colds, irregular menstrual cycle, digestive problems, headaches and irritability. Since these symptoms may be indicative of a medical condition, any persistent symptoms should be evaluated by a health care professional. Yet, if they are stress related, the best cure is to change the stressor or your perception of the stressor.
Behavioral signs exist for job stress as well. These include decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, lack of motivation, anger towards work assignments, and frequent tardiness. Prolonged stress that is unmanaged often leads to physical ailments. Conversely, if you have a physical ailment, such as a stomach ulcer, stress will exacerbate your condition. There is some evidence to support the belief that unchecked, chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
To determine if you are having job-related stress, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I spend most of my time thinking about or complaining about work?
- Do I wake up in the morning thinking about my “to do list”?
- Do I have difficulty relaxing on my days off because I am thinking about the job?
- Do I believe I never have enough time to get things done?
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Answering yes to any of these questions may be indicative of job-related stress. There are, however, solutions to job stress. First, assess the situation and try to determine the source of the stress. Is it really a case that you don’t have enough time? Or do you perceive that your harried boss really does have to have everything yesterday? In other words, does the stress exist in fact or in your perception of the situation?
Perception vs. Reality
Jane, for example, always perceived her boss as unapproachable. She had problems that cried out for supervision and she faced what she considered unreasonable deadlines. One day, she broke down and spilled her heart out to her boss about her frustrations and perceived shortcomings. Her supervisor had no idea she felt that way and was distressed to hear that Jane did not see her value to the organization. The supervisor took the time out to praise Jane and worked with her to re-set her priorities. Jane felt tremendous relief after their discussion and changed the way she viewed her boss.
There are times when companies are not responsive, or where employees are unaware. Some companies have employee assistance programs that are there to help employees adjust, as well as address issues with supervisors and managers that employees may not feel empowered to bring up on their own.
Whether you are a Type A personality who can’t stop to smell the flowers or one who works in a stressful environment, learning relaxation techniques can help you cope with stress. Here is a list of stress reducers:
- Take a real break and give yourself a mental vacation by meditating for 15 minutes every day.
- Keep a journal.
- Do fun activities and relax when you are away from the job.
- Exercise and eat healthy because your body reacts to stress in negative ways. If you feel healthy and energetic then you will combat stress more effectively.
- Know the serenity prayer and let go of the things you cannot control.
- Break down big projects into tiny manageable bits and pat yourself on the back when you complete each one.
- Seek out rewards such as verbal support and praise. Your mind and emotions need nutrients just like your body does.
- Delegate when possible. Don’t be a controller at work and assume your way is the only way.
- Finally, seek balance in your life. Start each day recognizing what you do have: health, family, friends, love, intellect and a job.
Dr. Vanessa Gourdine is a psychologist, executive and life coach and Director of Specialized Therapy Associates, LLC and Life Work Strategies, LLC. She can be reached atDrG@LWSCoach.com. She has a behavioral health column in BC Magazine and is a regular contributor to lifestyle publications. She has developed a coaching model based on using strategies to influence growth and change for successful living. She can be reached at 201-224-5200.