Most people spend at least eight hours a day — often more — dedicated to work and professional obligations. This is a significant amount of time, and it’s no surprise that many workers feel the effects of work-related stress. Work stress happens for a variety of reasons, and the American Institute of Stress reported that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, with almost half of those interviewed saying they need help managing stress.
Having consistent high levels of stress can be harmful to your health and even put you at risk for developing serious conditions like heart disease. Understanding the health risks of chronic stress and how to deal with stress at work can help you maintain your wellbeing in the long run.
Why so many people experience work stress
There are many different reasons for work stress, from being overworked with long hours or understaffing, to conflicts with supervisors or colleagues. According to the American Institute of Stress, the primary causes of stress in the workplace are:
- People issues
- Juggling work/personal lives
- Job security
Other reasons for workplace stress include: demanding deadlines, low salaries, unfulfilling work, lack of resources, few opportunities for upward mobility, and micro-management, among others.
Work stress is important for employers to be aware of, as well, because employees who are constantly stressed at work are not able to perform at their highest levels. Stressed workers are likely to have reduced morale and struggle to stay focused, which can affect productivity. Additionally, high-stress workplaces tend to have high turnover rates, leading workers to find new jobs in other places.
Health risks of chronic stress
First, it’s important to understand the different types of stress. Acute stress is a short-term reaction to a stressful situation. For example, a big deadline, a looming presentation, or a sudden rush of customers through the door can trigger instances of acute stress. Chronic stress, on the other hand, refers to having high-stress levels for an extended amount of time.
It’s normal to experience bouts of acute stress at work — these are typically easy to manage. However, chronic work-related stress can pose some serious health risks and lead to problematic consequences.
Health risks of chronic stress:
- Weight gain
- Weakened immune system
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
Stress affects every system of the body and can manifest in a variety of physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. For example, stress can often be a driver of overeating or undereating, drug or alcohol abuse, pessimism and irritability, and a loss of libido. Other signs can be low energy, upset stomach, insomnia and sleep issues, as well as heart palpitations.
Effective stress management strategies at work
Feeling stressed at work from time to time may be an inevitability, but it’s important to prevent this from becoming chronic. Proper stress management is critical for your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. Follow these tips to learn how to reduce stress at work:
Understand what triggers your stress.
Whether it’s a meeting or a combative coworker, take note of what causes you to feel stress. Once you know your stressors, you can avoid these topics and people as needed, and have your go-to relaxation techniques at the ready for situations you know typically trigger a stress response.
Practice relaxation techniques that work for you.
From practicing mindfulness to short meditations and breathing exercises, there are multiple ways to relax and deal with mounting stress. Breathing techniques are effective because stress can cause breathing to quicken. In response, taking slow, deep breaths can help lower your heart rate and calm down.
Build breaks into your day.
Just like your muscles can suffer from overexertion without breaks, the same can happen for your mental health. Taking a break once every 1-1.5 hours can not only decrease your stress level, but it can also improve your productivity at work.
Stress eating and drinking is a way many people self-medicate when they’re feeling overwhelmed. However, a healthy diet can help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. Because it leads to better sleep and improved energy, eating healthy helps you overcome some of the most common symptoms of stress.
Set boundaries to honor a better work-life balance.
Establish and clearly communicate your on and off-hours so colleagues know when they can and cannot expect a response from you. Keep work at work, and use your off days to relax and spend time with your loved ones and to practice hobbies.
Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel better. This can help you maintain a positive attitude and overcome the pessimism and negativity that stress often brings. Nearly any form of exercise will help relieve stress, so focus on the type of physical activity that you enjoy most.
How employers can help employees manage stress at work
The first thing employers can do in terms of stress management at work is to be aware of how their teams are feeling and keep tabs on their stress levels. When stress levels are high, inquire to understand what’s causing the stress, and take action to address the problem. For example, if workloads are burdening your team, redistribute tasks and determine if you need to hire additional staff members.
Arm employees with helpful stress management techniques and access to wellness resources and mental health benefits. Some workplaces offer step counters and contests to help promote movement, while others offer subsidized gym memberships. Encourage employees to take breaks, and build flexibility into work schedules where possible. Managing team stress levels is good for business and will help you reduce turnover and improve productivity.
Emergency treatment for stress symptoms
If you’re suffering from symptoms of stress like chest pain, headaches and migraines, muscular pain, or stomach pain, visit your nearest Neighbors Emergency Center. With six locations across the Greater Houston area, we’re able to treat any emergency to help you feel better. We’re open 24/7 to treat your symptoms.