Can work make you sick?According to the Center for Disease Control, 40% of working Americans state they find their job very or extremely stressful. That’s almost half of America finding themselves in stressful work environments. Many things can cause work to feel stressful: threat of layoffs, no longer enjoying the work you do, dealing with hostile/uncooperative employees or  customers, etc. In small doses, sometimes stress can be motivating, if it’s dealing with an upcoming deadline, or the working hard to try to get that upcoming promotion. However, if stressors are long-lasting, this is when the stress becomes dangerous; not only for your mental health, but your physical health as well.

What effect is job stress having on the current workplace environment?

The American Institute of Stress states that …

  • 25% of working Americans view their job as their #1 source of stress in life
  • 75% of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago
  • 26 % of workers said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work.
  • Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints, than financial or family problems

According to the 2000 “Attitudes in the American Workplace IV” Gallup Poll…

  • 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers need such help;
  • 14% of respondents had felt like striking a coworker in the past year, but didn’t
  • 25% have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress, 10% are concerned about an individual at work they fear could become violent
  • 9% are aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace and 18% had experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the past year.
I personally found these statistics quite startling. But is it our job environment that is causing this workplace stress? Or is it more an increase in our lack of ability to handle stressful situations? It’s likely a mix of both. Researchers have stated that it is not the workload itself that causes workplace stress, but that it is our ability to handle it that causes our level of stress.

Job Stress and Health

Stress, regardless of whether it’s caused by work or some other stressor, can lead to several health problems.

Acute Stress Effects

Pyschological

Job DissatisfactionLessened Affect (feeling sad, anxious, etc)

Physiological

Increased Heart Rate

Increased Blood Pressure

Behavioral

Sleep Problems (insomnia)

Substance Use/Abuse (beginning or increasing levels of alcohol and/or other drug consumption)

When our stressors lasts over long periods of time, it can become severe enough to lead to Hypertension, COPD, Alcoholism, and mental illness. Ultimately, answering the question that work can make us sick.

Preventing or Mitigating the effects of stress at work

Luckily, the news isn’t all bad; there are some First you have to determine what your stress triggers at work are. For about a week, each time you find yourself upset, angry, whatever stress emotion it is that you experience, write it down… write down EVERY detail.

  • Where were you at when it occurred
  • Who was involved?
  • What was your reaction?
  • Did you feel frustrated? Angry? Nervous?

What you may find is that all your stressors are experienced in your meetings… or that there is one person who always seems to be involved when you get stressed out.

Once you know what your stressors are, find out what you can do to lessen these effects.

  • If you’re feeling overloaded, that you have too much work to do…then see what time management skills you can implement.
  • Set realistic goals, deadlines, and timelines for yourself. So if your boss says, “get these 4 reports done by Friday” and it’s currently Monday, then set a goal maybe to get one report done each day, leaving yourself one day to look over them. Set progress reviews for yourself. Evaluate which time management skills work, and which ones don’t.
  • Make a priority list. Which projects or reports at work have to be done first?
  • Lastly – PROTECT YOUR TIME!! Set a time on your schedule, especially when working on a labor intesnive, difficult project, where you can work on it without being interrupted by others. If the morning is when everyone is getting into the office seems to be the most loud, maybe work on the project in the afternoon, etc.

Other factors that buffer the effects of job stress on well being are…

  • Good Social Support    Research shows that social support from supervisors and spouses were found to have more of a mitigating effect than support from less close friends, relatives, and co-workers. Although, all healthy social support was shown to be helpful at some level.
  • Good Coping skills     Coping is not a trait or disposition, coping is a continuous, transactional process which is modified by experience from within, and between stressful experiences. But remember, a coping strategy that is adaptive/helpful in one situation may be unhelpful, or maladaptive in another.

In Sum… stress, especially once it is out of control really can have an effect on your health. It’s important to try to keep it in check, and do what you can to keep it under control. This can include developing better coping skills, or learning something new like relaxation or assertiveness training. Have you seen programs like these implemented in your work place? What healthy coping skills have you found that help with stress? And what have your experiences with stress in the work place been like?

Other Recommended Reading

Is Your Job Killing You? – Fox News

Worker Health Chartbook – Center for Disease Control

How Much Job Stress Do You Have? – American Institute of Stress

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact usto learn more or to book an appointment.

Can work make you sick?
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