Work stress symptoms can differ widely from person to person, because everyone handles stress differently. In today’s fast-paced and modern workforce, jobs are changing more than ever. Expectations vary, personnel shifts, and the day to day tasks that most of us undertake at work vary. Work has become more open and free but also more stressful than ever before.
Too stressed at work? You may be in the wrong job. Use our job search tool to browse some exciting new options! Stressed as an employer? You may need to hire more people, and we can help with that, too.
The gig economy gives people more choice than ever before. That choice can be overwhelming and stressful. Employers work hard to provide employees with agency and meaningful work. That agency can cause nervousness, and meaning usually comes with anxiety. You get the idea. In many ways, work is better than ever for a lot of people. In other ways, it is becoming increasingly stressful. You don’t get a worldwide obsession with workplace wellness unless our jobs are also making us feel a bit unwell.
Causes Of Stress At Work
The work stress symptoms that a person experiences will vary based on the stressors that they experience and the type of person that they are. Lots of different things can cause stress symptoms at work:
- People. Yes, emotional mirroring is a phenomenon where we pick up the emotions of people that are around us. So we might be interacting with people who although may be happy themselves, they stress us out; we might also be interacting with people who are stressed out. If our workplace culture is one of stress, hair-pulling, 15 hour workdays, then we will begin to reflect these traits back to the workplace culture. We mirror the symptoms that we see.
- Pressure of job loss. If we feel that one more mistake will make us lose our job, we will associate the next budget meeting with the possible loss of our house and domestic happiness. When that happens, work can become super stressful.
- Feelings of incompetence. This may happen when we are frequently asked to do things that we either don’t enjoy or don’t feel good at. If we consistently must perform public speaking and don’t feel good at it, it will cause frequent stress. If there is a monthly task that takes a week that we don’t enjoy, that will lead to stress. Some skills we get better at over time, others we don’t.
- Home life. Ironically, our own life outside of work (“home life”) can be a huge cause of stress at work. If we don’t like what we do outside of work, it can be hard to enjoy work. Factors that have nothing to do with work can shift the context in which we experience work so that we become unhappy or overwhelmed.
- Burnout. If we don’t see a direction that we are heading in life or work, and feel stuck in the place that we’re currently in, then we may feel anxious about the day-to-day tasks. We won’t be motivated to pursue challenges and meaning.
- Lack of sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we can experience worse moods and higher stress levels.
Work Stress Test
While work stress symptoms can be different for everyone, here are some things to look out for in yourself and others:
- Physical symptoms: twitching, irregular breathing, picking at self, self-harm
- Difficulty sleeping and poor sleep
- Use of substances and alcohol in excess or irregularly
- Irritability and anger
- Feelings of depression and lack of energy
- Lack of motivation, and related mood symptoms
Managing stress symptoms and causes means that you play the long game. It isn’t about applying bandages to stress-wounds when they pop up, it’s about making lifestyle changes so that you experience less stress overall. Not all stress is bad! We have fight, flight, and freeze responses as human beings because they keep us safe — these are useful responses. Constant stress responses and cortisol hits, of course, are unhealthy and are not useful. The goal is not to completely remove stress from our lives, but to lower the peaks and spikes.
There are a number of causes of stress at work. Now that we’ve seen the work stress test, let’s check out strategies for managing stress in the workplace and how employers can reduce stress in the workplace.
A Complete Lifestyle
One of the best things that you can do for your workplace stress is to maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of work. Time with friends and family can be invigorating and provide a stable social network for you to fall back on in busy and stressful times.
Regular exercise is important for preventing disease and possibly reducing depression. It can also reduce inflammation and help your body recover from those cortisol spikes that you experience as stress. Eating a healthy diet is also important here. Choose lots of whole and good food, and don’t pick sugary snacks in the afternoon or you’ll crash your evening.
Get a good amount of sleep. This is one of the most important things that you can do for workplace stress. Lack of sleep, many studies have shown, is a bit like being intoxicated. We would never show up to work drunk, but most of us show up sleep deprived, and consistently.
How Can Employers Reduce Stress In The Workplace
Have open and honest conversations with employees. If you look back up at the things that can cause stress in the workplace, you’ll see that only some of them are related to the workplace. So part of being a good employer will be encouraging employees to take care of themselves.
- Self-care culture (this should fit into the core values of your company). Because of the way that social norms and emotional mirroring function, employees will take on the stress levels of their peers and superiors to a certain extent. Some companies have a huge problem with a stress-based culture that encourages employees to be a bit unhealthy and survive on low-level burnout because that is what communicates success and value. You’ll need to actively fight against stress culture and try to institute self-care culture.
- Help employees do what they love. This may require professional development at times. There are certain limitations to this idea. Obviously you might not have your accountant painting for 40 hours a week simply because they love it. Then again, when the office needs new artwork… you might commission a painting. Get creative here. Helping employees thrive in their talents will help reduce stress.
- Invest in lifestyle. Offering things like gym memberships, healthy snacks, yoga sessions, and meditation programs will go a long way to creating a sustainable work environment.
Strategies For Managing Stress In The Workplace
Managing workplace stress is ultimately the responsibility of the employee, even though the employer is crucial in empowering employees to self-manage their stress. Here are some things that employees can do to manage stress in their work situations:
- Take breaks. Times of deep focus permeated by times of brain breaks are the most effective and least stressful way to work. People will be happier because that focus can lead to flow states, and then will be less anxious because more work will get done.
- Ask for a raise. This can help piece things together financially outside of work.
- Exercise. If there is a way to fit a bit of yoga, stretching, or the gym into the workday — take advantage.
- Do what inspires you. Lunch breaks aren’t for TV, unless that’s what really inspires you.
- Be honest. Say “no” when you need to say no to things, be realistic about deadlines, and ask for help when you need it.
- Don’t procrastinate. Saving the big project until Thursday afternoon is a great way to help yourself to a bunch of anxiety.