Chronic, high stress can make your job lose its luster.
No job is completely free of stress. Even an enviable gig like being a Ben & Jerry’s taste tester probably faces some occasional strife. Still, some workplaces will test your patience, self-esteem, or stamina more than others.
Work-Related Stress: A Common Phenomenon
Stress is always a tough word to define, and it shouldn’t be confused with the feeling of being challenged. In fact, your work should challenge you, or you might start getting bored and unmotivated. To sum it up in a sentence, work-related stress is what people experience when office challenges are not matched to their current abilities or resources, according to the World Health Organization.
One 2011 study by the American Psychological Association surveyed 1,546 adults in the United States to put workplace stress into numbers:
36 percent of responders say they “typically feel tense or stressed out” during the workday.
20 percent rated their stress as an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale.
23 percent say they do not feel valued by their boss.
44 percent admitted they intend to find a new job in the upcoming year.
One word: yikes.
What Burnout Looks Like in the Workplace
When stress in the workplace goes too far, you might experience something called burnout. Most people have a certain threshold for tolerating garden-variety stress, but once that point is crossed, it becomes difficult to go to work every day and find the motivation to do your job well.
Here are signs you might have burnout at your job.
You have body pains. Neck aches, headaches, and backaches are common problems for people under severe stress. Here are more headache triggers you should know about.
You take lots of sick days. First of all, being under high stress can literally make you sick more often. But additionally, you may be skipping work just because you can’t seem to pull yourself out of bed. Everyone loves a day off, but it’s a problem if you have an intense dread, anxiety, or even fear of going to work.
Your sleep is messed up. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up, your anxiety about work might be disturbing your sleep. Here are more health problems caused by chronic stress and anxiety.
You feel unproductive. Everyone has slow days now and then, but if you’re actively trying to get work done but can’t stay focused, you might be too stressed from work. High levels of stress can cloud your judgment, blunt your creativity, and make decision making more difficult.
You feel violent urges. One study found that 25 percent of U.S. adults felt like screaming and shouting at a coworker because of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. Even worse, 14 percent of respondents admitted to wanting to hit a coworker (but didn’t, thankfully).
You fight with loved ones after work hours. About 75 percent of stressed employees admitted their stress carries over to their personal life and affects their relationships, especially marriages, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
You have panic attacks. There’s no getting around this one: Panic attacks are a serious sign that you are struggling to cope with your current situation. Here are the signs of a panic attack you should know.
You cope using food, drugs, or alcohol. Stress-eating, binge-drinking, and abusing drugs are—unfortunately—popular methods of “easing the pain.” Those who experience higher levels of stress are more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol addictions, according to a study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. They are also more prone to developing binge eating disorder and other eating disorders.
You feel hopeless about work. This is the tell-tale sign of burnout: despondency. Feeling nervous, jittery, and under pressure are signs of stress, but feeling defeated means you’ve lost hope and don’t see the point in trying at work anymore. If you feel this daily for weeks at a time, you are probably burnt out, and it might be time to dust off your resume and find a new opportunity.
If you’re not quite feeling burnout yet, you might just benefit from some new stress-busting strategies:
Highlights: workplace stress & anxiety disorders survey. Silver Spring, MD: Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (Accessed on January 15, 2022 at https://adaa.org/workplace-stress-anxiety-disorders-survey.)
National Stress Out Week highlights stress management in the workplace. Silver Spring, MD: Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (Accessed on January 15, 2022 at https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/press-releases/national-stress-%3Fut-week-highlights-stress-management-in-the-workplace#.)
Singha R. Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2008 Oct;1141:105-30.
Stress at the workplace. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. (Accessed on January 15, 2022 at http://www.who.int/occupational_health/topics/stressatwp/en/.)
Stress in the workplace: survey summary. American Psychological Association, 2011. (Accessed on January 15, 2022 at https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/phwa-survey-summary.pdf.)
Workplace stress. New York, NY: American Institute of Stress. (Accessed on January 15, 2022 at https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/.)