Section 5 – Workplace Stress

What is Stress?

Harmful physical and emotional response that occurs when there is a poor match between job demands and the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by our response to pressure from the outside world. Common stress reactions include tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, and a variety of physical symptoms that include headache and a fast heartbeat.

It’s almost impossible to live without some stress. And most of us wouldn’t want to, because it gives life some spice and excitement. But if stress gets out of control, it may harm your health, your relationships, and your enjoyment of life.

Prevalence of Stress

We are now living in a busy world where we have to deal with pressure situations in every facet of our lives. In our everyday activities, we face situations that have the potential to upset our well-being.

Stress is how our body responses to what we believe to be a challenge. This can be a positive response and can in fact help motivate us to peak performance. However, there are also times when we experience the negative effects of stress when we believe the demands of work we are doing are more than we can manage.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of office visits to family doctors are for stress-related symptoms.

Nearly 30 per cent of Canadians are feeling more work-related stress now than last year, according to the 2010 Desjardins Financial Security National Health Survey. The survey included 1,769 interviews conducted with Canadian workers.

When prompted, survey participants said that their top stress inducers were an insufficient salary (30 per cent), work overload (27 per cent), a lack of recognition (22 per cent) and a negative work environment (22 per cent). Only 14 per cent named work-life imbalance as a source of stress. On the positive side, participants are making changes to manage the pressure including: relaxing their personal need for perfection; adopting new work styles, and; becoming more realistic about meeting urgent deadlines.

  • Twenty five per cent of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives (Northwestern National Life).
  • Three quarters of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago (Princeton Survey Research Associates).
  • Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor—more so than even financial problems or family problems (St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co).

Signs of Stress

Stress can present itself in many ways.

Physical signs and symptoms of stress

  • Muscle tension
  • Teeth grinding
  • Accidents
  • Headaches
  • Restless sleeps
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Increased use of alcohol, or cigarettes
  • Over and under eating
  • Dry mouth
  • A pounding heart
  • Frequent urination
  • Sweating palms

Emotional signs and symptoms of stress

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings

Social signs and symptoms of stress

  • Lashing out
  • Cynicism of others
  • Social withdrawal
  • Intolerance for others
  • Avoidance of social activities

Mental signs and symptoms of stress

  • Poor concentration
  • Racing thoughts
  • Low productivity
  • Lack of fulfillment
  • Inability to “turn work mind off” at home
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling excessively tired

If you are experiencing any of these signs of stress for prolonged periods of time it may be an indicator that you have a high level of stress, and you should take steps to reduce and eliminate the stressors and causes.

How to Prevent Job-Related Stress

When stress on the job is interfering with your ability to perform, take care of yourself, or manage your personal life, it’s time to take steps to change things. Start by looking closely at your physical and emotional health. When your physical and emotional health are prioritized and your need are addressed, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress. The healthier you feel, the more equipped you will be to manage work stress.

While some stress is normal in life, excessive stress interferes with your physical and emotional health, so it’s important to find ways to keep it under control. This change does not necessarily mean a total lifestyle switch. Even small things can improve your mood, add energy, and make you feel like you’re healthier and happier. Take one change at a time, and as you make more positive lifestyle choices, you’ll soon notice a greatly reduced stress level, both at home at work.

Below are some easy suggestions that you can try to create a less stressful environment at work:

  • Avoid too much caffeine, soda pop, and junk. Better yet, stop using them.
  • Don’t procrastinate. You’ll be happy you got it done.
  • Encourage positive self-talk.
  • Don’t get caught up in gossip or negative thinking.
  • Use the stairs for exercise.
  • Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant – leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Eat nourishing food that keeps you going and makes you feel good. Drink water.
  • Change your attitudes. Think of stressful situations as a challenge to your creative thinking.
  • Share work problems. If you encounter an unusually challenging work problem, talk with coworkers. It will help to talk through issues. Sometimes just by talking through a problem, you will find the answer.
  • Know your limits: Be realistic about what you can accomplish and do not put unrealistic workloads and timelines on yourself.
  • Say no when you can’t.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.
  • Find humour. Don’t take everything too seriously; find a way to break through with laughter. Share a joke or funny story.
  • Make “TO DO” lists. List everything you need to do in order of priority.
  • Schedule time for yourself. Stick to the schedule!
  • Take a relaxation break. Eat lunch away from your desk or work area. Try to go home on time.
  • Leave earlier from home in the morning. Running late and hurrying adds stress.
  • Take real weekends and vacations. Avoid thinking about work.
  • Turn off your blackberries and emails after a certain time. The email will wait till tomorrow.
  • Leave your cell phones and emails out of the restaurants. Enjoy your meals without stress.
  • Organize your files and work space so that things can be found quickly.
  • Delegate tasks.
  • Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day.
  • Stay positive.

For further information on mental health in the workplace, please visit our Workplace page, or to inquire about getting skilled help to assist in your workplace needs, contact us.