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Overcoming job stress

Almost everyone feels job stress at times, even if you like your job. You may feel stress about hours, coworkers, deadlines, or possible layoffs. Some stress is motivating and can help you achieve. But when job stress is constant, it can lead to health problems. Finding ways to relieve your stress can help you stay healthy and feel better.

Causes of Job Stress

Although the cause of job stress is different for every person, there are some common sources of stress in the workplace. These include:

  • Workload. This can include working long hours, having few breaks, or juggling a very heavy workload.
  • Work roles. It can cause stress if you do not have a clear work role, you have too many roles, or you have to answer to more than one person.
  • Job conditions. A job that is physically demanding or dangerous can be stressful. So can working at a job that exposes you to loud noise, pollution, or toxic chemicals.
  • Management. You may feel stress if management does not allow workers a say in making decisions, lacks organization, or has policies that are not family-friendly.
  • Issues with others. Problems with your boss or co-workers are a common source of stress.
  • Fear for your future. You may feel stress if you are worried about layoffs or not advancing in your career.

How Job Stress Affects Your Health

Like any kind of stress, job stress that continues for a long time can affect your health. Job stress may increase your risk for health problems such as:

  • Heart problems
  • Back pain
  • Depression and burnout
  • Injuries at work
  • Immune system problems

Job stress may also cause troubles at home and in other areas of your life, making your stress worse.

Signs to Watch for

Job stress may be a problem for you if you have any of these signs:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Problems in your personal relationships
  • Feeling unhappy in your job
  • Feeling angry often or having a short temper

What you can do

You do not need to let job stress take a toll on your health. There are many ways you can learn to manage job stress.

  • Take a break. If you are feeling stressed or angry at work, take a break. Even a short break can help refresh your mind. Take a short walk or have a healthy snack. If you cannot leave your work area, close your eyes for a few moments and breathe deeply.
  • Create a job description. Creating a job description or reviewing an outdated one can help you gain a better sense of what is expected of you and give you a better sense of control.
  • Set reasonable goals. DO NOT accept more work than you can reasonably do. Work with your boss and coworkers to set expectations that are realistic. It may help to keep track of what you accomplish every day. Share it with your manager to help set expectations.
  • Manage technology. Cell phones and email can make it hard to tune out work. Set some limits for yourself, such as turning off your devices during dinner or after a certain time every night.
  • Take a stand. If your working conditions are dangerous or uncomfortable, work with your boss, management, or employee organizations to resolve the problem. If this does not work, you can report unsafe working conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • Get organized. Start each day by creating a to-do list. Rate the tasks in order of importance and work your way down the list.
  • Do things you enjoy. Make time in your week to do things you enjoy, whether it is exercising, doing a hobby, or seeing a movie.
  • Use your time off. Take regular vacations or time off. Even a long weekend away can help give you some perspective.
  • Talk with a counselor. Many companies offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) to help with work issues. Through an EAP, you can meet with a counselor who can help you find ways to manage your stress. If your company does not have an EAP, you can seek out a counselor on your own. Your insurance plan may cover the cost of these visits.
  • Learn other ways to manage stress. There are many other ways to manage stress, including getting regular exercise and using relaxation techniques.

References

American Psychological Association. Mind/body health: Job stress. www.apa.org/helpcenter/job-stress.aspx. Accessed October 19, 2016.

American Psychological Association. Coping with stress at work. www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx. Accessed October 19, 2016.

American Psychological Association. Stress in the workplace. www.apa.org/helpcenter/workplace-stress.aspx. Accessed October 19, 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). STRESS...At Work. Updated June 6, 2014. www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101. Accessed October 19, 2016.

Review Date 9/3/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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