Many of my patients tell me that they are under increased stress at work these days. Their stress seems to stem from several areas – working longer hours with heavier workloads with little-to-no increase in income. Because of the current economic conditions, many people are afraid to express their concerns. They fear losing their job if they disclose things that are going on at their workplace. Also, some job fields are just naturally more stressful than others. Public service work where you may frequently deal with sick, unhappy, or dissatisfied people can be very stressful.
In addition, job stress can manifest into physical symptoms like headaches, sore muscles, high blood pressure, and depression. Like my patients, you may be feeling stress from your job and don’t know what to do. Here’s what I suggest to my patients.
Job Stress – How To Handle It
Many studies show that job stress is the #1 complaint amongst adults. Over the last 5 years, this complaint has increased dramatically with more intricate complications. The rates of hypertension, heart attack, anxiety, insomnia, and other physical complaints have also increased.
Much of current job stress is coming from the slow economy and the domino-effect it has had on many businesses and jobs across the country. Many people are working (if they have a job!) at sub-par pay scales and have heavier workloads and longer work hours. Many have had health insurance benefits cut or decreased creating additional healthcare worries and bills as well.
In addition, many people have been forced to take jobs that are not in their field of expertise, or contentment, because of business closings and/or no available jobs in their field. As a result, many people do not feel as competent or happy with their jobs and this can be a source of depression and feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem, which creates even more stress.
So, what’s the answer? Well, as I tell my patients, we have very little to no control over the economy and it’s current woes. We do, however, have control over ourselves, for the most part, and can do several things to help decrease job stress, help us feel better about ourselves, and as a result stay physically and mentally healthier. I feel the following suggestions may help you to cope better with job stress:
1. Count your blessings. The first thing I tell my patients is to pull back and look at the big picture. With today’s economy, they are truly one of the lucky ones to even have a job at all. As stressful as your current job may be, be thankful that you do have a source of income right now. If you try and remember this and let this one factor dominate your other concerns, it can go a long way to helping decrease other stressors from your job until you can make a change.
2. Take pride in what you do. Even if you are working at below par pay, or are working in a field you’re not very comfortable in, do the very best job you can. Learn everything you can about your job so you can put your best effort forward. This will actually help decrease stress levels when you feel better about yourself and increasing your level of satisfaction with your current job duties. Lack of adequate information about job performance can be stressful as it leads to feelings of incompetency. Being able to say, I did a good job today, can dial down the stress levels in your mind (and blood pressure and blood sugar!).
3. Make friends at work. Often times my patients feel stressed out at work because they don’t have a good social support system there. They may feel disconnected from others in their work environment, perhaps feel incompetent, or feel like they don’t really fit in. Try and reach out to fellow workers and ask for their suggestions, let them know you want to be part of the team. If a new person joins your team, extend a kind invitation to him/her to join all of you at lunch or after work for a drink, coffee, etc. Find something a co-worker did well on the job and compliment him/her. This helps decrease the stress level for both of you.
4. Exercise, exercise. Nothing releases stress of any kind, especially job stress, like regular exercise. This is why gyms are especially busy right after 5 pm – many people like to hit the treadmill, bike, elliptical and run off their stress then go home in a better mood. Exercise increases feel good endorphin hormones in your brain which can lift your mood dramatically. If possible, during the work day, organize a group walk, or some other exercise, on lunch hour. This builds camaraderie, allows everyone to relax for a while and feel better the rest of the workday.
5. Make constructive suggestions. If you see something at your job that could help things to run smoother and decrease yours and your co-workers’ stress levels, make a constructive suggestion to your employer without judging or complaining. Keep in mind that some solutions may require more money than your employer can spend. Showing your boss how he/she can save money, or make more money with your suggestions can be of benefit to everyone.
6. Manage environmental stress. Some job stress actually comes from environment factors at your job – too bright or dim lights can cause eye strain and headaches; non-ergonomic, uncomfortable work stations can cause muscle tension and aches, chronic loud or persistent noise can cause headaches and irritability, even your commute to and from work can cause agitation stress. Explain to your employer that you find it difficult to do your work effectively due to the problem you may be having in your environment. Employers may be so busy with other concerns that they have overlooked factors that may affect their employees’ stress levels.
Unfortunately, job stress is something many people have to some degree. As I tell my patients, try to constructively change the things you can at work to decrease your stress levels. As for the things you cannot change, try the above suggestions to stay happier and healthier until the time comes when you can change your job for the better.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Reducing Stress from Poor Ergonomics, http://www.mindtools.com/stress/EnvironmentalStress/FurnitureandErgonomics.htm
Tips for Coping with Stress at Work, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coping-with-stress/SR00030
photo credit: worldtunnelling.com