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Stress is a part of everyday life. In some ways, stress can even be a good thing. Acute stress sharpens your senses, makes you more alert, and can improve your productivity in the short term.
However, too much long-term stress can impact your body and mind, possibly leading to debilitating symptoms. Persistent stress can cause muscle tension which may eventually lead to body aches and even atrophy. Chronic stress also weakens the immune system and decreases the efficiency of respiratory organs. Your mental health may also deteriorate when you are placed under too much stress, as your nervous system is fried by too much time spent worrying.
Unfortunately, workplaces are a common cause of stress. Deadlines, office politics, conflict, and inadequate working conditions are common stressors for folks who work in high-pressure environments.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can learn to identify your workplace stressors and manage the symptoms through some careful planning and prevention techniques.
Identifying Workplace Stressors and Symptoms
Before you start trying every remedy, it’s worth figuring out the exact cause of your stress. Take stock of your symptoms and learn to identify the exact point at which your heightened workplace stress manifests.
Digestive issues are common among folks who suffer from chronic workplace stress. That’s because your mind and gut are connected through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest in your body and is responsible for managing stress.
When your vagus nerve is overstimulated by stress and anxiety, your gut health can suffer. Indigestion, cramps, and diarrhea are all common signs of chronic stress and can create a cycle of anxiety about eating, poor digestion, and further stress.
It’s also worth noting that stress impacts the microorganisms and bacteria that live in your gut. Stress creates a hostile environment for gut flora, which leads to issues with digestion and an increased chance of developing gastrointestinal issues.
Substance abuse isn’t always as obvious or stereotypical as it is portrayed in the media. It can come in many different forms. In reality, the connection between stress and substance abuse makes addiction shockingly common.
Approximately 21.2 million Americans live with a substance abuse disorder. There are plenty of behavioral and psychological reasons why you may be at a heightened risk of developing an addiction. These reasons include increased, long-term stress that you try to curb temporarily with substances.
Unfortunately, substance abuse fails to alleviate long-term stress. Instead, addiction to alcohol and other drugs simply deepens the stress cycle and makes it harder for you to overcome your stressors. It may be worth reassessing your relationship with alcohol if you notice that you turn to drinks after a hard day at work, as you may be using alcohol to cover up chronic stress.
Do you feel as though your values align with your employer’s — or do you find yourself regularly burying thoughts about ethics and personal values? If you find yourself turning a blind eye to your company culture, then it may be your workplace at the root of your stress.
You shouldn’t feel bad about cultural misalignments at work. Many things impact workplace culture like the age of your peers, geographic features, and social equity at work. If you are misaligned with one or more of these cultural values then you might find yourself feeling stressed or out of place.
Work-related depression is among the top three workplace issues in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s even more likely to impact you if you work remotely. Remote work can blur the boundaries between work and the rest of your life, leaving you feeling stressed even when you’re relaxing on your couch.
Identifying depression may be a little more tricky than you’d first think. Symptoms like fatigue, complacency, and continuous errors may be a sign that you are experiencing depression and letting your standards slip. Unfortunately, slipping standards can lead to deeper depression, as poor work performance can impact your self-esteem. This vicious cycle is a major cause of work anxiety because you feel like you can’t keep up.
Managing Work Stress
Identifying the cause of your work stress is an important step toward avoiding burnout, taking better care of yourself, and living a healthier, happier life. However, just knowing the source of your stress isn’t enough — you have to take action to better manage your workplace stress.
Start With Self-efficacy
Building self-efficacy is an important first step when learning to manage and overcome workplace stress. It’s hard to make positive changes to your work life if you don’t believe in yourself or value your contributions.
You can start improving your self-efficacy by practicing positive self-talk. Repeating reality-based, positive reinforcement can help you see yourself in a more positive light and will likely spark a change in mindset that helps you feel up to the challenge of overcoming workplace stressors.
If you struggle with self-efficacy, it might be worth seeing a therapist. The stigma around therapy is finally starting to subside, and a good therapist can help you shift your mindset to overcome negative self-talk.
Stress is isolating. When you’re under stress, it’s easy to feel as though you’re the only person suffering and that other people don’t understand the issues you face. In reality, everyone has been through periods of chronic stress in their lives, and good managers are likely trained to help you reduce your workplace stress.
However, talking about stress can cause even greater stress. If this is the case for you, it’s worth making a short, bulleted list of things you want to say before you reach out to your boss for a meeting. A little preparation goes a long way to ensure that you represent yourself well and calm your nerves.
Promote Psychological Safety
You may not realize it, but your behaviors resonate with those around you. If you promote a safe psychological space amongst your peers, they will likely reciprocate and help put you at ease during stressful periods.
You can promote psychological safety at work by encouraging curiosity and conversation with your peers. This will lead to a greater sense of trust between your colleagues, and just talking about stressors can lead to solutions or a shift in perspective. In the long run, psychological safety can create an emotionally secure network of coworkers that will have your back during times of stress.
Millions of employees miss the signs of stress until they suffer burnout and develop physical health conditions. You can prevent and manage chronic stress at work by learning to identify it before it takes a toll on your well-being. This may require the help of a therapist, but learning to cope with stress is an important step toward living a happier, more fulfilled life.