Are you feeling the pain of work-related stress? Here are some ways to tell if it’s time to care of what’s causing you stress at work.
Work-related stress is not just an inconvenience — let it go on long enough and you may have a serious health problem on your hands.
Hans Selye, the father of stress research, once said that as long as we are breathing we are under stress. Since we spend a large chunk of our waking hours at work, it’s one of the usual suspects when it comes to stress-related problems. But regardless of source, we’ve known since the 1950s that internal problems can eventually make themselves known externally. That means that when we have emotional stress for an extended period, we can end up physically sick, feeling it in our body through aches and pains, struggles with sleep and more.
How Stress Can Affect Your Body
Think about what happens to your body when you’re having a nightmare: All of your muscles tense and your heart starts to race. You wake up physically feeling like you’ve run a 5K, but you’ve been laying in bed the whole time. In other words, the physical reaction your body has is related to what is going on in your head, rather than a response to what your body is physically doing.
Having a nightmare isn’t the only time you can have a very specific physical response to the type of stress you’re experiencing; work-related stress may also affect your body. Some of the most telltale signs include:
- Insomnia or nightmares. Anxiety and stress have shown to be top causes of bouts of insomnia, and a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on a person’s well being, mental stability and immune system.
- Increase or decrease in appetite. While short-term stress can completely wipe out all appetite in some, “stress eating” is a much more common effect, as the brain releases cortisol when stress persists, which increases appetite.
- Aches and pains. Stress hurts, especially when it leads you to grind your teeth, clench your jaw and slouch. Numerous physical symptoms have been linked to stress and anxiety, suggesting that chronic or intense short-term stress could have a profound impact on the nervous system and beyond.
While these symptoms can very well have other origins, they represent very viable starting points that will help you understand where your stress comes from and how to solve the problem.
Addressing Work-Related Stress
You’ve got two choices for how to cope with work-related stress: You can either try to get rid of the thing causing the stress, or you can try to mitigate it through other means. These tactics are, aptly, referred to as problem-focused coping or emotion-focused coping.
- Problem-focused coping is about ridding your life of the problem in question. You can address the problem head-on as a way to put a stop to it. For example, you may want to figure out how to help your boss solve his or her problems, have a heart-to-heart with your coworker, try to a new tactic to getting the resources you need, or ask for a raise. The key here is that you’re getting rid of the stressor from your life rather than circling around it. In the most extreme cases of work-related stress, you may be better off leaving your job entirely and finding greener pastures.
- Emotion-focused coping is about how you’ve organized your life and your head space, and addresses areas that are not directly related to removing the stressor from the equation. This might mean that you kick-start a new workout routine, spend more time with your family, find a better work-life balance, or even take up meditation. Any of these solutions can help lesson the impact of your current stress level on your physical health.
The most important point to know about coping is this: Emotion-focused coping can help short-term but is not a long-term solution to your stress problem. Eventually, you’re going to have to fix the problem causing the stress if you want to truly remove the impact it has on your life.