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The Impact of Workplace Stress and How to Deal With It

Dec 11th, 2012

Workplace StressMost workers are tied up with their jobs and careers. Some work so hard that their physical health and relationships take the blow. Three out of four Americans find work stressful.

While the health effects of workplace stress on Americans often take the spotlight, the economic implications are also alarming. U.S. employers lose an estimated $300 billion annually through absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, compensation, health insurance, and other stress-related expenses. Managing stress-related problems has become an important challenge for businesses.

People may also experience physical symptoms because of stress. Common complaints include fatigue, headache, and digestive problems. Stressed people also feel irritable, angry, nervous, and unmotivated.

Increased workload is the greatest cause of stress. Employees work more today than they did thirty years ago, adding almost one month’s worth or work each year. Companies downsize and employee workloads are getting upsized.

Occupational stress, however, is not limited to work. It can also arise from the conflicts between the demands of work and home. According to a U.S. Department of Labor survey, ten percent of workers who are married or living with children report severe work-family conflict, while another 25 percent experience moderate conflict levels.

Today’s highly connected world may be partly to blame. Workers find it difficult to separate work from their personal lives saying that the demands of their jobs interfere with family or home responsibilities.

However, stress may not always a bad thing. The right amount of stress can stimulate creativity and productivity. Without stress, no one can reach their peak performance. We normally go through natural cycle of experiencing a stressful event or situation, reacting to that event with increased tension, and returning to our normal state. Problem arises when stress becomes too unbearable and persistent that this natural pattern is disrupted.

Each year, about sixty percent of lost workdays can be blamed on stress. Stress-related conditions account for 75 to 90 percent of visits to health care providers, adding to the employers’ financial burden. Stress affects the way people do their jobs. Too much stress can cause employees to commit more mistakes, become angry, become disorganized, have difficulty concentrating, or simply stop caring about their jobs. Nearly fifteen percent of workers quit their jobs because of stress.

Furthermore, increased stress can result to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle. These can further lead to serious health problems. Here are some important strategies to manage work-related stress.

Know yourself. People respond to stress in different ways. Take note of the things that stress you out and recognize your stress level. Be aware of how you respond to stress. Too much stress can make you feel angry, irritable, or out of control. It can affect your concentration and decision-making strategies. Stress may also manifest itself physically in the form of headaches, muscle pain, and fatigue. Knowing your stress signals will help you deal with it.

Recognize your stress coping mechanisms. How do you deal with stress? Some people respond in a positive way like exercising, meditating, or getting to the root of the problem. Others, however, resort to unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and binge eating. The next time you’re stressed out, be aware of how you cope with it.

Use technology wisely. Advancement in communication technology has changed the way we work. In some ways it can improve productivity, but it can also affect rest, family time, and vacations. Make a rule to leave your work in the office. Turn off your cell phone and do not access your work emails when you get home; set certain times when you can return calls and reply to your emails. Let others know about your rules, so they’ll know what to expect. Learn how to make technology work for you, rather than the other way around.

Make a list. Planning your tasks ahead is an effective way to deal with stress. Having a list will help you remember important tasks so you won’t have to constantly think about the things you need to get done. Create a list of your work and personal tasks and mark high-priority items. Your list will reduce the risk of forgetting something and help you focus on your current task.

Take breaks. Taking one or two minute breaks periodically during work hours will help you stay energized and productive throughout the day. Stand up, take a walk, stretch, and breathe deeply to keep tension from building up. Resist the temptation of working through your lunch break. Take ten minute breaks every few hours to recharge. The increased productivity will more than make up for your break time.

Manage stress the healthy way. Eliminate unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, drinking, and eating junk food. Find healthy ways to deal with stress like exercise, relaxation, and talking with family and friends. Resorting to unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to get rid of. Don’t be too hard on yourself; focus on modifying one behavior at a time. If a behavior is too difficult to change, you may need to seek help from a licensed professional.

Sharpen your communication skills. Learn how to express your needs and wants and how to give positive and negative feedback to others. These techniques are important to restore the natural cycle of stress and relaxation.

Take care of yourself. Have a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and stay active. Having a healthy mind and body will prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead. Improve your physical and mental health through activities like sports, yoga, going to the gym, or even walking around the block. Go on vacations. No matter how busy you are, carve out some time for yourself. Read a good book, learn new things, listen to your favorite songs, or enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant.

Ask for support. Your family’s and friend’s support can help ease your stress. Find out if your company-sponsored health insurance covers mental health. If you’re too overwhelmed by work stress, it may be necessary to seek professional health to better manage stress and modify unhealthy behavior.

Source: VISTA Health Solutions

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