Job stress has become a worldwide problem. A Gallup Poll reported that 80% of American workers suffer some type of stress on the job. And half say they need help learning how to manage it. Some work stress is normal, but extreme or chronic pressures can leave you with a whiplash, harming your health and interfering with your ability to function. Studies show that chronic work stress can be just as bad for your mental and physical well-being as smoking or lack of exercise. Prolonged job stress keeps defenses on high alert and raises your risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, chronic pain and a lowered immune system.
Identify Your Job Stressors
It’s usually not your entire job that causes stress but one or two aspects of it. A CareerBuilder survey reported that 45% of American workers complain that their workload is too heavy. A Korn Ferry survey revealed that two-thirds of 2,000 professionals said their job stress levels are higher today than five years ago. The largest source of that stress? Bosses. A global survey by World Business showed that nearly one-half (49%) of workers said their company encourages overwork. Another study found that highly effective managers work fewer hours (an average of 52 hours a week), compared to less productive managers who work longer hours (an average 70 hours a week). Managers who work the longer hours suffer greater anxiety, depression, burnout and twice the number of health-related problems than managers putting in fewer hours.
According to British researchers, long workweeks in high-pressured jobs contribute to risk of heart attack. Employees who put in more than eleven hours a day were 67% more likely to have a heart attack, compared to those who put in fewer hours. Employees working double or triple duty to offset budget cuts were the most likely to be plagued by stress-induced headaches, muscle pain, metabolic disorders and fatigue outside the workplace. Studies also show that a noisy workplace causes stress hormones to rise to unhealthy levels—a condition that constricts coronary arteries and reduces blood supply to the heart. People exposed to chronic loud noise on the job are twice as likely to have heart disease and heart attacks as those who toil in quieter places. Work style also can contribute to job stress. If you’re attracted to a high-stress career, you’re more likely to pressure yourself with unrealistic job demands, fail to monitor work habits, skip lunch breaks or eat your desk and allow your career to trump other aspects of your life.
Devise A Work Health Plan
What about you? What is your biggest job stressor and what can you do about it? Chances are you’re not aware that your stress response is on high alert when you’re working. Perhaps you get swept up in your commitments and don’t realize the toll—both mental and physical—job stress can take on you. You can’t fire your boss or take over the company and restructure it, but you can be a better stress manager. Here are some tips to reboot your health when you feel like job pressures are crashing down upon you:
1. Be proactive with self-care. Make sure
you realize you’ve hit your breaking point long before stress-warning
signs set in. Instead of pushing past them, cushion your workday to
soften stress blows. Avoid putting yourself under unrealistic deadlines.
Replace “deadlines” with “lifelines.” Take “health days” in addition to
“sick days.” Spread job tasks over reasonable time frames. Build time
cushions between meetings. Try leaving for work 10 or 15 minutes earlier
so you won’t start your day in a hurry. Ease into your workday instead
of catapulting into it. Unplug at the end of the day and set boundaries
to protect your personal and private time.
2. Avoid multitasking. Studies show that multitasking isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and in fact that it takes longer to go from one task to the next because of the added time to refresh your memory of each task. Workers who focus on one task at a time are more efficient, productive and effective at work/life harmony.
3. Stay grounded and come up for air. Be mindful of your surroundings. Pay attention to what’s around you and bring your attention into the present moment to reduce stress and generate more performance energy in a demanding job. Take off your socks and shoes and feel your toes against the floor. Pay close attention to how the floor feels against your feet. If you have an opened window, focus your senses on nature: sounds of chirping birds, fragrance of blooming flowers, or sight of squirrels in the trees. Take 60 seconds to identify the sounds around you (traffic in the background, voices off in the distance, the gurgling of your stomach) then notice your heart rate slow, your muscles loosen and your mind clear.
4. Change your scenery. Getting outside even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes, not only gives your fatigued mind a break, it also boosts your mood. Dine away from your desk or take a walk around the block or in a park before returning to work.
5. Give your workstation a makeover. A disorganized or sloppy work area can raise stress. Does your desk look like a tsunami struck? If so a tidy work space can reduce stress and establish feelings of calm and control.
6. Dial back on overtime. To cut your health risks, reduce overtime work when possible. Toil by the adage of working smarter, not longer.
7. Meditate. Meditating or contemplating at your desk for just five minutes is restorative. It helps you unwind, clear your head, and refresh your mind, body and spirit.
8. Stay fit outside the office. Think of your work site as the Olympics. Your physical and mental endurance at work hinges on being in good shape. Prepare yourself for your workdays by taking care of your physical health outside of work. Prime yourself with good nutrition, vigorous exercise and ample sleep. Avoid nicotine and use alcohol in moderation.