Health and safety reps take care of all the obvious physical risks at work, but one element they can’t help you with is stress. We all need a healthy amount of stress and challenges to keep us on our toes, but it can easily become too much for us and impact on our health.
How you’ll know your work stress is excessive
Excessive stress manifests itself through physical, behavioural and psychological symptoms. Too much stress ultimately impacts on our health and can even kill.
Does the mere thought of work make your heart thunder in your chest? Are you a bundle of aches and pains at the end of a work day? If you feel tired out all the time, suffer from frequent headaches, have trouble getting to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, your stress levels at work could be to blame. Tummy upsets, IBS and skin rashes are also signs of workplace stress that you should be alert for.
We don’t like to admit to depression, but if everything seems too much for you and you’re having difficulty maintaining a positive outlook, you may be going into a downward spiral that’s being caused by your workplace stress. Do you have a very short fuse these days? Do you feel anxious all the time? You should be hearing alarm bells warning you that your life is too stressful. If you’re suffering from lack of concentration and have trouble making up your mind what to do in situations you used to cope with easily, you need to take action now.
Knowing the behavioural symptoms of stress not only helps us to take care of ourselves, it also helps us to understand our stressed out partner or work colleague. Look out for irritability, impatience and sudden mood swings. When people are stressed out, they have trouble relating to others and may seem isolated or uninterested. Tears and temper tantrums might have more to do with stress than they do with sadness or anger.
What can I do about my workplace stress?
If your work stress has become so bad that you’re exhibiting severe symptoms, you need to take emergency action. Visit your family doctor and explain how you reached the conclusion that work stress is affecting your health. Most doctors realise the serious health consequences of stress and will book you off for a much-needed break.
If you don’t want to use up your sick leave, take a holiday instead. You will need at least three weeks off to regain some equilibrium. Remember, this is about your health and your health should be your first priority – but you can’t make rational decisions when you’re in fight or flight mode all the time. You need to find calmness first.
Reflect on your job and what aspects of it are becoming stressful. Sometimes, changing your own approach to work is enough, sometimes a frank chat with your manager is what’s needed. Perhaps you’re just not suited to your job and should consider a complete change.
Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater see if your personal habits are adding to your work stress. Do you take breaks during the work day? Do you eat properly? Are you spending enough time on exercise, rest and relaxation? Formulate a plan of action to eliminate these habits and explain your situation to your family. They will have noticed the changes in you that stress causes and their support and understanding will help you to see the process through.