How to Effectively Deal with Job Stress

Updated: September 22, 2010

What exactly is job stress?

We have all heard about it and we have all felt its effects. But we usually don't take a step back and ask ourselves what job stress is and how it affects our lives.

Job stress (also called "workplace stress") is usually defined as the harmful physical, emotional, and psychological reactions that you experience when:

  • Your capabilities, resources, or needs do not match the requirements of your job very well
  • Your job places high demands on you but you have little or no control over the outcomes


How common is job stress?

Our world is becoming more complicated and our future is becoming more uncertain. So it's no wonder that research is showing that stress in the workplace has been increasing over time:

  • A study done by a life insurance company found that 40% of workers reported that their job is "very or extremely stressful." In addition, 25% of employees felt that their jobs contributed to their stress more than anything else.
  • A non-profit organization studying workplace stress found that about 25% of workers feel they are "often or very often burned out or stressed by their work."
  • A survey conducted by a research organization indicated that 75% of people believe that workers today experience more on-the-job stress than workers a generation ago.
  • A Gallup Poll found that 80% of people experience job stress and that almost half of all employees feel that they need help in coping with this stress.

So if you are feeling stressed out at work, you're not alone!

Some jobs are inherently more stressful than others. No one would argue that jobs involving danger, like police and firefighter work, create stress. And it's clear to most people that high demanding jobs, like customer service and healthcare work, also entail lots of stress.

But did you ever think that repetitive, detailed work is stressful? Research studies indicate that manufacturing jobs and other work involving detail and repetition can be very stressful to most people.

It appears, then, that stress is not limited to certain jobs or industries. It shows it's threatening face just about everywhere you look!


What are the warning signs of job stress?

Although a little stress at work can actually motivate you and keep you on your toes, prolonged job stress in heavy doses can damage your physical and mental health. That's why it's important to put it on your radar so that you can keep it under control.

It's easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of your life and to overlook evidence that job stress is seriously affecting you. You may be feeling that things aren't quite right, but you may not question why you feel so out of balance.

Any combination of the following symptoms or "warning signs" might indicate that you are experiencing excessive stress at work:

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue / sluggishness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Stomach problems
  • Sleeping problems
  • Chronic health problems

Psychological Symptoms

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Negativity
  • Cynicism
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy / loss of interest
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alienation / social withdrawal

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Conflicts with family, friends, and co-workers
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Absenteeism or being late for work

Of course, you may also be experiencing stress in other areas of your life besides work. Regardless of its source, prolonged stress can be debilitating and can have serious consequences if you don't take any corrective action.


What are the causes of job stress?


There are two main schools of thought regarding the causes of workplace stress. The first theory focuses on internal factors (or "worker characteristics"), and the second theory focuses on external factors (or "working conditions").

The theory that emphasizes what's going on inside of us argues that we are all different and that the things that are stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. This school of thought calls attention to our "individual differences," such as personality traits and our coping skills.

The second theory states that certain external (or environmental) conditions, such as the following, inherently induce stress:

  • Fear of losing one's job
  • Excessive workload demands
  • Pressure to meet deadlines
  • Pressure to work at optimal levels at all times
  • Pressure to meet increased expectations
  • Lack of control over work-related decisions and outcomes
  • Unclear or conflicting job expectations
  • Inadequate work direction or supervision
  • Dangerous working conditions
  • Demanding or angry customers
  • Excessive overtime
  • Changing work hours or rotating work schedules
  • Inflexible work hours
  • Frequent emergencies demanding immediate response

It seems that both theories have something important to say about job stress. On the one hand, you will be in a better position to deal with stress if you understand your own personality traits and what makes you feel stressed out. On the other hand, if you are aware of the common environmental factors that contribute to job stress in most people's lives, you may pay more attention to them and recognize when they are affecting you negatively.


What things might stress you out on a brand new job?

Most individuals feel greater stress whenever things change in their lives. It's typical for someone to get more anxious when they get married, have a baby, move into a new house, or start a new job. Feeling overwhelmed by these things is quite normal mostly because change involves uncertainty and confusion about what the future has in store for us.

Learning how to become successful on a new job can be very stressful at times. The job itself has its challenges, and it places certain demands on you. But the degree of stress that you experience on the job will depend primarily on how you look at things and how you cope with expectations and difficulties.

The first couple of months on a new job may be the most difficult for you because you may not be completely confident in your ability to complete your job tasks. At first, the job may feel overwhelming and you may question whether or not you are doing things correctly. As you become more familiar with the technical aspects of the job, however, your self-confidence will grow and you will experience less stress over time.

Sometimes stress is self-imposed because you feel that you shouldn't get stressed out and because you think that you are the only person having problems. It's important to remember that most people feel some kind of stress during the first few months on a new job. Stress simply comes with the territory!

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