Few jobs are without stress, unless you make balloon animals at kid’s parties. Even then, try telling a 3-year-old that you can’t make Superman out of balloons without causing a tantrum.
So if we can’t entirely avoid stress at work – the looming deadlines, the crabby customers, the hectic days – the best we can do is learn how to deal with stress by practicing healthy coping techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, and by taking proactive steps to reduce the stressor.
This approach works well most of the time, but even the most effective coping techniques may be no match for that chronic, in-your-face stress that keeps coming at you. Like a professional boxer, it’s blow after blow of non-stop stress, and it only stops when you’re down and out. This type of stress, the kind that leads to burnout, often occurs among firefighters, soldiers, pilots, and police officers, just to name a few (Health.com, 2015). However, in today’s fast-paced, competitive work environment, with frequent budget cuts and restructuring, chronic stress is commonplace in most occupations, most positions and even most organizations.
While a certain level of stress can be energizing, chronic stress almost always leads to lower productivity, absenteeism, poor health and a plethora of other issues. That’s why it is important to recognize the signs, in self and in others, and take steps to remedy the situation before it is too late.
SIGNS OF STRESS
So what are the signs of stress?
They can be divided into three categories: Physiological, Emotional and Cognitive.
Physiological Signs of StressNeuro-muscular tension:
- Tense muscles
- Nervous ticks
- Teeth grinding
Aches and pains:
- Frequent headaches
- Neck or back pain
- Stomach aches
- Shortness of breath
- Choking feeling
- Tendency to hold your breath
- Spontaneous weight gain or weight loss
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Constant tiredness
- Lack of energy
- Restless leg syndrome
- Light-headedness, fainting
- Palpitations, racing heart
- Chest pain
Negative immune responses:
- Rashes, hives, eczema
- Frequent colds, colds sores, or other infections
- Frequent allergy attacks
- Tinnitus (ears ringing)
- Blurred vision
- Impaired hearing
- Dizziness, balance problems
Emotional Signs of Stress
The feeling of being on a constant emotional rollercoaster:
- Uncharacteristic emotional outbursts
- Mood swings
- Overreacting to minor triggers
- Increased anger, frustration and fear
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
The feeling of impending doom:
- Excessive anxiety, worry, nervousness
- A sudden onslaught of panic attacks
The feeling of overwhelming sadness:
- Crying spells
- Suicidal thoughts
The feeling that you’re just not good enough:
- Negative self-talk
- Ruminating and over-thinking problems
- Feelings of loneliness
- Feelings of worthlessness
Cognitive Signs of Stress
- Being unable to focus on the task at hand
- Racing or scattered thoughts
- Being unable to shut your thoughts off at night
- Trouble learning or processing new information
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty making decisions
- Focusing too much on the negatives
HOW TO RECOGNIZE STRESS IN OTHERS
It’s fairly easy to notice these symptoms when you’re experiencing them, but how can you tell if an employee is under too much stress? Here’s how the physiological, emotional, and cognitive symptoms of stress translate into behaviors:
Their demeanor changes:
- They become angry or agitated more easily
- They’re restless and can’t sit still or relax
- They show little interest in their appearance
- They develop nervous habits, like twitching, fidgeting, or biting their nails
- They look tired or are low on energy
Their performance changes:
- They’re coming in late or calling in sick more often
- They’re procrastinating or avoiding tasks
- They’re “scatterbrained” and forgetting important deadlines, appointments, or tasks
- They’re less productive
- They’re less motivated and driven, and seem to be just going through the motions
- They become less engaged, and stop caring about their work
- They make up excuses as to why their work is not up to par
- They are making more mistakes or, in the case of manual labor, having accidents
They are acting out of character and treating people differently:
- They’re more judgmental, critical, and tactless
- They have little patience with others and get into arguments more often
- They overreact to minor annoyances that normally wouldn’t bother them
- They withdraw from other people
- They complain more
SLIPPING INTO BURNOUT MODE
After a while, intense, chronic stress can lead to burnout. There is only so much the body can take; like a car that’s constantly running at full speed, a body that is overwhelmed with constant stress hormones will eventually tire and give out. Even if the person has no intention of taking a rest or giving up, their body will.
So when does stress become burnout?
- When you feel physically drained and emotionally numb at the end of the day.
- When you feel like you don’t have the energy to get up in the morning, let alone go through a full day’s work.
- When you feel there is too much weight on your shoulders and you can’t handle it anymore.
- When you just don’t care about your clients or the quality of your work anymore, and are no longer motivated to put an effort into tasks.
- When your job no longer offers a sense of fulfillment and you feel like your efforts don’t make a difference.
Mazziotta, J. (2015, January 9). The Most (and Least) Stressful Jobs In America. Health. Retrieved from http://news.health.com/2015/01/09/the-most-and-least-stressful-jobs-in-america/
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