December 06, 2019
Even when you love what you do, work-related stress can pile up, affecting your physical and mental health. For many people, it's a fact of life.
Each year, a majority of Americans report experiencing heavy work stress, according to the American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America survey.
The most common stressors are low salaries, too much work, little room to grow or to be challenged, and lack of autonomy and support. While you can't completely eliminate stress from your life, when it becomes chronic you are putting your health in jeopardy.
When you experience a stressor, your body releases adrenaline, causing your heart rate to spike and your blood pressure to rise, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cortisol, a hormone that increases blood sugar and limits functions that are not considered essential in a crisis, also increases.
This fight-or-flight drive is a natural mechanism designed to protect you from aggressors. But problems arise when you are constantly in a state of crisis.
"The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all of your body's processes," according to the Mayo Clinic.
Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can put you at higher risk for depression, obesity and heart disease. Stress also affects the quality and quantity of sleep, which in turns contributes to difficulties focusing at work.
When stress feels out of control, people sometimes turn to unhealthy coping strategies like overloading on junk food, binge drinking, smoking or taking drugs.
So short of leaving your job, how can you better manage stress and stay healthy? Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association, National Sleep Foundation, Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health:
• Keep track of daily stressors and how you react to them.
• Then adopt new, healthier coping strategies like adding more exercise into your weekly routine, carving out more time for hobbies or spending time with loved ones.
• Make sure you are getting enough sleep by having a set bedtime and by creating rituals to prepare your mind and body for sleep. That includes avoiding electronics for at least an hour before bedtime.
• Set clear boundaries for your work and home life. If you are constantly bringing work home with you, you will never completely relax and de-stress.
• Practice meditation and deep breathing exercises every day to build up your resilience against stress.
• Work on your problem-solving skills so you stay solution-focused instead of getting mired in negative thoughts.
• Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your supervisor about stress management resources at work, as well as ways he or she can support you better. Family and friends also can be good sounding boards.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed, a psychologist can help you create healthy coping mechanisms. You can find resources here.