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For many adults of working age, formal work, of the nature that takes place in structured physical environments as in a workplace of employment is a necessary component of life. It is an activity that affords set tasks to be accomplished and for physical, mental and social well-being as well as financial compensation to be had. For most times, work related employment is fulfilling and enjoyed by many. But not infrequently, work may be a source of unbearable or unacceptable stress for many reasons and at different times.
What is Stress?
But what is stress and how may you know that your work place has become a source of unbearable stress for you? To answer these questions, let’s first get familiar with what stress is.
According to one dictionary source, stress “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”.
From a medical or biological perspective, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension collectively referred to as the "fight or flight" response. This is a complex reaction mediated by multiple systems in the body.
Stress can be externally induced (e.g., from the environment, psychological, social, economic, and or political situations) or internally induced (e.g., as a result of illness).
Main causes of workplace stress
These are varied, but the graph below from the American Institute of Stress is self-enlightening. The relative ratio of stated causes in the African workplace may differ.
Pros and Cons of Stress
Signs to watch out for
So, what are the subtle and not so subtle signs to watch out that indicate you may be having elevated level of stress at work?
1. Low interest in the workplace
If you’re experiencing high levels of stress, you may find it difficult to go into work, and thus take frequent sick days. But you might actually be sick—and just not realize that your physical and mental status are tied up with the stress of your workplace. Stress can affect your body, from gastrointestinal problems to high blood pressure, heart attacks and susceptibility to infectious agents like viruses and bacteria.
2. High level of irritability or anxiety
Under non-stressful conditions, we are all able to manage day to day small irritants at the workplace without issues. If however you’ve been noticing that little things have been really throwing you off, sending you into fits of anger and grumbling, the reason might be stress. Stress and anxiety, can get your emotions on a knife’s edge of control. Small things that normally wouldn’t get you worked up, may be worsened greatly by stress.
3. Trouble communicating with coworkers
Communication is a significant multipurpose activity of daily living and due to stress, it is easy to muck up what would normally be a smooth interaction. Stress can heighten irritability and reduce your level of attention and patience to listen to others. It can cause feelings of anxiety, isolation, and worry. It can reduce your ability to sense social cues and be respectful to the feelings of others. If you’ve felt like you’re harming your interpersonal relationships at work, stress may be the cause.
4. Trouble concentrating on tasks
Reduction in attention and concentration, poor time management as well as diminution of focus are conditions seen in stressed individuals. It is to be expected therefore that workplace stress may impair task completion. Jobs that should be completed in short order are either left undone or not completed as at when due. This may raise supervisory concerns about job performance which in turn triggers anxiety about job security in the stressed person. A vicious cycle.
5. Forgetting tasks
Stress isn’t the only possible reason for abnormal amount of forgetfulness at work, but it can absolutely be causal factor. Forgetfulness actually can be induced or worsened by stress-related symptoms like anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, poor organization and lack of interest. Stress can make it difficult to both store new information and to retrieve old information—in other words, you might forget things. In such situation, physically jotting down your to-do list can help.
6. Difficulty making decisions
Stress may trigger difficulty with decision making as a result of anxiety, depression or panic attacks. Small decisions can feel overwhelming, adding to what already feels like a tough mental situation. Forgetfulness and lack of interest may also aggravate inability to make decisions.
7. Sleep problems and drug use
The anxiety or depression associated with stress may result in sleep problems like excessive day time sleepiness or not having enough or restful sleep at night. People with stress related sleep problems may then begin to self-medicate using alcohol excessively or other drugs to manage both the stress and associated sleep problems.
So, what to do?
If you recognize these signs of workplace stress, and you’re feeling overwhelmed as a result, there are a number of options available to manage the situation before it gets any worse. From an individual’s perspective, stress management focus should be directed at such controllable like problem awareness, and implementing self-help stress-relieving measures like yoga, mindfulness, breathing and relaxation exercises, and seeking professional help from a doctor or mental health professional. In some situations, moving on from a stressful workplace may be advisable.