Stress is a familiar mood for most of us. Some stress and anxiety can be good for us—it’s a mechanism we use to make a certain decision and keep us on track and on time, and it can be a motivator to get the work done to allay the anxiety. It can be a reaction to something unexpected or to something we’re familiar with. Stress triggers our alert system.
But most of the long-term stress we face is harmful. Stress affects us physically and mentally, leading to back pain, high blood pressure, headaches and migraines, depression and loss of quality sleep. Chronic stress can cause depression, fatigue, weight gain and heart disease, among other adverse problems. And in the workplace, stress can affect our performance, attitude and reaction time, putting us and our coworkers at risk for injury. And then we also bring these harmful effects home to our family.
In a recent Gallup poll, only 34 percent of U.S. workers say they are completely satisfied with the amount of on-the-job stress.
Before you crash and burn, what are some signs that could be telling you to slow down and take note? Here are four things you should pay attention to:
Is your patience level and tolerance decreasing while your anger is increasing? Is your self-control waning? Do you have more arguments with coworkers, family and others? Are you irritable? Are you so focused on your work that you hardly notice the rest of life around you? Do you use short, curt sentences to respond to others you really weren’t listening to? Do you find joy in your work or is it mundane to you?
Often, we don’t realize how much employment stress affects us until we make drastic changes. In one instance, I cut ties with employment, with stress as one of the top reasons. After a few weeks, my mood changed dramatically, to the point where my family and friends commented on the changes they saw. I was happier and calmer. Since my focus was no longer on the work and that environment, my priorities shifted, leaving me more space to concentrate on others and personal development.
2. Physical pain and exhaustion
Do you experience constant back and neck pain, headaches, migraines and fatigue? Do you have trouble sleeping, such as tossing and turning all night, waking several times, insomnia, or other sleep issues so that in the morning you don’t feel rested at all? Do you take time to exercise and get sunshine and fresh air every day, or do you tell yourself you haven’t the time?
Exercise helps us calm our bodies and work out our stress levels. If we don’t exercise on a regular basis, even if it’s a short walk, our muscles tend to tighten, and they eventually snap.
3. Mental and emotional health
Are you dragging yourself to the office more frequently? When you’re home, do you stay in bed most of the time and avoid social situations? Do the hobbies that used to make you smile seem uninteresting? Do you find it difficult to laugh and smile?
Depression is an indication we need to make a change. Some forms of depression are temporary and are more related to feeling the blues, and this goes away once we’ve dealt with whatever challenge we’ve encountered. However, if the depression persists for two or more weeks, it’s time to seek some medical support.
Mental and emotional health affects our decisions, our confidence and our safety at work because our attention isn’t on the present moment. It affects our mood and ultimately affects those around us. If our entire team is on the verge of a breakdown, productivity will certainly disappear.
4. Misplaced priorities
If you make a list of priorities, does work get top billing above family, friends, health, relaxation and fun? Do you often miss out on your kids’ events and family gatherings because you have to work? What do you fear most: losing your job or losing your family? Do you turn down social invitations on a regular basis because of work? When you wake in the middle of the night, or when you’re on vacation or otherwise off the clock, does your mind suddenly go on the clock to work-related issues?
There’s a reason many of us seek a work-life balance: We recognize that work shouldn’t suck the joy out of our lives. We don’t want to miss out on seeing our children grow or having dinner with our spouse. Recreation shouldn’t consume us, but it should still have a place in our lives.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to how we should manage stress. Some people can handle more of it than others.
Sit down and make a list of pros and cons of your work and see which column outweighs the other. Then make a list of your priorities. If work falls lower on the list, examine your top priorities. Write down what you need to do to meet your goals.
If work is at the top, then reprioritize, as you are headed for a crash.
Health should be above work on our priority list. Many organizations have support within their walls for their employees’ physical and mental health. Giving attention to our health is not just courageous but also smart. If we don’t have our health, we aren’t doing anyone any good. Take advantage of your organization’s health programs, see your doctor regularly and ask for a referral to a good mental health professional if needed. You might not notice the signs, but your family, friends and coworkers probably do. Listen to them.
Don’t be afraid to take drastic action if necessary. Review your priorities and goals and outline a plan to reach them. You might realize that seeking employment at a different company in your field is needed. Or asking for another role within your current company might help you gain better balance. And still others need to step away completely and start over, perhaps doing something entirely different.
Don’t wait until you experience burnout to make your changes. Be alert to the warning signs and take action to avoid it.