According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers say they feel stress on the job, and 26 percent say they are “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work.” Stress is often a normal, inescapable part of life. Yet normal occupational stress should not push you to the point where you feel drained and discouraged on a daily basis with no hope of relief.
Too many people seem to accept that their lot in life is one of constant pressure and worry about their job — they may even find themselves worrying about work on the weekends. While we may not all be lucky enough to escape from job stress entirely, you shouldn’t have to simply accept the inevitable burnout as your fate.
You should always stay in-tune with your mental and physical health in order to recognize when you are about to reach your threshold. Then, when that moment comes, do not be afraid to take the necessary steps to apply effective stress management techniques and reduce the stress at work—and in your entire life.
Take a look at this list of ways that job stress may be manifesting in your life and mental health. If you feel like you’ve ticked a few too many boxes on the list, it might be time to cut back wherever possible.
1. You can’t shake that cold.
Research shows that stress is linked with an increased risk of respiratory illness. More studies will be necessary in the future to better understand the relationship between the two, but the common cold does often point to heightened psychological stress. Furthermore, it certainly doesn’t help that many workers feel they must power through those sniffles and sneezes rather than taking a day off to recuperate—but that is usually the most prudent decision, when possible. If you have sick days stored up or any flexibility in your schedule, take advantage of the chance to step back and get healthy.
2. You’re losing patience with people you love.
Experts warn that high levels of work-related stress can cause strain in personal relationships, because it heightens your attention to negative behaviors while reducing your ability to react constructively. So even if you consider your relationship a healthy one, after a particularly long week at work you might say or do things you will later regret. Let your partner know ahead of time that you’re feeling stressed, and take care not to let your bad mood bleed into your home life.
3. You drink more after work.
Scholarship is growing to support the idea that job stressors can contribute to heavier, more problematic drinking habits. People do commonly use alcohol as a coping mechanism for various woes—so it stands to reason that you might want to go home and unwind with a glass of wine after scrambling to finish up a big project at work. While responsible drinking may not cause you serious problems, it’s not healthy to lean on alcohol for emotional support.
4. You have a low libido.
There can be a lot of reasons for you to lose interest in sex, but one possible culprit is work-related stress. It’s hard to feel sexy when you’ve just gotten home from a long, busy day, especially if your partner also works full-time and faces workplace stress. With two people battling a demanding schedule and workload, it’s natural to feel less inclined toward physical intimacy. Yet if you’re unhappy, sometimes the solution is as simple as consulting a doctor to identify what the issue might be.
5. You have heart problems.
And that doesn’t mean you’re lovesick—rather, women with stressful jobs may be at 40% greater risk of heart disease, according to a Harvard study. These heart problems may not manifest right away, but if your doctor warns you of high blood pressure or unhealthy cholesterol levels, it could be a good time to reassess your workload. Along with following the guidance of a medical professional, look for ways to cut back on stress and any other factors that could be contributing.
6. You rarely break for lunch–or anything.
Whether you stop taking those precious hour-long lunch breaks because you’re not sure you can afford the time away from your email or because you are experiencing a form of social withdrawal due to anxiety, working all day with little to no relief will only exacerbate your stress. You might also see your performance suffer if you aren’t careful; science supports the idea that workers need breaks to stay productive and healthy. Although you may try to justify your working lunches, you will likely improve your job performance and mental health by clocking out.
7. You suffer from frequent headaches.
Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from stress or tension headaches, which are caused by daily stress and sometimes stem from tightened muscles around the neck, shoulders, and scalp. Chronic stress (like ongoing stress at work) can cause these frustrating headaches to build up over time and last up to a few months. Over-the-counter painkillers often relieve tension headaches quickly, but you can also try hot baths or practice better posture to alleviate the pain.
8. You can’t sleep at night, despite being tired.
Not everyone with stress has insomnia, and not all insomnia is due to stress. But when your mind goes into hyperdrive while you lay in bed at night, because you can’t stop thinking about that report that’s due tomorrow, workplace stress could certainly keep you from attaining the golden seven to nine hours of sleep we should all get every night. In these moments, it’s actually best to get out of bed and let yourself unwind for a little while rather than stressing even more about how exhausted you feel. Try not to scroll through Facebook or watch an intense TV show if you can help it—opt instead for some adult coloring books or a low-key journal entry.
Work stress can manifest in any number of ways among different people, but these are some of the more common symptoms. Once you recognize the pattern of stress on the job impeding your work performance, physical health, or emotional health and well-being, you have the beneficial opportunity to reevaluate your situation.
Ask yourself: Where is this stress coming from? Am I inflicting it on myself or is it being inflicted on me by my manager, employer, or co-workers?
Often people self-inflict heightened expectations or stress because they want to excel in their careers. But forcing yourself into a miserable existence will only impede your aspirations. The good news is that if you are the one to blame for your own work stress or anxiety, you can usually find ways to turn that around. Take the necessary steps to loosen that pressure so that you can learn to enjoy your work more—and leave it in the office when you go home.
You might find it easy enough to alter your mindset by recognizing your true priorities in life, and putting your job in the appropriate place on that list. But in some cases it would be wise to look for help in the form of a therapist, or at least a trusted friend you can rely on. Ask for help to let go of that unhealthy stress in your life, and actively seek to reduce stress where you can.
If your stress is inflicted more by an external stressor like toxic people or the company culture, you may have to think more carefully about your next steps. Sometimes, you can approach your boss and offer feedback that will cause them to relieve any stress through organizational change—but there are other occasions when a toxic work environment is unlikely to change, and you will have to decide whether it’s in your best interest to leave.
Asking these questions can be intimidating, especially if you’re afraid of what it might take to effect change. However, self inquiry is a necessary first step toward improving your life at work and at home, and in the end you will be better off for addressing your stress.
Kelsey Down is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City who has been featured on publications including Elite Daily, VentureBeat, and SUCCESS. She’s covered fun stuff like why TV reboots need to stop and how to hack sleep as a workout, and she also writes about personal and family wellness. Follow her on Twitter @kladown23.