Challenging job situations aren’t something you can sweep under the rug, but you can learn strategies to cope with stress at work.

Stress is a part of everyday life. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t encountered it.

But sometimes, short-term stress can be helpful. It can provide motivation and focus and improve your performance as long as you don’t feel pushed beyond your limits.

Still, not all consequences of stress at work are positive, and some can even have adverse health effects.

Job stress isn’t necessarily bad. There’s even a term for the excitement you feel when you’re faced with a challenge that positively tests your capacity: Eustress.

You’ll likely experience eustress during your first few weeks after receiving a coveted promotion.

On the other hand, distress can cause mental health changes that may make you dread working. You may experience a decline in your physical health or even have workplace injuries.

There are various sources of job stress, and what affects you might not affect a co-worker. This likely means you have a different skill set rather than being less able to handle stress.

For example, you might be a people-savvy sales specialist who’s energized by client contact but overwhelmed by paperwork. Meanwhile, your detail-oriented colleague is why your records are always in order, but that same co-worker is uncomfortable taking client calls.

You each have individualized strengths and vulnerabilities to stress.

Whether it’s a temperament-related prompt or a strain that affects everyone, the workplace can feature many sources of stress. These can include:

  • work demands that are incompatible with knowledge and skill set
  • insufficient compensation
  • lack of recognition
  • excessive work volume
  • inadequate growth and advancement opportunities
  • boredom
  • lack of control
  • poor communication
  • unclear expectations
  • conflicting objectives
  • lack of support and training
  • personnel dynamics
  • poor work-life balance
  • safety hazards

Feeling supported by co-workers and in control of your work processes are crucial. The World Health Organization (WHO) pinpoints these as factors that make other work stressors more pronounced.

The effects of job stress on physical and mental health are well documented. A 2021 study points to a connection between employment distress and reduced mental and physical health outcomes.

Health effects of stress in the workplace can include:

  • blood pressure issues
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • heart disease
  • emotional and cognitive fatigue
  • dissatisfaction
  • injury
  • weakened immunity system
  • cancer
  • suicidal thoughts
  • anxiety and depression

Stress-related reduction in business performance makes job stress a concern for employers as well as staff. Absenteeism, lateness, and high employee turnover are included in the list of reasons workforce stress reduction practices can benefit organizations.

Sometimes, the symptoms of job stress are easy to identify, such as tension headaches and irritability. Other consequences of stress at work might not be as obvious, such as back pain or increasing blood pressure.

Your job probably isn’t something you equate with leisure and fun. Because of this, it can be hard to tell when “work” becomes stress.

Symptoms that you’re experiencing job stress might include:

  • feeling on edge
  • regular fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • lack of satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
  • changes to sleep or appetite
  • mood issues
  • increased substance use
  • social withdrawal and isolation
  • upset stomach
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations
  • skin rash
  • neck tension
  • teeth grinding
  • dizzy spells
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of focus

Any changes to your behavior or physical or mental health that coincide with workplace issues could indicate stress.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They can provide further evaluation and treatment if needed.

While there are many things at your job that you can’t change, you can consider some proactive steps to help manage stress at work.

  • Keep a log of prompts and reactions. Tracking irritants and your behaviors can give you a clear picture of the causes of your headaches or comfort snacking. Maybe it’s staff meetings or working on a particular task that causes you stress. Either way, a written log is more reliable than memory.
  • Set boundaries. Whether you stop checking work email after hours or step back from solving other people’s crises, work boundaries can give you some space and time to de-stress.
  • Communicate effectively. Your colleagues would probably love to help reduce your stress if they only knew how. Try to help them with effective communication. For example, reduce social banter disruptions to your workflow by telling co-workers when you’re available for conversations.
  • Learn relaxation techniques. Deep breathing techniques and short mindfulness exercises can help you relax at work. At home, you can try longer mindfulness sessions and practice yoga to regulate stress and anxiety.
  • Consider therapy. There are many helpful psychotherapy options to choose from. Therapy can provide you with tools and strategies to help manage your stress and anxiety and ways to improve your relationships, even work ones.

Job stress is as common as coffee breaks and water coolers. If your workdays aren’t always easy and you’re experiencing some stress effects, you’re not alone.

Managing workplace stress can help reduce the adverse impacts on your physical and mental health.

Sometimes reaching out to co-workers can help. Chances are, they’re having a similar experience and can offer coping suggestions or lend an empathetic ear.

On the other hand, if you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing hidden workplace stress, you can take our stress test to find out.

Therapy can help you learn skills to manage stress. If this interests you, our find a therapist tool might help.