Health Topics

Job Stress

Job Stress

Is your job killing you?

Job stress has been linked with everything from loss of sleep, depression and heart disease to decreased productivity, missed work days and violent behavior. Yet while one worker may stay up counting sheep over tomorrow's deadline, his coworker may excel under pressure.

Is it me or my job?

The most stressful jobs are those that provide few opportunities for making decisions or changes. Think of the conveyor belt that runs faster and faster while the worker tries harder and harder to keep up.

Studies show, however, that stress more often comes from how we respond to stressful events than from the events themselves. Some people feel less stressed because they see themselves as able to cope. People who view themselves as in control generally feel less stress.

Am I burning out on the job?

Here are some common symptoms of job burnout:

  • Taking more time off
  • Working less efficiently
  • Losing productivity
  • Feeling bored
  • Becoming depressed
  • Having a negative attitude

On the other hand, a healthy level of stress:

  • Keeps us motivated
  • Challenges us to excel
  • Prevents us from becoming bored

When your job lacks positive stress, you can develop the same symptoms as those of job burnout.

Identify symptoms of job stress1.

Rate each of the following items in terms of how often the symptom was true for you during the last three months.

0=Never | 1=Occasionally | 2=Somewhat often | 3=Frequently | 4=Always

  1. I feel little enthusiasm for doing my job.
  2. I feel tired even with adequate sleep.
  3. I feel frustrated in carrying out my responsibilities at work.
  4. I am moody, irritable or impatient over small inconveniences.
  5. I want to withdraw from the constant demands on my time and energy.
  6. I feel negative, futile or depressed about my job.
  7. I find making decisions difficult.
  8. I think that I am not as efficient as I should be.
  9. The quality of my work is less then it should be.
  10. I feel physically, emotionally or spiritually depleted.
  11. May resistance to illness is lowered.
  12. My interest in sex is lowered.
  13. I am eating more or less, drinking more coffee, tea or sodas; smoking more cigarettes; or using more alcohol or drugs in order to cope with my job.
  14. I am feeling unmoved by the problems and feelings of others.
  15. My communication with my boss, coworkers, friends or family seems strained.
  16. I am forgetful.
  17. I am having difficulty concentrating.
  18. I am easily bored.
  19. I feel dissatisfied.
  20. When I ask myself why I get up in the morning to go to work, the only answer that occurs is "my paycheck."

Total Score

0 to 25 - You are coping well with job stress.

26 to 40 - You are suffering from job stress and should take preventative action.

41 to 55 - You need to take preventative action to avoid job burnout.

56 to 80 - You are burning out and must develop a comprehensive job stress management plan.

10 tips for reducing job stress

  1. Recognize what you can and cannot control.
  2. Prioritize your work. Write a "to do" list to keep track of your priorities.
  3. Ask for help when you need it. If you have too much work, let your boss know what you can realistically achieve.
  4. Avoid "catastrophizing." Catastrophizing is making a mountain out of a mole hill. Avoid the kind of thinking pattern that goes: "If I don't finish everything my boss gives me, I will get a bad review. If I get a bad review, I might lose my job. If I lose my job, I won't be able to pay my bills."
  5. Don't take work home. You need time to re-energize.
  6. Take short breaks at work. When you feel anxious or stressed, take five minutes to relax. Perform a deep breathing exercise or take a short walk.
  7. Clear clutter from your desk. Put projects away until you need them.
  8. Take time to reward yourself for a job well done. Remind yourself that you do good work.
  9. Get enough rest and exercise.
  10. Know when it's time to move on. You and your job may no longer be a good fit. Explore your options and leave a job if you need to.

1. From The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, by Martha Davis, Ph.D.; Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, M.S.L.W.; and Matthew McKay, Ph.D.(New Harbinger Publications, 1988), p. 168 and 169.

5 step action plan for controlling job stress

  1. Evaluate your level of job stress.
  2. Identify and list your job stressors. Ask yourself, "What aspects of my work cause my stress?" (Is it deadlines, job insecurity, work interruptions, conflicts with coworkers, having too much work, a poor work environment or feeling undervalued?)
  3. Recognize and record your feelings, thoughts and behaviors when confronted with each of these stressors. For example, one of Dave's stressors is not knowing what his boss expects from him. This "stressor" leads to the thought "I'm not performing well," and a feeling of insecurity. Dave's muscles tense and he loses focus.
  4. Review your list of stressors and what feelings, thoughts and behaviors you have that relate to them. Do you see any common threads?
  5. Write a plan that describes how you will make changes in the feelings, thoughts and behaviors that promote stress. Your plan should describe how you will:
    1. Change outside factors you can control (such as clarifying your responsibilities with your boss);
    2. Change your thinking patterns (such as valuing your skills and avoiding self-criticism);
    3. Change factors affecting your physical health (such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, using relaxation skills, getting enough rest and exercise).