Stress is a part of life and a normal response to the demands of work. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, who hasn’t felt the adrenaline-fueled burst that comes with tackling a challenging project or meeting a critical deadline?
But too much stress on the job can lead to or worsen anxiety, depression and other emotional issues.
What are some common workplace stressors?
Workplace stress typically happens when job pressures become overwhelming or unmanageable.
Some of the most common causes of work-related stressors include:
- Excessive workloads or long hours.
- Worries over job security.
- Poor pay/ financial concerns.
- Limited advancement and growth opportunities.
- Unfulfilling work.
- Conflicting or unclear or unrealistic performance expectations.
- Organizational changes.
- Lack of support from management and/or co-workers.
- Toxic workplace culture (i.e., bullying, harassment, discrimination).
- Limited control over how you do your work.
How does work-related stress affect mental health?
Over a lifetime, the average full-time working adult spends around half of their waking hours on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s no wonder workplace stress makes up a big part of the overall mental health crisis in the U.S.
The COVID pandemic hasn’t helped, based on some startling statistics that have emerged over the last few years:
- 76 percent of U.S. workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, and 84 percent of respondents said their workplace challenges contributed to at least one mental health challenge, according to a 2021 Mind Share Partners survey.
- 4 out of 10 working adults in the U.S. reported that their job has a negative effect on their mental health, according to a 2022 Gallup poll. The number is even higher among younger workers ages 18-29.
- Nearly two-thirds of adults said their lives have been forever changed by the pandemic, as revealed in a 2022 American Psychological Association (APA) survey. Many reported a rise in mental health issues, lower physical activity, disrupted sleep, and increased reliance on unhealthy habits.
There’s also some good news in the data. The APA survey showed that 71 percent of workers believe their employer is more concerned about the mental health of employees now than in the past.
What’s the link between mental health and work productivity?
Studies show that employee mental health is directly related to creativity and innovation at work.
The bottom line? The less stressed you are, the more productive, connected and engaged you’re likely to be.
Conversely, a negative or overly stressful working environment can lead to:
- Poor job performance.
- Low morale.
- Disengagement with one’s work.
- Job burnout.
- Increased absences.
- High turnover.
- A rise in substance abuse.
What are the signs of a work-related mental health issue?
Workplace stress can have a profound effect on your mental health and lead to anxiety, depression and other emotional and physical issues.
Some of the common signs that stress may be affecting your mental health include:
- Persistent or unfounded worry or sadness.
- Increased anxiety levels when you’re on the job or thinking about work.
- Difficulty with focus, concentration or problem-solving.
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Lack of interest in your work.
- Excessive mistakes related to your work.
- Loss of confidence and self-worth.
- Increased emotional reactions, including crying at work.
- Negative feelings.
- Changes in eating or sleeping behaviors.
- Lack of interest in self-care.
- Taking an unusual amount of time off from work.
- Withdrawal or isolation from co-workers, family and friends.
- Disinterest in daily activities away from work.
- Physical complaints, such as muscle tension, sweating, heart palpitations, headaches or stomach issues.
- Increased reliance on unhealthy habits, including smoking or abusing alcohol and drugs.
What can I do to improve my mental health at work?
Workplace stress shouldn’t get the best of your mental health. Here are a few strategies that may help you strike the right balance between your job and your emotional wellness:
- Accept that it’s okay to not feel okay. The fallout from stress is real. When you face and accept that your mental health is suffering, you can start the process of finding the work-emotional health balance that works for you.
- Recognize emotional triggers at work. Try to identify the events, people or environments at work that cause your mental distress. It may be necessary to step away from triggering situations.
- Take a mental health break. Unfortunately, mental health days aren’t often available to employees. If possible, use a PTO day to recover and recharge. When you need a break during work hours, try deep-breathing exercises or take a walk.
- Talk about mental wellness with your supervisor. A calm conversation with your boss could solve the problem or make them aware of a larger issue – and the fact that mental wellness is key to worker success. If your boss is the source of your stress, reach out to your human resources department.
- Create a work-based support system. It’s easy to feel isolated when workplace stressors get you down. Reach out to a few people you can trust and turn to help manage your stress and anxiety.
- Set boundaries. Find a way to keep specific stressors at bay. For instance, avoid reading and responding to work emails or texts after hours. Block off time on your work calendar to avoid back-to-back meetings. Is your commute eating at you? Ask your employer about a hybrid schedule.
- Practice healthy habits. It’s tempting to battle stress with junk food, alcohol or other substances. But the healthier choices you make, the better you’ll feel. Here are a few examples:
- Make time for physical activity. Daily exercise can relieve mental and physical tension.
- Go outside during lunch or work breaks. The simple act of breathing in the fresh air can reduce cortisol and other stress-inducing hormones.
- Kick bad habits. Too much alcohol, tobacco or caffeine can increase blood pressure and anxiety levels.
- Get more (and better) sleep. The CDC offers some great info about how sleep affects your health.
- Seek help when you need it. Your workplace may have an Employee Assistance Program that offers free, confidential counseling. If not, a mental health professional can help you find ways to manage your workplace stress. Proper and prompt treatment will help improve your mental well-being, physical health and productivity – on and off the job.
Stressed out? Indigo can help
If workplace stress is taking a toll on your emotional well-being, Indigo Virtual Care is a great first step to better mental health. Same or next-day appointments are available, in most cases.
During your virtual visit, an Indigo clinician will:
- Offer self-treatment recommendations around diet, exercise, sleep improvement and other lifestyle changes.
- Prescribe medication, if needed, to ease stress-related symptoms.
- Coordinate a referral to a mental health professional, if necessary.
Just like the convenient in-person care we offer at our Indigo Urgent Care locations, Indigo Virtual Care is available every day from 8 am to 8 pm.
If you or someone you know is in severe distress or has suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it’s important to seek emergency care right away. The following resources are free, confidential and available 24/7:
- Dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Text HOME to 741-741, the Crisis Text Line.
- For veterans and their loved ones, dial 988 then press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).