Our careers are a huge part of our everyday lives. Not only do our jobs pay the bills, they also help us harness our skills, achieve our goals, create powerful social circles and build up thriving communities. However, we also know that our jobs can create unnecessary emotional and physical stress, and we all handle stress in different ways. Numerous studies have demonstrated that stress can make you more likely to become ill and can put you at a higher risk for some health problems, including depression, heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. It's easy to see why our jobs are such an enormous contributor of stress.
Health Effects of Job Stress
When our bodies are under stress, the cells of our immune system that normally regulate our hormones can't work properly and this causes chronic, low-grade inflammation, which has been proven to contribute to disease.
Increases Likelihood of Getting the Common Cold
Studies have found that people who report having more ongoing stress have a higher chance of contracting a cold virus than those who reported have less stress. Researchers believe that the stress interfered with the subjects' abilities to regulate the body's normal inflammatory response.
Messes with Memory
Research has also found that constant stress can cause damage to your prefrontal cortex, the portion of your brain responsible for abstract thinking and cognition.
Disrupts Normal Eating Habits
Stress at work caused by long hours, pressure to meet deadlines and constant anxiety to outperform your competition can contribute to inconsistent, hurried eating behaviors and can also cut into time you would set aside for exercise. If repeated often enough, these unhealthy behaviors turn into everyday habits, many times leading to weight gain. This weight gain then leads to more anxiety and sometimes depression, which perpetuates the harmful cycle. Not only is depression correlated with many serious chronic diseases, in the short-term it also lowers your immunity.
Ways to Cope with Job Stress
Now that we've examined all of the scary effects of workplace stress, let's focus on the positive: there are numerous ways to avoid workplace stress or cope with this job-related stress once it occurs.
Take breaks and take them often! Don't feel guilty about needing brief bits of time away from your work. A quick separation from whatever project or task you're focused on can be beneficial, even if it's just a five to ten minute diversion from the task at hand. Consider taking a quick walk, strike up a convo with a colleague (keep it light and avoid discussing work) or practice a relaxation technique such as deep breathing or stretching. Trust me--your body and your coworkers will thank you.
Establish a Mantra
There is a reason "yogis" (people who practice yoga) report having lower levels of stress than many other people. Channel your inner yogi and establish your own "get calm" phrase or mantra that you can repeat to yourself when you feel stress coming on. Your mantra can be whatever phrase reminds you to relax and stay positive and focused.
Set Reasonable Goals
We frequently get stressed at work because we try to be perfectionists and set our standards at an unreasonably high level. If you're unsure of what your specific job roles may be, you could be taking on too many responsibilities and need to have your specific duties and performance expectations clarified to avoid unnecessary stress. Discuss these things with your boss to see if your idea of the job expectations are different from that of your boss. This helps ensure you're on the same page and can eliminate undue stress.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.