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Blog Insight & Commentary

Feeling Weighed Down by Workplace Stress? You’re Not Alone

Four in five Americans experiences stress because of work—and it's costing us lots of money

Stressed Elaine Benes

By Abbey Slattery

The never-ending deluge of emails in your inbox. Constantly fielding calls and texts, even after the workday is over. Putting in extra work at home, only to feel underprepared once it’s time for the big meeting. Dealing with unfriendly customers and bad tippers. Even if you love what you do, things get overwhelming every now and then.

It’s incredibly common to experience stress at work, but there comes a point where that stress starts to take over your life...and seriously tank your physical and mental health.

Symptoms of workplace stress

Think you might be suffering from workplace stress? Well, you’re far from alone. In fact, a study from Everest College found that 83 percent of U.S. professionals feel stressed at work. 

Workplace stress can rear its head in a number of ways. Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Increase in sick days or absences

  • Decrease in performance and productivity

  • Mood swings and isolation

While some of these symptoms are also associated with general anxiety disorder or clinical depression, workplace stress can only add fuel to the fire. 

Women experience workplace stress more than men do

Data suggests that more women may suffer from workplace stress than do men. A study from the Health Education Journal outlines that factors like the glass ceiling, male-dominated informal networks (i.e., boys’ clubs), and stress from role overload (AKA the “can she have it all?” complex) negatively impact a woman’s professional experience. 

Read more: Why Working Women Struggle With Burnout

Not only that, but Everest College’s study also found that women were more likely to say that low pay is one of the most stressful aspects of their job (we are more than a century from closing the gender pay gap, which is currently about 20 percent), reporting such stress at almost double the rate that men do (18 percent to 10 percent, respectively). 

But even when you take gender out of the equation, tons of people are dealing with negative feelings in their workplace. In fact, a survey from consulting firm Korn Ferry found that employee stress levels have risen by 20 percent since the 1990s. The biggest source of stress? Bad bosses.

Other major causes include a heavy workload, lack of upward mobility, unrealistic expectations from management, and low job security.

In fact, InHerSight found that for women, the leading cause of “Sunday Creep,” or the pressure to start working on Sunday, is the feeling that they’ll never catch up to their workload. Number two is messages from a manager or coworkers, and number three is that working on weekends is explicitly expected of them.

Working more is a national trend

Did you know that America works more than any other country in the world? It’s true—the average work week for U.S. workers is around 34.4 hours—two hours higher than in Australia, which comes in second—while full-time employees report that number to be closer to 47. What’s more, four in 10 workers in the U.S. report logging over 50 hours every week! On top of that, more than 50 percent of Americans don’t even use all of their vacation days—which are already in short supply compared to other countries.

While productivity has increased (only to a point, though—overall productivity goes down after a critical point), income has only slowly ticked up. When you really break down the numbers, it’s hard to believe that you wouldn’t be feeling some sort of work-related stress. 

The effects of workplace stress

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that employees who feel employment anxiety spent up to 46 percent more money on healthcare than do those who don’t experience such stress, and as much as 90 percent of their medical appointments are related to their stress. And it’s not just employees who bear the burden. Those anxious feelings at work also spell bad news for your employer in the form of decreased engagement and productivity, absenteeism, and low morale.  

A report from Health Advocate found that as many as one million workers miss work every day. Put that in terms of cold hard cash, and it’s an estimated $300 billion worth of lost productivity every year. Even if workers do show up, 60 percent report that they’re often less effective as a result of their stress. 

Read more: When It’s Time to Take a Mental Health Day, & How to Ask for It

How to deal with your stress at work

Work from home

If you’re feeling the weight of work get to you, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are plenty of healthy ways to ease your stress, and prevent blowing up at coworkers. One place to start: If it’s possible, talk to your boss about working a day or two from home, which has shown to increase morale and lower personal stress.

Make note of your emotions

When it comes to managing anxiety, the American Psychological Association has a few suggestions. First, keep a journal that details when you feel the most stressed, what led to those feelings, and how you reacted. Knowing your stressors can help you avoid them in the future and develop healthier reactions—like going for a walk instead of scrolling through your phone. 

Make and keep boundaries

You should also work to establish solid work-life boundaries. Having time to recharge is crucial for your mental health, so make it a rule to not check your work email at home, or turn your phone on “Do Not Disturb” after dinner. And don’t be afraid to use those PTO days!Find your inner circle

While asking for help might not be your first inclination, a strong support system can go a long way. Tell your friends and family how you’re feeling, see if your employer offers any stress management resources, and consider visiting a therapist to unpack things further.

When to say something

If your workplace stress is significantly affecting your life to the point where you’re missing work, losing sleep, and shutting yourself out from others, it might be time to take the issue to your manager or HR. Hopefully, you work somewhere where those in management are understanding and empathetic, and encourage you to work from home, offer added PTO,  or recommend help.

If you do take your concerns about workplace stress to your boss or HR and are met with indifference, it might be time to search for a new job. After all, Americans are spending more and more time in the workplace than ever before—you deserve to work somewhere that fulfills you, not drains you. 

Read more: What to Do If You Want to Change Careers, But Don’t Know How

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