Career Woman

5 Signs You’re Stressed at Work (and What to Do About It)

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Everyone who has ever had a job has experienced some kind of workplace stress. Seriously, everyone. The barista is stressed when the line of caffeine fiends snakes from the register out the door and down the sidewalk. The graphic designer is stressed when task upon task piles up on their plate. The waiter loses it when the kitchen messes up a few orders in a row on a busy night. The list goes on and on.

Everest College reports that 83% of Americans are stressed by at least one thing at work. Although we all face some stress at work now and again, being stressed all the time can have detrimental psychological and physical impacts.

As Forbes science and health writer Alice G. Walton states, “Chronic stress, of course, has been shown over and over to be a bad thing for body and brain. It actually seems to suppress the generation of new nerve cells and inhibit memory, not to mention increase one’s risk for being overweight; developing heart disease and possibly cancer; developing addictions; and experiencing depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.”

Okay, we get it, stress is bad and we need less of it. But in today’s “hustle, then side hustle, do whatever it takes, sleep when you’re dead” world, it can be hard to recognize when you’re overdoing it.

If you identify with any of these five signs, you might be too stressed at work.

1. You’re thinking about work constantly

When we’re faced with a tight deadline, an important presentation, or a nerve-racking meeting, it’s natural that we might be thinking about work a bit more than usual. But when it’s all you can think about during your commute, when cooking dinner, before you fall asleep and even in your dreams, you’re experiencing far too much stress. Remember, work hours are typically 9 to 5, so your mind shouldn’t be occupied with work 24/7.

Although it’s pretty much impossible to limit the times of day you’re “allowed” to think about work, be sure to carve out time in your day so it’s not the only thing on your mind. Think of it this way: you have eight hours each day to focus on work, eight to sleep, and eight to do whatever interests you. Whether it be working out, cooking, or reading, be sure to dedicate some time each day for your favorite activities or hobbies.

2. You can’t focus enough to actually be productive

When it’s time to get down to it, you just can’t seem to make any progress (or even get started). It’s a vicious cycle — you’re overwhelmed because you’ve got a lot to do, but you’re fretting about it so much that you can’t accomplish anything. This situation can be attributed to your body’s natural response to anxiety. Although it’s helpful when in a “fight or flight” type of scenario, it can be pretty frustrating when it hinders your concentration.

When this happens, try a short (3-5 minute) meditation session to focus your energy. There are a ton of mobile apps and sites that can help to facilitate this process. Any small amount of time you can set aside for some type of mindfulness activity can help to relax your mind and return to your desk refreshed and refocused. You may even want to consider taking a walk outside the office to fully remove yourself from your current stress.

3. You aren’t sleeping well (or at all)

Even though you’re completely exhausted at the end of your busy day, stress can make it so that you just can’t fall asleep. And, perhaps even worse, stress can make it so that when you do finally fall asleep, your sleep isn’t restful. If you’re not careful, stress can be a catalyst for a vicious cycle of sleepless nights. You’re stressed, so you can’t sleep, then your lack of sleep makes you more stressed, and so on.

Christie Tcharkhoutian, LMFT of La Vie Counseling Center in California advises, “If you struggle with letting go of stress before sleeping, it’s important to treat the process of preparing for sleep as sacred. This includes ‘turning off’ a lot earlier than you may be used to, logging out of your email at least two hours before you want to sleep, not watching television or engaging in any stimulating activities in this time period as well.” Try using this time instead to read or write in a journal. Journaling or writing to-do lists have been shown to help manage stress and can help to organize your thoughts before heading to bed.

4. You just can’t get rid of that cold

The hormone cortisol that our bodies release when we’re stressed is actually a major component of a healthy immune system. However, when your cortisol levels never go back down to normal, the hormone becomes less effective. This is when you get sick (and stay sick) for what can feel like months.

The next time you feel a cold coming on, be sure to take the proper amount of time needed to rest and recuperate. Rather than working through your illness, switching off and actually taking some time to replenish and return your body to its normal state is necessary to overcoming stress sickness. This allows your cortisol levels to return to normal, and when you return to the office, you’ll feel much less stressed.

5. Your entire body feels sore

Strained neck? Tight shoulders? When you’re stressed, you carry tension throughout your body. It can manifest itself in many ways; pain and stiffness in your back, neck, hips, and shoulders, headaches, a clenched jaw, and more. In fact, for men, lower back pain can be a common side effect of stress, whereas women typically experience issues in their upper backs.  When your body senses a threat, it pumps out adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones that prime the body for action. These hormones make the muscles tense up, the digestive tract slows down, blood vessels constrict, and the heart beats faster. But when your body has this reaction unnecessarily (like to an overflowing inbox rather than a grizzly bear) your muscles will remain contracted for a prolonged period of time, resulting in all those knots in your upper back.

Loosening up your muscles can be very effective at relieving some of the tension that you feel. Some solutions include massages, regular exercise and stretching, and even yoga. Over time, these methods can improve your muscles’ ability to respond to stress and stretch them out to prevent future tension.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid feeling stressed every now and again. But when it becomes a long-term problem, the effects can be harmful. Although you can’t eliminate stress completely, you can prevent it from spinning out of control and taking over your life. The first step? Being aware of your behavior and how you feel!

About Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson is a Contributing Author at Enlightened Digital

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