Americans are stressed out. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, almost half of Americans describe their ongoing stress levels as high, and almost 10 percent claim that their stress is extreme. While there is a wide range of causes for stress, including health problems and finances, one of the most common sources of stress is work. Both men and women, across age groups, list work as one of the primary stressors in their lives — and the problem gets worse as incomes climb.
Stress is a contributing factor in a wide range of health issues. Stress raises both cortisol and glucose production in the body, which contribute to obesity and diabetes. It also contributes to heart disease; not only does stress automatically raise blood pressure and heart rate, but it also causes cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood to increase. Excess stress is also linked to asthma, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, and an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s. When combined with the behaviors that are often linked to stress, such as overeating, smoking, and drinking alcohol, it’s clear that stress is the most significant health risk that most adults face today.
Employers are especially concerned about stress and its effect on employee health. Studies show that on average, stress costs employers between $200 and $300 million annually, when you factor in absenteeism, health care costs, and costs associated with lowered productivity. Not to mention, research indicates that stressed employees are generally not high-performing employees; it’s estimated that stressed workers cost companies 40 percent more, due to poor performance. For example, stressed employees may take shortcuts, rush, or fail to do all of their work, contributing to higher costs.
But here’s the kicker: In many cases, work related stress, is our own fault. That’s right. We are doing it to ourselves. While there are certain pressures associated with work, and always will be, the high levels of stress that many of us face are actually due to our own habits. Identifying and breaking these habits can go a long way toward reducing stress, and improving overall health.
Too Much Technology
Mobile technology has made it easier than ever before to stay in touch, but unfortunately, many people have taken that to mean “Available 24/7.” The notion of a 9 to 5 workday has, in many ways, gone the way of the dinosaur thanks to smartphones. Employees often respond to emails and text messages well after the day has ended. The result? There is little separation between work and personal life, and no chance to relax and recharge. The solution, of course, is to unplug. Determine a set time each evening (and preferably weekends) to turn off your devices and step away from work — it will still be there in the morning.
Have you ever said, “There are just not enough hours in the day?” You aren’t alone. Many people feel like they simply can’t accomplish everything that needs to be done in a typical day, and often end up working through lunch or into the evening to catch up. However, usually the time crunch is attributable to a few common factors: 1. Procrastination 2. Taking on Too Much and 3. Not Allowing Enough Time.
Many people underestimate how long it will take to complete the tasks on their to-do lists, and as a result, add too many things to their plate. Organizational experts suggest overestimating the time it will take to complete tasks; for example, if you think that a meeting will take an hour, schedule an hour and fifteen minutes to allow time for that impromptu conversation with a co-worker at the end of the meeting. If you end up with “extra” time, you can use it to get ahead, but adding a cushion keeps you from falling behind.
Procrastination is a tougher challenge. Limiting distractions and prioritizing tasks can help, but changing your habit generally requires a change of perspective. Realize that putting off tasks will only cause stress, and the sooner you focus, the sooner you can move on to something else.
Taking Everything Personally
Some people are constantly stressed because they take everything to heart — and think that everything that happens in the office is about them. It tends to be a cycle as well: You take a comment to heart, worry about it, become stressed, and then feel on edge — which leads you to interpret other comments incorrectly.
While anxiety can require treatment with prescription medications, maintaining perspective can help keep it under control. Experts recommend evaluating what was said, and putting some space between yourself and your reaction. In other words, take a moment to consider your reaction objectively and take emotions out of the equation. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification if necessary. Remember, when someone criticizes your work or questions an idea, it’s not an attack on you as a person, but the work or idea itself. When you create that separation, you’ll find your stress and anxiety will decrease.
There will always be some stress associated with work, especially when you want to succeed in your career. However, but setting the right boundaries and organizing your time, you can avoid the unnecessary, chronic stress that will make you ill — and burn you out.