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Got Stress Overload?

How to know when you’re on stress overload

stress overloadDo you wake up tired? Does your stomach scream without provocation? Find yourself snapping at people for no good reason? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve probably got stress. Well, you’re not alone.

Stress has become an occupational hazard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, over 3,400 cases occupational stress related illness were reported in 1997. The average time off associated with these illnesses was 23 days.

Who has the most stressful jobs? According to the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses the most stressful occupations include: bookkeepers and accountants; managers and proprietors; sales people; and cooks. The survey also notes that women outnumber men when it comes to stress-related illnesses (for every male case reported, 1.6 cases involved females).

If you’re wondering about job burnout, yes, it’s related to stress. “Job burnout is the end stage of work stress. Initially work stress makes you feel agitated. By the time you get to the burn out, you’ve lost your enthusiasm, interest and energy for your work,” says Frances Lylan Wolff, founder of Stress Management Resources.

What is stress?

Stress is part of everyone’s life. Most people don’t realize that often the joys in life can bring on as much stress as the sorrows. Starting a new job, for example, can be every bit as stressful as being laid off. While distressful circumstances can do more damage, all situations, positive and negative, associated with some type of adjustment can be stressful.

While stress stems from a number of sources, most stressors fall into one of three categories: frustrations, conflicts and pressures. Frustrations associated with work include: prejudice and discrimination; an unfulfilling job or one that doesn’t meet your expectations; and a lack of autonomy or decision-making power.

Conflicts arise whenever you are faced with incompatible goals. For example, you may love your job, but not the hours. You may feel particularly conflicted if you have small children at home. Another source of conflict may be the job of a lifetime, which requires you to move across country. Made worse by the fact that the move would mean relocating your family.

Pressures can come in all shapes and sizes. You may be trying to plan a wedding from hotel rooms across the country. Or preparing a deal-making presentation for a client you’re hoping to sign. Whatever the source, stress is stress. Depending on your coping skills, some stressors will tax you more than others.

Signs of Stress Overload

Unlike having an abscessed tooth or a case of the measles, the signs of stress can be much less obvious. You may not realize when you’ve reached stress overload until your overstretched coping abilities snap back and hit you in the face. It’s easier to recover if you don’t let things get that far.

While people react to stress in different ways there are several common physical and psychological symptoms. Here are a few you can watch out for:

  • Physical tension in your neck and/or shoulders, you know that crick in your neck that won’t go away
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including heartburn, diarrhea and increased bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a condition which affects twice as many women as men
  • Gain or loss of appetite, lack of interest in food or overeating to comfort yourself
  • Difficulty falling to sleep and sleeping through the night, you may wake up exhausted in the morning
  • Irritability and/or over emotional reactions, you find yourself snapping at people without provocation and/or crying when you have to work late again

Long-term stress also may result in reduced personal and professional effectiveness. Some signs that stress is getting to you include:

  • Becoming unreasonably negative and defensive
  • Having difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Becoming forgetful and making more mistakes
  • Neglecting your professional appearance

Left unchecked stress overload can lead to self-destructive behaviors like increasing dependence on alcohol and over-the counter medications and substance abuse.

What You Can Do

Stress overload can happen to anyone. People who find their work personally rewarding may be able to handle on-the-job stressors better than those who don’t, according to some psychologists. However, whether you love your job, hate your job or fall somewhere in the middle, there are steps you can take to improve your health and your situation.

If you love what you do, reducing stress probably means making some changes in your professional and personal life. Try to determine the sources of your stress. Do they stem from the way you handle situations or from circumstances beyond your control? Are there stressors in your life that you can eliminate?

First, get rid of whatever stressors you can. Often managers try to do too much. If you’re one of them, start delegating. Force yourself if you must. If you’re a business owner, make a list of everything you do. Eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your bottom line.

What about handling those stressful situations? There are many basic relaxation techniques that can help you handle the tough times. When you’re feeling anxious or tense, try deep breathing. Prepare for an upcoming event, whether that means giving a presentation or asking your boss for a raise, by visualizing your success. See yourself behaving the way you want to be, cool, calm and confident.

If you really hate your job, find another one. According to an article in the APA Monitor (Stress Caused When Jobs Don’t Meet Expectations) we want secure jobs that offer us the opportunity for advancement and the chance to use our creative problem-solving skills. If our job doesn’t meet our expectations we are less able to handle on-the-jobs stressors.

Whatever your situation, it’s essential that you take care of you. Make sure you eat right and drink plenty of water. Exercise at least three times a week, daily if you can. Take a break from the treadmill, explore other options like meditation and yoga.

“Be sure that you have balance in your life. Time for work, time for relationships, time for physical activity and time for spiritual nourishment, advises Lylan Wolff “Don’t forget to include time to do nothing for anyone but yourself. ”

Start this week. Spend time with loved ones. Go to lunch with friends. Give yourself permission be lazy, for at least an hour. Without feeling guilty. I believe you’ll find it’s just what the doctor ordered

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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