Workplace stress can sometimes go undetected, because you’re so busy trying to keep on top of tasks that you’ve no time to stop and look at the impact of work pressure and whether or not you’re coping with it. This article can help you track your stress levels. If you’re suffering from a lot of symptoms, consider making changes so you can avoid complete burnout.
1. Unexplained Aches and Pains
Working in an uncomfortable chair or at a desk that’s the wrong height can cause your body to become achy. But if you’re suffering from aches and pains that can’t be explained by poor ergonomics, it may be that you’re under too much pressure. According to Dr Gabor Mate, author of When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, stress causes many more physical symptoms than we realize. Unexplained pain can be a signal from the body to alert you to the fact that you’re over-taxing yourself.
2. Altered Appetite
If you often skip lunch because you don’t feel hungry, that could be a sign that you’re feeling the strain. When you’re having to deal with other pressures, your priorities change and eating may feel less important to your body than dealing with current work stressors. Alternatively, if you’re stuffing your face in the work canteen every day, you may be comfort eating to deal with stress. Which you do depends on your personality, but a change in appetite is a common sign of stress.
3. Sleep Struggles
If you’re struggling to get into work on time, because either you overslept or are over-tired from lying awake all night, then you may be under too much pressure at work. Changes in sleep patterns are another of those things that can go to either extreme. Your body may feel it needs more rest to gather energy to deal with stressors or you may be kept awake by your worry thoughts. It will depend on the personality and your situation, but a different sleep pattern can indicate you’re under too much pressure.
4. Feeling Lonely
Your office may be full of your colleagues as usual, and yet you feel like the loneliest person in the world. Stress can make you feel isolated and cut off from other people, especially if you’re the sort of person who takes pressure personally. It’s as if stressors are following you like a little black cloud and no-one else could possibly understand how you feel. John Cacioppo, a professor of psychology, and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, points out that feeling unrewarded can lead to feelings of loneliness. Perhaps, when you’re under pressure, the imbalance between the amount of effort you put into work and the amount of reward you feel to get back causes workplace loneliness.
5. Constant Colds
When your body is under too much pressure, your immune system can become compromised. When all your resources need to go towards sorting out things at work, the body does not have enough energy left to protect itself from illness. If you seem to always have the sniffles lately, when you’re usually in good health, take a look at your workload and see if you’re doing too much.
6. Getting Sweaty
Are you constantly needing to ‘freshen up’ at work because you’re feeling a bit sweaty? Sweating a lot when the temperature doesn’t warrant it can show that you’re suffering from stress. The reason why work pressure may cause you to sweat is that external stressors can activate the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. This causes a surge of adrenaline, which, in turn, makes you sweat. Researchers are still not clear on why this is, but seem to be leaning towards the idea that the smell produced by sweat could be a signal to others that there is danger around. A study carried out by Stony Brook University and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in 2011, revealed that found that people who were exposed to another person’s stress sweat became more alert.
Believe it or not, procrastination is more often a sign of anxiety than it is of laziness. Anyone who has seen a rabbit caught in headlights knows the rabbit is not simply not bothering to move. As well as ‘fight or flight’, extreme pressure can also cause a ‘freeze response’, which means you simply don’t know exactly what to do next, so staying still seems like the most sensible option. If you’re finding that you have lots of tasks at work but can’t seem to start any, you may be ‘freezing’ under too much pressure.
8. Being Snappy
If you have an uncharacteristically short fuse, you’re probably suffering from too much pressure. Agitation can build up inside without us realizing, and suddenly we find we’ve bitten the head off a co-worker for no real reason. If you look back at your day, you’ll probably notice how the pressure has been building from one stressor to the next, like a pressure cooker waiting to explode.
9. Anxious Thoughts
There are several categories of anxious thoughts that seem to arise when we’re stressed out. These can range from ‘worst scenario thinking’, like presuming you’ll lose your job if you don’t get a work report right, to ‘mind reading’, eg. automatically assuming that your boss will hate your latest presentation even though you have no real evidence. If you look at your anxious thoughts and they seem really unrealistic, they are probably a response to extreme pressure at work.
Although dizziness can be caused by all sorts of things, it is often an overlooked symptom of workplace stress. If you think about the way the body works, when you’re stressed out, the fight or flight response causes us to breathe more shallowly, and our heart to speed up, preparing us to run away or enter combat. Breathing too quickly causes the arteries to contract, so less blood reaches the brain, and this can cause a feeling of light-headedness. If you’re constantly having to sit down at work or grab onto the photocopier because you’re feeling dizzy, this could be a sign of workplace stress.
NB. Before putting any of these symptoms purely down to stress, note that other illnesses can sometimes share these symptoms. While you are looking at ways of managing pressure better, please also get a physical health check.