What to Do If Your Job Is Seriously Stressing You Out

Tracking your stress levels and establishing work-life boundaries are just two things that can help you chill out.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

No matter what type of work you do, there's bound to be some kind of stress involved.

In fact, 61 percent of Americans say work is one of the top sources of stress. That’s according to the American Psychological Association's 2017 Stress in America Survey, which looked at the major stressors Americans have.

To make matters worse, more than half of the respondents in the survey—56 percent to be exact—feel they could use more support when handling stress.

Whether it's a low salary, a colleague who's hard to work with or gripes about the type of work you're doing, it's completely normal to have work-related stress. Quite often, the stress you endure at work stays with you long after you've left the office—and it can bring with it a host of adverse health effects.

How work-related stress affects you

In the short term, acute stress—which you experience in the moment and which comes and goes rather quickly—may cause headaches and stomachaches. You may also notice having trouble concentrating or having a short temper.

Chronic stress, on the other hand—which continues over stretches of time—can contribute to a variety of longer-term health problems, including depression, anxiety, obesity, acne, heart disease and menstrual problems.

Stress may have collateral effects, too. For example, you may have noticed that when you’re stressed out, you make less-than-desirable lifestyle choices, like eating fast food—and eating more of it than you should—as well as abusing alcohol or smoking.

Why does stress have such a profound impact on your health?

To start, when you’re stressed in the moment, your body releases hormones such as cortisol to help you cope and remain alert for the emergency situation your body believes it’s in.

When you have chronic stress, your body is in a constant state of alertness—with corresponding elevated cortisol levels—even when the original danger has long passed. This constant state of high-alertness can disrupt a variety of bodily processes—including sleep, digestion and the way the body gains weight—which can lead to health issues over time.

To help prevent these reactions, here are some simple ways to get your work-related stress under control.

1. Set work-life boundaries: It’s possible you’re stressed out because you’re constantly working. And while certain careers do require some out-of-office working time, it’s imperative that you come up with an effective way to balance it all, so as to not get overwhelmed. Spending time with loved ones and taking care of yourself is very important when it comes to your mental health.

In order to create work-life balance, you’ll want to understand the expectations of your job up front. Have conversations with your boss to learn about on- and off-duty requirements, and share those insights with your family, too, so they’re aware of your work commitments and schedule.

Once you do understand the parameters, work on establishing priorities and developing a plan to keep pace with your work. Then, set realistic boundaries that you can stick to.

2. Seek help from your manager: If you’re having trouble with priorities or your workload, it’s important to talk to your boss so you can sort it out. Your manager may be able to help you delegate, re-prioritize and better manage your time so you’re left feeling empowered and supported to take on the tasks at hand.

Come prepared to the meeting with a list of everything you’re working on, your current priority list and the plan of action you think is best for your to-do list.

In addition to talking with your manager, you can also ask your human resources department if your company offers a stress management training program to help you learn more about the sources of stress, how stress levels affect your health and how to manage workplace stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost half of large American companies offer these types of programs.

3. Track your stress: Keeping track of your stress levels can help you stay abreast of the activities, times of day or specific situations that may make you stressed.

Use Sharecare, an app for and iOS and Android, to manually enter your stress levels. The app also lets you record 30-second conversations with others—or simple monologues you provide—and offers analysis of your stress levels based on how your voice sounds. Using the information, you can to begin lowering your stress levels overall and you can start working on how to cope with specific stressful situations.

4. Take a mental health day: If you’re grappling with work-related stress that’s been building for some time, causing your work and everyday tasks to suffer, taking a mental health day away from work may be beneficial.
Use your day to see your therapist, practice self-care or to handle anything you’ve neglected while you’ve been under stress, like paying your bills, setting a personal budget or seeing your dentist for a teeth cleaning.

5. Practice general stress-reduction techniques: Work-related stress is inevitable—but how you deal with it is what matters. You can work on your stress levels by practicing techniques including:

  • Squeezing regular exercise into your daily routine
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting enough good quality sleep
  • Reducing your caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Trying relaxation techniques such as deep and controlled breathing or meditation

Work-related stress is going to crop up, but addressing it proactively before it becomes chronic is the key to better mental and overall health.

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