It’s normal—and even healthy—to feel stressed at work from time to time. Workplace stress can motivate you to work toward goals and stay engaged in your career. However, if your work- or career-related concerns cause significant stress, anxiety, or other mental health problems, you may be at risk of burnout.
Prevalence of Work Stress
Work-related stress is common in the United States. According to a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association (APA), 58% of individuals reported that work was a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
In a survey from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than half of the respondents reported that work stress affects the quality of their work and relationships with coworkers. Additionally, 83% of men and 72% of women stated that work stress influences their quality of life outside of work.
Symptoms of Work Stress
Everyone responds to stress differently, but some common symptoms of work-related stress include:
- Anxiety or worry: You might feel preoccupied with thoughts about your job or workload and find it difficult to relax, even when you’re not at work.
- Feeling overwhelmed: High levels of stress can make you feel like you’re not able to keep up with your job demands and negatively affect your morale.
- Conflicts with others: The effects of stress can make it more difficult to control your emotional responses, according to a review published by a collaboration of professors at Stanford, Columbia and Duke Universities.. In turn, this can lead to aggression and irritability, which can cause tensions with coworkers, team members, and managers, as well as friends and family members.
- Worsened work performance: Stress can harm your job performance, which can lead to higher stress levels.
- Physical symptoms: Stress can lead to physical symptoms, including high blood pressure, chronic pain, digestive issues, and fatigue.
Types of Work Stress
There are countless forms of work- and career-related challenges, but some common examples include:
- Being overworked and underpaid: You might feel like you’re dealing with a heavy workload or that you’re not paid enough for your work.
- Job strain: High demands and low job control—for example, having little control over your work schedule— leads to job dissatisfaction, high turnover, and job stress.
- Career uncertainties: If you’re starting a new job, switching career paths, or feel like you’re stuck in your current role, you might experience high levels of stress at work.
- Difficulty maintaining a work-life balance: If you’re balancing the demands of parenting or caregiving, you might deal with stressful conflicts between your job and personal life. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be incredibly difficult for employees working at home during COVID-19.
- Physical health problems: Physically demanding jobs can lead to injuries, while desk jobs can cause hand pain, strained eyes, and even musculoskeletal disorders, such as tension neck syndrome and carpal tunnel. Lack of occupational safety can also lead to workplace stress.
Consequences of Work Stress
Negative or overwhelming occupational experiences can cause significant psychological distress and ultimately lead to burnout. In general, psychological distress manifests in three forms:
- Mental health disorders: Stress can exacerbate existing mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which can further worsen job strain.
- Health problems: The physical effects of stress can have long-term impacts on physical health, such as high blood pressure, hypertension, chronic pain, and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The effects of stress and job strain can also lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a cohort study among industrial employees.
- Behavioral problems: If you’re under too much stress, you might exhibit behavioral problems, such as aggression, substance abuse, poor decision-making, and even self-sabotage. Stressed team members may neglect their work demands, show up late to work, or use excuses to defend their decline in job performance.
According to the National Institutes of Health, workers in high-stress environments, including hospital workers, warehouse workers, and police officers, often face a higher risk of burnout.
What should you do if you’re experiencing work-related challenges?
Whether you’re questioning your career path, feeling overwhelmed at the end of the day, or experiencing job dissatisfaction, it’s imperative to seek help. Some ways to help manage work- and career-related concerns include:
- Seeking professional help. Working with a therapist can help you understand your work stress, identify stressors, and learn stress management strategies through proven therapy such as career counseling, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and techniques from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
- Surrounding yourself with social support. If you’re struggling with work-related stress, an overly demanding work environment, professional development, or returning to work during COVID-19, opening up to a close friend or family member can allow you to express your feelings. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your loved ones, consider joining a support group. For additional information on support groups, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Meditation and mindfulness practices can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety that may accompany workplace stress and burnout, according to a systematic review. If you’re struggling with high anxiety levels, taking deep breaths can immediately “ground” you.
- Talking to human resources. Even with the support of a mental health professional, talking to human resources about your career-related challenges can help you explore possible solutions. Involving human resources and senior management is imperative if your work-related stress stems from any kind of workplace harassment or discrimination, or if you’re dealing with a workplace bully.
- Seeing if your employer offers an employee assistance program. Employee assistance programs provide outside counselors, psychologists, mental health resources, and referrals to help employees struggling with work- and career-related challenges.
- Working with a career adviser. If you’re interested in advancement and career development, working with a career adviser can help you search for new opportunities.
Finding a Therapist
If you’re experiencing work- or career-related challenges, psychotherapy is an effective way to take control of your well-being and mental health. Depending on the nature of your concerns, your first step might involve searching for a professional experienced in career counseling and treating stress, anxiety, or depression.
To find the right therapist, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a qualified therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your preferences and requirements. One of the mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform can help you gain insight into your mental health, set personal goals, and learn new skills to cope with workplace stress.