How Work Stress is Wreaking Havoc on Your Health? | CareerMetis.com

Stress at work can seem unavoidable – especially when you rely on that work’s paycheck to get by. It can also cause more than just a tension headache and bad mood – work stress could actually be shortening your lifespan.

How the Body Reacts

When the body is stressed, a cascade of biological activity is set into motion. The central nervous system signals the creation of adrenaline and cortisol, muscles tense up, breathing is labored as oxygenation becomes the priority, the stomach shuts down, and the heart works overtime.

In a 2018 survey, 50% of the 1,000 US workers reported work-related stress as having negatively impacted their health. And, according to a Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle publication, “The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.”

In addition, individuals who experience chronic stress are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, digestive issues, sleep problems, headaches, weight gain, heart disease as well as concentration and memory impairment. Furthermore, a 2018 study conducted by the University of Minnesota suggested that chronic social stress leads to a shortened lifespan.

Work Stress Triggers

Avoiding stress can be difficult when you’re forced to spend the majority of your time at the very place causing it – but not all hope is lost.

Here’s a look at a few stress triggers that just might be affecting you at your workplace.

1) Long Inactive Hours

The average American spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, and when 80% of jobs are categorized as sedentary it’s no surprise that inactivity at work is a major physical stressor.

Research has found that sitting too much during the day can actually cause anxiety and sitting or standing too much can double your risk of cardiovascular disease among other health issues.

What you can do: 

Taking five-minute breaks every 30 minutes to move your body is recommended. Kinesiology research has found the ideal sit to stand ratio to be somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. Alternating your position with the use of an adjustable desk or surfaces of different heights can achieve this. If this is not possible, using an exercise ball in place of a chair can help increase blood flow throughout the day and decrease cardiovascular risks.


2) Depressing Environment

A significant correlation between depression and the efficiency of individuals environment were found in a study looking at the effects of indoor environmental factors. Research found that an improved physical environment can enhance physical and mental health and is expected to increase worker productivity.

What you can do:

Personalizing your space with something that triggers something pleasant can help as well as adding natural light. Adding a plant or two can make a big difference too.

According to the Department of Horticulture Sciences in Korea, research suggests indoor plants can suppress the sympathetic nervous system’s stress response, lower diastolic blood pressure and effectively reduce physiological and psychological stress.


3) Tight Deadlines

The term ‘Deadline’ has an interesting origin –  “a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.”

Still invoking stress and anxiety today, honoring deadlines is an essential aspect of many careers. The pressure one can get from over commitment or under-delivery can be a major stressor that stays with you even when the workday is done.

What you can do: 

Never commit to a deadline you know you can’t meet. This is hard for the people-pleasers out there, but it will save you in the end.

Break down tasks into less overwhelming bundles and manage your time. Using a time management app can work wonders for this. You can also make more accurate estimates of the time a project will take you by comparing it to similar jobs you’ve had in the past. If you’ve never worked that job before, always ask coworkers or friends who have.


4) Toxic Work Relationships

Dealing with bad coworkers isn’t a new affair. There have been bad employees since the beginning of business life. But, being stuck with a toxic person day to day can be destructive to your happiness and productivity.

Toxic team members can create unnecessary drama, erode team culture, and undermine values set forth by leadership – adding to the cumulative work stress you experience.

What you can do: 

The internet is showered with advice on how to deal with toxic relationships. There does seem to be a few common themes shared among all the information though.

First of all, try not to take it personally. People who are toxic are usually toxic to others and it’s more about them than you. Setting boundaries is important. If they’re doing something you aren’t ok with – let them know.

Finally, don’t waste too much of your time. Spend your social energy on people who deserve it. Work relationships can be difficult but if there is one worth salvaging it’s never too late to fix it.


5) Poor Eating Habits

At times it can feel like your workplace is conspiring against you with their food options. Between cramped deadlines and limited vending machines, finding ways to eat healthy throughout the workday can be a struggle for many.

According to research, poor nutrition contributes to “stress, tiredness and our capacity to work” among a long list of other health risks. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, this is a recipe for disaster, and it comes at the cost of our health and longevity.

What you can do: 

Taking a few steps can make a huge difference in your health. Some ideas to consider are not skipping breakfast, having a variety of healthy food options available and preparing healthy meals ahead of time.

Having a nutritious snack every three to five hours can keep yourself from getting too hungry.

Adjusting break-time habits can be helpful as well. Instead of a sugary coffee or energy drink, fill a water bottle. According to research, staying properly hydrated actually improves productivity.


6) Job Insecurity

According to University of Michigan Sociologist, Sarah Burgard, “Based on how participants rated their own physical and mental health, we found that people who were persistently concerned about losing their jobs reported significantly worse overall health in both studies and were more depressed in one of the studies than those who had actually lost and regained their jobs recently,”  

Chronic Job insecurity was even a stronger predictor of health problems than individuals studied who smoked and had hypertension.

What you can do:

There are a few things you can do with this one. Update your resume. Knowing how you can market yourself can make you feel a lot better. Setting up a professional network is important as many employers hire from referrals in their contacts and it can give you a better idea of the current climate.

Next, you can focus on Fitness. It might seem out of topic but boosting confidence in one area has a way of trickling into others and the natural effects of exercise ease stress and anxiety symptoms – making everything easier.

Lastly, make time to grow your skills. Taking an online course can be a great boost to your confidence and value as an employee.



Fortunately, there are many ways to help manage work-related stress.

Relaxation techniques, nutrition management, exercise, time management, and other trainings are all successfully used to treat stress.

Speaking with a qualified professional can help you identify the root of your stress so you can get on your way to a healthier work environment.

Written By
Alexis Schaffer received her undergraduate degree in psychology and is a registered nurse. In her free time she teaches yoga and writes for various online publications. She's also the proud dog mom of a beagle named Dobby.

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