Workplace Stress

How to stay healthy with the world on your shoulders.
by Liz Schmid

We've all experienced stress at work. It's that "frazzled" feeling that causes headaches, a racing pulse, or cold sweats whenever the phone rings or the boss asks yet another question. Crashing PCs, conflicts with co-workers, and deadlines are just a few of the seemingly endless sources of workplace stress.

Research by the Mayo Clinic shows that stress can take a toll on both body and soul. Under stress, our bodies behave as if under attack--whether the threat to our physical or emotional well-being is actual or imagined. Chemical "messengers" are released in the bloodstream, producing physical changes, like increased heartbeat, that prepare the body for "fight or flight."

The research shows that if stress continues over long periods of time, it may contribute to physical or emotional illness because of this chemical reaction. However, once you recognize that you are stressed out, there are effective ways to fight it. Here are some tips:

Take care of yourself.  The best way to relieve stress is to live a healthy lifestyle. That includes good exercise, regular and adequate sleep and balanced meals. The reason why these three things work? Aerobic exercise helps burn off the excess energy that stress can produce. Sleep helps us tackle problems in a refreshed state. And good nutrition, including fruits, vegetables and lots of water, keeps your body tuned and strong.

Manage your time.  Set realistic goals and deadlines and plan projects accordingly. Do "must do" tasks first. Schedule difficult tasks for the time of day when you are most productive. And finally, tackle easy tasks when you feel low on energy or motivation.

Take time off.  Take a vacation or a long weekend. During the day, take short breaks to stretch, walk, breathe slowly and relax. Also, learn to set your limits and, when necessary, say "no" to additional tasks in a friendly but firm manner.

Choose your battles,  Don't argue every time someone disagrees with you. Save your argument for things that really matter.

With severe cases of stress, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, do not self-medicate. Medication and alcohol may seem to help the problem, but these substances will severely worsen your condition. You're better off seeking professional help. Also, you may just have to look for a less stressful job. But first, ask yourself whether you have given your job a fair chance.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Physical:   Headaches, grinding teeth, tight and dry throat, clenched jaws, chest pain, shortness of breath, pounding heart, high blood pressure, muscle aches, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, increased perspiration, fatigue, insomnia, frequent illness.

Psychological:  Anxiety, irritability, sadness, defensiveness, anger, hypersensitivity, apathy, depression, slowed thinking or racing thoughts, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, lack of direction, or insecurity.

Behavioral:  Overeating or loss of appetite, impatience, quickness to argue, procrastination, increased use of alcohol or drugs, increased smoking, withdrawal or isolation from others, neglect of responsibility, poor job performance, poor personal hygiene, change in religious practices, change in close family relationships.