Job stress comes in different forms and affects your mind and body in
different ways. Small things can make you feel stressed, such as a copy machine
that never seems to work when you need it or phones that won't quit ringing.
Major stress comes from having too much or not enough work or doing work that
doesn't satisfy you. Conflicts with your boss, coworkers, or customers are
other major causes of stress.
It's normal to have some stress.
Stress releases hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and
give you a burst of energy. Stress can be useful when you need to focus on or
finish a big project. But too much stress or being under stress for too long
isn't good for you. Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more
often. It can make chronic pain worse and can also lead to long-term
health problems such as
high blood pressure, back problems, and
Most of the time, it's the
major sources of stress that lead to job burnout and health problems. Job
stress can affect your home life too. Here are some common sources of major job
stress, with examples of each:
Lack of control. Feeling
as if you have no control over your work or job duties is the biggest cause of
job stress. People who feel like they have no control at work are most likely
to get stress-related illnesses. Here's an example:
Shelly is responsible for putting together
a report that her boss must deliver at a 4 p.m. meeting. She's been waiting all
day for the notes and numbers she needs. Shelly finally gets the notes from her
boss at 3:15 and rushes to prepare the report and charts and to make copies in
time. She gets it done, but she feels mad and resentful. This is the third time
this week that this has happened.
Taking on extra duties in your job is stressful. You can get more stressed if
you have too much work to do and you can't say no to new tasks.
John volunteers for every new project,
because he heard that's the best way to get promoted. But the tasks are
starting to pile up, and he's feeling overwhelmed. He knows he can't really
manage one more thing. But this morning, John's boss asked him to take on
another project, and John agreed. Now he's more worried than ever about getting
Job satisfaction and performance. Do you take pride in your job? If your job isn't
meaningful, you may find it stressful. Are you worried about doing well at
work? Feeling insecure about job performance is a major source of stress for
Raoul has worked in his new job for 8
months. He thinks he is doing well. But his boss doesn't say much, so Raoul
isn't sure. He wonders if he's on the right track, but he's afraid to ask.
Uncertainty about work roles. Being unsure about your duties, how your job might be changing,
or the goals of your department or company can lead to stress. If you report to
more than one boss, juggling the demands of different managers can also be
Rosa's old manager was promoted. Now Rosa is working for
someone new. She's heard that the new boss plans to "shake things up" in her
department. The new boss just hired Emily, whose job seems to be the same as
Rosa's. Rosa worries about what this means for her.
Tension on the job often comes from poor communication. Being unable to talk
about your needs, concerns, and frustrations can create stress.
A new job with more responsibility and better pay just
opened up in Jill's department. Jill knows she can do this job. And she's been
with the company longer than anyone else on her team. She waits for her manager
to ask if she is interested. But after several weeks, a coworker is promoted to
the new job. Jill feels hurt and angry, but she doesn't say anything.
Lack of support. Lack of
support from your boss or coworkers makes it harder to solve other problems at
work that are causing stress for you.
Jeff works in a busy office answering
customer complaint calls all day. It would be easier to handle all the calls if
he could at least trade tips with his coworkers. But everyone else is busy too.
His coworkers never make it out of their cubicles during the day, even to let
off a little steam.
Poor working conditions.
Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions, such as crowding, noise, or
ergonomic problems, can cause stress.
Sonya is exposed to constant noise at work.
She wears earplugs, but at the end of her shift her ears are ringing. She often
comes home with a headache.
What to do about job stress
You can reduce some job
stress by learning how to manage your time and your job duties. Think about the
kinds of events that trigger stress for you at work. Then you can focus on one
or two things you can do that will help the most to reduce stress. Here are
You and your boss
Meet with your manager
at least once a year (every 3 or 6 months is even better) to talk about your
job and your performance. If a performance review is already part of your job,
treat it as a chance to clear up issues that may be causing stress for you.
Here are some questions to ask:
What is expected of me in this
Where is this company going? How do I fit into that
How am I doing? What are my strengths? How can I
What can I expect from you if there's a problem with my
work or my job?
If I continue to do well, how might my efforts
to be recognized?
Get organized. Keep track of your projects
and deadlines by making a list of what's urgent. Decide what matters most and
what can wait.
Don't put things off. Use a
schedule planner to plan your day or week. Just seeing on paper that there is
time to get each task done can help you get to work. Break a large project into
small steps, and set a deadline for each one.
Learn to say "no." Don't overcommit
yourself. If you take on too much, you're creating stress.
Focus. Do one thing at a time. In some cases, you can do two
things at a time. But if you start to feel stressed, go back to doing one thing
at a time.
Concentrate. Try to limit
distractions and interruptions. Ask others to give you a block of time when you
are not disturbed.
Delegate. Ask someone
else to take on a task. It's not always important to have all the control.
Unplug. Don't let the technologies that help you do your work get in the way of your leisure time. Consider turning off cell phones or beepers when you are with family or friends. And avoid checking work email when you're not at work.
Reward yourself. When you finish a
difficult task, celebrate. Enjoy a snack at your desk, or—if your job
permits—take a short walk or visit with a coworker.
Schedule time for fun. If you spend every
second of your day getting things done, you may resent never having time for
yourself. If your employer offers a flexible work schedule, use it in a way
that fits your work style. Go into work earlier and take a longer break at
lunch to make time for a yoga class or a walk.
Practice breathing and relaxation techniques. You can do these at home or in a quiet place at work. For
more information, see:
identify what's creating stress at work. Maybe it's lack
of control over your job. Or maybe it's worry about losing your job or how you
are doing at work. You might feel stress because you're unable to express your
thoughts and ideas to your boss and coworkers.
why you want to reduce stress at work. You might want to
protect your heart and your health by reducing stress. Or maybe you simply want
to enjoy your life more and not let work stress control how you feel. Your
reason for wanting to change is important. If your reason comes from you—and
not someone else—it will be easier for you to make a healthy change for good.
Next, set a goal for yourself that
involves reducing your stress level. Think about both a long-term and a
Here are a few examples:
Shelly's long-term goal is to reduce stress by
managing her frustration over things she can't control at work. Her short-term
goal is to learn to do deep breathing and relaxation exercises when she gets
stressed. She'll try it the next time her boss hands her a last-minute
Jill's long-term goal is to reduce stress by speaking up
at work and expressing her interests and ideas more effectively. Her short-term
goal is to practice being more assertive. When she's ready, she'll contribute
an idea at a department meeting.
Raoul's long-term goal is to
reduce stress by having a better understanding of what's expected of him at
work. His short-term goal is to find out how he is doing now. He plans to
schedule a meeting with his boss to talk about his performance and how he can
John's long-term goal is to reduce stress by learning to
say "no" to projects he doesn't have time to handle. His short-term goal is to
get organized and prioritize the projects he has now. He is going to make a
list of all of his work and then prioritize the tasks that are most important.
After setting your goals, think about what might get in your way. Use a
personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your goals, the
possible barriers, and your ideas for getting past them. By thinking about
these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they
Most important, make sure you get support from friends and family in your efforts to reduce job stress. If
your company has an employee assistance program, you might use it to talk with
a counselor. A counselor can help you set goals and provide support in dealing
Know when to quit
If you are truly miserable because
of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs. Make sure you
know whether it is you or the job that's the problem.
quit, spend time thinking about other job options. Not having a job will
probably also lead to stress. Getting another job before you quit is best, but
sometimes that isn't possible. Decide what is less stressful for
you—unemployment or being miserable in your current job. It might help to talk
with a counselor about your choices.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Steven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Current as of
May 3, 2013
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
May 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this