Do We Really Know How Much We’re Subjected to Workplace Stress?

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According to the scientists, stress kills.

Stress affects our brain chemistry and our neurological system and makes us gain weight in all the wrong places, like around the belly.

Some scientists say that the lower your place in the social hierarchy, the more stress you’ll have. That doesn’t sound terribly shocking, considering some of the difficulties of being poor.

But what is shocking is that these studies weren’t conducted on the poorest of the poor. These studies involved middle-class folks in middle-class jobs making their middle-class widgets.

Apparently, being a subordinate sucks.

A life-long impact from stress

Even more surprisingly, some studies suggest that stress passed on in utero from mother to child can have life-long effects, making these adults more sensitive to stress and more prone to depression and other mental health issues — and now it’s official. Your mother is indeed the cause of all your problems.

I don’t need to be convinced that individuals subjected to high levels of stress for long periods are likely to experience physical and psychological effects as a result.

Been there, done that.

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Anecdotally, I find that sometimes people don’t even realize how much they’ve been affected by stress until the symptoms are pretty dramatic. And, again, when we’re talking about the workplace, this is yet another reason for leaders to think twice about turning a blind eye to incivility and all its attendant costs.

Some practical solutions

Many people have written much about how to beat stress at work but my favorite list so far comes from Hannah Nicholas from MSN Money NZ (New Zealand), of all places. Nicholas recommends laughter, exercise, time away from work, adequate sleep, and if all else fails, another job.

I just find her list to be very practical. Other writers recommend trying to think of work as “just work” or “just a game,” but if you’re not built like that I can’t see that advice helping.

I’d add to Nicholas’ list prayer and helping others, which often takes our focus off us and our stress.

Whatever you do, do something. Because as I said the science is in — stress is no joke, and while we seem to know this, we’re still trying to do 15 things at once while disdaining leisure.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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