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Work related stress - what are the signs and symptoms?

For many people, work related stress can become an unbearable burden. All too often, we feel we must just keep our heads down and carry on with the job in hand despite knowing deep down that we are struggling. Recent media coverage has yet again highlighted the sometimes tragic consequences of work related stress that goes unrecognised and untreated.

Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc), General Adult Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove explains the symptoms and how to get help for work related stress...

What causes work related stress?

The health and safety executive tell us that work related stress is defined as: “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure of work or other types of demands placed on them”. Essentially, when stress is triggered as a result of work pressures it can be due to a number of reasons such as long hours, excessive workloads, tight deadlines, organisational change, lack of support, and harassment/bullying to name a few.

In today’s economic climate, many can be forgiven for feeling ‘grateful’ to have a job and therefore, all too easily, the added pressures of working life get accepted rather than questioned. Some may even consider it a weakness to suggest that they are unable to cope with the added pressures.

What are the signs and symptoms of work related stress?

Often, people don’t recognise the symptoms of work related stress and instead adopt a ‘coping’ mechanism, putting it down to just being extra busy and telling themselves that they should be able to cope. People can also convince themselves that it’s just for a short while until things get better, but more often than not this is not the case. Work related stress can manifest itself into various symptoms which can include:

  • Insomnia or loss of sleep leading to tiredness
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Low mood
  • Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Low productivity accompanied by feelings of low achievement
  • Regular absence and a higher sickness rate
  • Being accident-prone
  • Being cynical and defensive
  • Finding fault
  • Headaches
  • Backache
  • Indigestion
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Regular or lingering colds

How can I get help?

The key is to recognise that you are suffering with work related stress and seek help. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and then, if possible, talk to your organisation's occupational therapy or HR teams who will be experienced in helping.

If you feel unable to speak to your organisation, there are ways to get private and confidential support. Priory Group has a nationwide network of sites providing 24-hour support 7 days a week. Our expert consultants, psychologists and therapists can provide support outside of normal working hours in a tailored package of care that suits your individual needs. All treatment is provided in the strictest privacy.  

Blog reviewed by Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove

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