This page has been medically reviewed by Dr Jeremy Broadhead, Consultant Psychiatrist (General Adult Psychiatry), from Priory Hospital Hayes Grove.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work related stress as: “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure of work or other types of demands placed on them”. It doesn’t just affect a small number of people either. HSE say that over 822,000 suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2020/21.
For many people, work-related stress can become an unbearable burden. You might feel like you just need to keep your head down and carry on with the job in hand, despite knowing deep down that you’re struggling. No-one should have to feel this way and everyone deserves a happy balance to their work life and home life.
Excessive levels of stress at work can lead to deeper, long-term mental health issues if it isn’t dealt with. That’s why it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs and symptoms of workplace stress and have an idea about what you can do about it if it’s severely damaging your ability to lead a normal life.
What are Work Stress Symptoms?
It can be hard to pinpoint the symptoms of work-related stress. People tend to adopt a ‘coping’ mechanism instead, putting their difficulties down to just being extra busy, or believing that they should be able to cope if they just knuckle down. People can also convince themselves that it’s just for a short while until things get better. However, more often than not, it doesn’t work out like this, as the work continues to come in or the source of your stress isn’t resolved.
Work-related stress can manifest itself in various symptoms, which can include:
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Low mood
- Low productivity accompanied by feelings of low achievement
- Regular absence and a higher sickness rate
- Being cynical and defensive
- Finding fault in everything you do
- Feeling nervous and on edge
- Finding that you’re unable to ‘switch off’ from work
- Lacking motivation
- Insomnia or loss of sleep leading to tiredness
- Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
- Weight loss or gain
- Shortness of breath
- Regular or lingering colds
Dr Jeremy Broadhead, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove, on the impact of stress:
“Stress, whether physical or mental, must be taken seriously. We all recognise physical strains on our body and the damage that may be caused. For example, if we injure our knee we don't keeping running on it because it would cause further damage. We take care of it. Psychological stress, as well as being hard to bear and destructive for our lives, can damage the brain. It is too often ignored.
"Too much pressure and uncertainty at work, and difficult relationships there and at home, can cause psychological stress. As the figures show, the result can be psychiatric illness, misuse of alcohol and a change in demeanour."
Read our workplace mental health page for more information on how to cope and manage with mental health in the workplace.
Causes of Stress at Work
When the signs and symptoms of stress are 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 at work
- Harassment or bullying
If you’re under an undue amount of stress, there are things you can ask yourself that will clarify whether it’s your job that’s causing it. The HSE have outlined a series of pointers that might indicate that your workload is unmanageable. If you:
- are unable to cope with the demands of your job
- are unable to control the way you do your work
- don't receive enough information and support at work
- are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied
- don't fully understand your role and responsibilities
- are not engaged when a business is undergoing change
then you could be suffering from an excessive level of workplace stress.
In many of today’s work environments, you can be forgiven for feeling ‘grateful’ to have a job at all. 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.
These types of thoughts and attitudes can quickly see your mental health take a significant downturn, which can have knock-on effects on other aspects of your life.
Dealing with Stress at Work
Once you’ve recognised that you’re suffering with work-related stress, the best thing you can do is take steps to identify the true cause, minimise symptoms and look to secure your long-term wellbeing. Here are a few things you can do to achieve this:
What’s making you stressed?
If you can pinpoint the exact cause of your stress, you’ll take a big step towards understanding and potentially reducing it. As yourself, is there a specific aspect of your role that leads to heightened symptoms? Is it due to a particular working relationship? Has your workload recently increased, or have other significant changes to your working environment recently occurred?
Make a note of the things that are leading to an increase in stress, and then you can work to find solutions to them. Even if the issues are more fundamental, getting your thoughts together is the first step to facilitating a healthier workplace for yourself and others.
Get support at work
In generations gone by, speaking up against a stressful or toxic working environment may have been seen as a taboo. Today, we all recognise the importance of a healthy work-life balance, and your company will have a relevant team or staff member to speak to about your mental health at work.
A good first step would be to speak to your boss or HR team about the issues you’re experiencing at work and the damage it’s doing to your mental health. Many organisations have support structures and programmes in place to help staff members through struggles with mental health.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to your boss or HR team, speak to a trusted friend, family member or colleague. Remember that those around you care for your wellbeing and will do what they can to help.
There are countless small lifestyle changes you can make that will add up to an improvement in your mood. Think about:
- Your diet – try to eat and drink as healthily as you can, and avoid things that are bad for you
- Exercising – physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Even if it’s a walk away from the office at lunch, get up and about as much as you can
- Trying mindfulness – techniques like breathing exercises and meditation are proven to reduce your stress levels
- Switching off – working outside of normal office hours will mean all those stressful thoughts will stay at the forefront of your mind. Sometimes it’s tough, but when the clock strikes 5pm, switch off
Consider professional support
If you feel unable to speak to your organisation, aren’t getting the level of support you think you need, or self-care isn’t reducing your symptoms, there are ways to get private and confidential support outside the office.
Priory has a nationwide network of sites providing world-class treatment for stress. 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 confidentiality.
If you’re reticent about reaching out, remember that accepting you’re not OK is a sign of strength, not weakness. If it makes you feel more at ease, speak to your GP first and get the medical opinion of someone you know and trust.
Treatment for Workplace Stress
No-one should have to suffer in silence with mental health issues. Work-related stress can be a very debilitating issue, and you deserve the best treatment to help get you back on track.
Priory can give you the support and help you need to do just that. Our stress treatment programmes, conducted in an inpatient, outpatient or day care capacity, can help you overcome your symptoms and develop the right skills to deal with stressful situations long into the future. Counselling and therapy are effective treatments for stress, and sessions can even be conducted online – allowing you full flexibility in your recovery.
Long-term recovery from excessive workplace stress is possible with Priory. Get help today by making an enquiry via email or calling us on 0800 086 1885.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here