Managing Work Stress

Have you ever felt a sense of dread on your way to work in the morning? If so, you may be suffering from work-related stress, which is the negative reaction we have to pressures at work. In other words, it is how we feel when the demands at work exceed our ability to cope.

A Bloomberg study found that the South African workforce suffers the second most from stress in the world. Sustained work-related stress can affect mental health negatively. A survey in 2013 estimated the cost of major depression and anxiety disorders to South Africa’s economy at R40,6 billion (2.2% of GDP). And in 2015, worker inability to carry out their day-to-day roles was estimated at 28 days per person per year for anxiety, and at 27 days per person per year for depression. At present, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group one in four South African employees are suffering from symptoms of depression.

Stress in the workplace is unfortunately an inevitable fact of life. It is however important to recognise early on if you are chronically suffering from high levels of stress and to address this as soon as possible. By prioritising mental wellness, you can also prevent work-related stress from ever reaching a level that is unhealthy for you. Stress is not all bad. A healthy dose of “good stress” can simply motivate you to perform to the best of your ability. How much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. It is important for you to know your own “stress limit”.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress in the Workplace

One of the first warning signs of work-related stress becoming unmanageable is starting to work longer and longer hours as it feels like there is never enough time to complete everything. One starts to miss tea breaks and lunch breaks, never take annual leave, and spend less and less time with family and friends. Working such long hours in the short term to meet a looming deadline is fine, but working to this extent for several months or years can lead to a decline in mental health. There are many signs and symptoms which may indicate possible stress overload. Some of the main symptoms have been categorised below into cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioural symptoms:

Cognitive symptoms

  • Memory problems

  • Inability to concentrate (being easily distracted, reduced problem solving and ability to learn)

  • Indecisiveness

  • Poor judgment

  • Seeing only the negative, constantly finding fault

  • Anxious or racing thoughts

  • Constant worrying (inability to switch off due to worrying about problems at work)

Emotional symptoms

  • A growing feeling that the workplace is a threat and a sense of dread at the thought of going into work each day.

  • Depression or general unhappiness (lacking confidence, feelings of low achievement, not feeling motivated, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, or of being trapped)

  • Anxiety and agitation (feeling that you can’t cope)

  • Mood swings, irritability, or anger (being cynical and defensive)

  • Feeling overwhelmed (being more tearful or sensitive than usual)

  • Loneliness and isolation