If you’re a go-getter in the employment rat race, the last thing you may want to admit is that you’re struggling at work. Admitting struggles, even to yourself, can be especially precarious in the race when others could sense an ongoing struggle and pounce, leveraging the perceived weakness as an opportunity to surpass or undermine you in some way.
Fact is, we all struggle at times, even if we don’t realize it.
One particular struggle that’s prevalent throughout the work environment is the ongoing battle with stress. Stress develops from all sorts of angles that you’ve probably already encountered, such as:
- Unhappy customers,
- One-sided performance reviews,
- Conflicting obligations between teams, or
- Absent coworkers.
As you know, this list could go on and on.
But let’s say that even through all these normal triggers for stress, you typically remain calm and collected and take care of issues like a champ, that’s great, right?
There’s a high possibility you may have been exposed to high levels of stress so frequently that you may not even realize it anymore. You may think you’ve grown accustomed to stress at work, but the reality is that prolonged, unmanaged stress can lead to severe medical issues and that well known term – employee burnout. No one becomes "accustomed to stress." Sooner or later, something will break.
I don’t want anything to happen to you, and I'm certain you don’t want anything to happen to you either, which is why this blog post discusses 6 important signs you may actually be struggling with stress at work.
1. Increase in Headaches
You might already be familiar with the following types of headaches: (A) tension headaches, (B) sinus headaches, (C) migraines, and (D) cluster headaches. Do you know which one(s) are thought to be directly caused by stress though? If you answered A, and only A, you’re correct.
The others are thought to be indirectly related to stress. How is that? Well, stress at work can make you susceptible to these other types of headaches, just as stress can make you more vulnerable to colds or other illnesses, but stress does not directly cause them. Furthermore, if you do experience any of these headaches, stress can actually exacerbate them.
Turning our attention to tension headaches, aka “stress headaches”, these are the most common that occur with adults. These are evident by tightness and pressure in the forehead and neck. Individuals who experience tension headaches are generally able to continue working but will do so at a lower level in performance. So if you've been the all-star in the office, you can be putting your title at risk through prolonged stress at work.
If you find yourself experiencing an increase in tension headaches or those other types of headaches, you may want to consider where you are in your stress management program.
2. Memory Problems
Are you one to heavily rely on your memory for delegating and completing tasks? Maybe you used to be able to whip through the maze of cubicles and office floors but have lately struggled at remember locations. If you've been ignoring the signs that you're stressed, you may eventually find that you need to keep a map of office floors and a notepad in your pocket, so you don't get lost or forget things.
According to Psychology Today, when you’re under stress at work, your pituitary gland can cause the stress hormone cortisol to be dumped into your bloodstream. Chronic stress causes more cortisol to be dumped overtime, which binds to your brain’s hippocampus, the area that converts new experiences to memory. When too much cortisol binds, the memory-forming process is disrupted. If this continues overtime, the impairment in this memory-forming process can become permanent.
Of course, in the rapidly changing and overly-demanding world of business, it’s easy to forget some things at times, but if you’re starting to notice an increase in the frequency in your forgetting things, such as meetings, your keys, important documents, or other items, you may be witnessing a sign that you’re stressed at work.
Did your loved one leaving tennis shoes in the living room set you off? Maybe your steak was cooked a little too well done at dinner the night before. Perhaps that plate on the counter really should have been in the dishwasher before you got home.
When you find yourself arguing, blaming, criticizing, and withholding affection from a spouse, you may be under more stress than you realize. Stress has the unfortunate ability to turn us into nagging, negative Nancies, and this behavior can be devastating for personal relationships.
In these situations, we may believe our loved one is to blame when, in reality, it’s the stress having an effect.
You'll be able to notice a change in the home when your spouse starts to rebut your negativity with "you've been difficult lately" or some other expression that conveys things aren't peachy anymore. When the language changes, it might be time to identify those stress triggers and develop a plan to manage them.
4. Changes in Sleep Patterns
Have you found yourself with an uncanny ability to work longer hours well into the night without flinching from sleep deprivation? Unfortunately, you aren’t becoming superhuman. Instead, you’re probably carrying higher levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “the brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. As a result, when you don’t sleep well, your body keeps pumping out those hormones.” So, can you see a possible devastating cycle here? Stress. Lack of sleep. More stress. Fatigue. Less focus. Bad decisions. Redo work. Bad performance reviews. More Stress. Repeat.
5. Changes in Eating Habits
The presence of stress can manifest itself through changes in your eating habits. You can either start punching your frequent diner’s card at the local buffet more frequently or fail to replenish your stores of energy all together by simply not eating. Either way, these changes in your eating habit can lead to subsequent health issues. Most people, eat more when under stress.
If we want to get scientific about it, glucocorticoid stimulates appetite, which causes overeating. According to the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI), glucocorticoid influences the proper functioning of leptin, which is used to tell us to stop eating. Under stress, glucocorticoids can reduce our sensitivity to leptin, thereby telling our bodies to keep on eating. As a result, we go back for seconds, thirds and so on, or turn our filing cabinets into pantries.
6. Frequently Fatigued
When you're stressed at work, your brain is working overtime. While you may not realize it at the time, your brain is causing stress hormones to be consistently dumped into your body. This dumping activates your flight-or-fight response. As a result, you're constantly sitting on edge.
In order to keep you in this state, your body has to use an enormous amount of energy, so by the end of your workday, you are simply exhausted. While this response system can be beneficial during true survival mode, chronic use of your flight-or-fight response system can prove to be devastating when used for prolonged periods of time, such as leading to mental illnesses.
Stress can be sneaky, allowing you to get used to feeling a certain way only to later find out that you’ve been coping (or trying to cope) with a significant amount of stress. That’s why recognizing stress symptoms is an important skill to add to your repertoire. When you start to see these early signs, you will be doing yourself a favor by implementing a stress management program, if you don't have one already. Your program could include a new workout regimen, aromatherapy, therapeutic creative work, office fitness classes, or regularly-scheduled time off to give yourself much-needed breaks. The key is to find something that helps to alleviate your stress and you stick to it.
For a fun, colorful, and aromatherapeutic way to help reduce stress at work, check out our kneadpeace™ blends.