Understanding Stress at Work

Service member sitting at his desk doing paperwork

We all know that jobs can be stressful. But there's a difference between the normal stress of the daily grind and persistent, unrelieved stress that can affect other parts of your life. Being overstressed from work can lead to health problems, strained relationships with family and friends, and ironically enough, reduced job performance, which can lead to further stress. Don't get caught in the cycle.

How much stress is too much?

Working is a lot like working out: If you're not pushing yourself, you're probably not making progress. But even bodybuilders take breaks to enjoy a rest every now and again. You can't just work, work, work until you're burnt out and expect to come back the next day, ready to do it all over again. It takes a toll:

  • Physical signs, including frequent head, stomach, or backaches, ulcers, jaw clenching, teeth grinding and tight muscles (especially in the neck, back and shoulders)
  • Emotional signs, including feeling on edge, tense, irritable, frustrated or unable to relax, frequent periods of sadness and crying episodes
  • Social changes, including criticizing or snapping at co-workers, family, or friends, avoiding family and friends, or abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Fatigue, possibly as a result of interrupted sleep, inability to fall asleep or oversleeping
  • Decreased productivity or trouble focusing
  • Changes in appetite, like overeating or loss of appetite

Identifying your stress and seeking solutions

If you've noticed signs of being overly stressed, you need to figure out why you're so stressed and deal with it directly:

  • Are factors beyond your control preventing you from getting work done? Talk with your supervisor and explain the situation, why it's affecting your work and a potential solution.
  • Would more training help? There's no shame in wanting more training to do your job better. Take some time to figure out what kind of training you need, then see what's available to you.
  • Is there something else you'd rather be doing? Maybe your work just isn't your cup of tea, and that's OK. If you are a civilian spouse, check to see what other career opportunities your company offers, or talk with your manager if there's something else better suited to your skills and interests. If you are a service member, you can also speak with your commander about other responsibilities or duties that you might be able to take on.

Remember, you can also reach out for support whenever you need it. Non-medical counseling services are available through Military OneSource or the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. These counseling services are short-term, confidential and free. Counseling topics aren't limited to workplace concerns, but include work relationships, stress management, help adjusting to life changes like deployments or moves, other situational stressors, decision making and communication, all of which could help you conquer the stress at your workplace:

  • Visit Military OneSource online or call 800-342-9647.
  • Contact a military and family life counselor through your installation's Military and Family Support Center.
  • Find support by speaking with your unit's chaplain.

Figuring out where your stress is coming from and how to deal with it is going to feel great. Depending on the cause, the act of dealing with it could be stressful in itself, but once you do, you're going to feel like a million bucks — or if we adjust for inflation, a billion bucks. You'll be happier, healthier and better equipped to do your job well.


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