Understanding Stress at Work

Service member sitting at his desk doing paperwork

If you find your job stressful at times, you're not alone. You may feel overworked, unfulfilled or unappreciated occasionally, or you may even have conflicts with managers or co-workers. Feelings of stress often come and go on the job. However, persistent, unrelieved stress that affects your job performance, interpersonal relations or overall well-being may be a sign that you're experiencing more than just typical work-related stress.

How much stress is too much?

It isn't unusual to require a little stress in order to do your best on the job. Work can be similar to physical fitness: if you don't push yourself, it's likely you won't make progress; too much pressure, though, can be exhausting. Keeping your stress at work under control can help you stay motivated and productive without wearing you out. One way to control your stress is to familiarize yourself with the signs of excess stress, and adjust accordingly. You may be pushing yourself too hard if you experience any of the following:

  • 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

One way to begin coping with your stress in the workplace is to identify its cause. Perhaps your workload is too heavy, you may need to further develop your skills, or you may be better suited for a different position within the company. Help yourself further understand the cause of your stress and begin working toward a solution by reading through some common causes and solutions for workplace stress.

  • Do obstacles beyond your control interfere with your progress at work? If so, discussing ways to remove them with your manager can greatly increase personal satisfaction and positive feelings.
  • Would training help ease your workload? If so, what kind of training is available, and how do you request additional training? Is training offered on- or off-site? Do you need to acquire new skills or refresh what you already know?
  • Would another type of work assignment better suit your skills and interests? Review the career development options your company supports or talk with your manager about applying for another type of assignment.

Your sources of stress will be easier to manage if you know what they are. You may also gain a sense of control and accomplishment from listing the steps you could take to ease your stress and checking them off as you complete each one, or even giving yourself a small reward as you progress.

You can also reach out for support whenever you need it. Non-medical counseling services are available through Military OneSource or military and family life counselors. These counseling services are short-term, confidential and offered at no cost. Counseling topics aren’t limited to workplace concerns, but include work relationships, stress management, 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.
  • Military and family life counselors are available through your installation’s military and family support center.
  • Find support by speaking with your unit's chaplain. Contact information can be found locally through your Family Support Center.

If you ever find yourself experiencing stress that interferes with your relationships or work performance, you may benefit from further help. The resources above can help you achieve a healthier level of stress and improve your quality of life – both at work and at home.


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