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What are the Signs of Work-Related Stress?

We take a look at the physical and non-physical signs of work-related stress and discuss what to do if you recognise these signs in yourself or your employees.  

Stress is a normal response to pressure, and as we’ve already discussed in part 1 of our guide to Managing Business Stress, pressure at work can be a good thing. In short bursts, it helps to keep you alert and perform at your best. However, prolonged stress is a different matter. 

When we are stressed by a situation, our heart rate, and blood pressure increase to deliver more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. This evolutionary response, known as the fight or flight mechanism, has developed to help us respond to threats. However, in the workplace and over a prolonged period, this natural reaction to certain triggers can be very damaging.     

In this part of our guide, we’re going to discuss the physical and non-physical signs and symptoms of stress. We’ll also look at the practical steps you can take if you recognise these signs of stress in yourself or your employees.

Work-Related Stress is Not Something You Can Ignore

Often, people don’t recognise the symptoms of work-related stress either in themselves or in their employees. They can put it down to a coping mechanism or convince themselves that it’s just a short-term issue and that things will soon improve, but without help, that’s not always the case. 

Work-related stress can manifest in a broad range of physical and non-physical symptoms. If you recognise any or a combination of these common symptoms in yourself or your employees, it’s important that you act. Acting early can reduce the impact that stress has on your health and happiness. Some of these stress indicators can also be symptoms of other conditions, so you should also book an appointment to see your GP.

What are the Physical Signs of Work-Related Stress?

  • Chest pain or a pounding heart
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
  • Periods of fast or shallow breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent or lingering colds
  • Sleeping problems
  • A loss or change in appetite
  • Muscle tension and pains
  • Backache
  • Indigestion
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Drinking more caffeine or alcohol

What are the Non-Physical Signs of Work-Related Stress?

  • Feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Being irritable
  • A loss of confidence and being indecisive
  • Worrying excessively
  • Thinking negatively
  • Mood swings
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Being cynical and defensive
  • Being accident-prone
  • Low productivity and feelings of low achievement
  • Being twitchy and nervous
  • Heightened emotional reactions – being more tearful and sensitive than normal

What are the Signs of Stress in Your Employees?

While you may notice some of the physical and non-physical signs of stress in yourself, there are other telltale signs that indicate your teams and employees are feeling stressed that might be easier to spot. That includes:

  • Higher staff turnover
  • More workplace arguments
  • More sickness absence
  • Decreased performance
  • An increase in complaints and grievances
  • More instances of staff turning up late
  • A drop in workplace morale
  • More reports of stress

What Should You Do if You Recognise the Signs of Stress in Your Workplace?

If you feel like you are suffering from work-related stress, then you’ve already taken a big step by recognising the signs and deciding to do something about it. Talking to someone that you trust, such as a long-term colleague or a friend or family member, about how you are feeling is a good place to start. Depending on the size of your organisation, you could then speak to an occupational therapist or your HR team, who will have experience in dealing with stress.

If you feel unable to speak to your employer or receive an underwhelming or unhelpful response, there are other ways that you can get private and confidential support. The mental health charity Mind has a helpline that provides information and support over the phone and by email. Organisations such as the Priory Group can provide 24/7 assistance to suit your individual needs. You could also seek professional advice from a career counselor, psychologist, or therapist.

If you recognise the signs of work-related stress in your employees, then you need to take action to protect them. The first step in that process is to conduct a stress risk assessment and to act on your findings. We’ll take a look at stress risk assessments in more detail in the next part of our Managing Business Stress guide.