Can workplace stress make you sick?

At one time or another, we've all felt the stress that having a job can bring. Whether it's managing both a job and a family, learning a new skill or responsibility, maintaining work-related goals or simply fulfilling the day-to-day tasks assigned to your job, the workplace can be a stressful environment. But can that stress actually take its toll to the point where it actually makes you sick?

The inability to influence the decisions that affect your job can lead to burnout.

According to research, the answer is yes. The Mayo Clinic has defined a special kind of stress, called job burnout, that takes its toll both mentally and physically. Job burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. Job burnout is different than the 'typical' stress one might feel while at work. We all feel some amount of stress at almost any given time. Job burnout, however, goes beyond this and enters into a truly unhealthy area.

There are many causes for job burnout. One is lack of control, or at least, the perception of lack of control. The inability to influence the decisions that affect your job (work schedule for example) can lead to burnout. As can the lack of proper resources an employee needs to complete his or her work. Another common cause is unclear job expectations. If you are constantly unclear about what your role in a particular job is, who has authority or what is expected of you, you're not likely to be comfortable at work.

If you are wondering if you are suffering from job burnout ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

If you answered yes to one or several of these questions, it is possible that you may be suffering from job burnout. First you should understand that these same symptoms can be the indicators of other health problems, so consulting a doctor should be your first step.

Getting involved with a mental health provider is also advisable. It is also possible that some of your issues at work can be cleared up by having a meeting with supervisors and coworkers. Just remember, the workplace can be a very stressful atmosphere, but there is a great amount that you, the employee, can do to reduce this stress.

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