Does Job Stress Contribute to Mental Illnesses?

Stress can be awful. It can wear down our health, exhaust us, fray our nerves and, sometimes, tip us into a bout of really bad mental health. But not all stress is bad for us.

Work can certainly be stressful but often we actually enjoy the challenge of work and projects, the buzz of working in a team, the sense of progress and, of course, making money. It can be wonderful for our self-esteem and sense of well-being. Sometimes we collapse into bed at the end of busy patch and go, “I’m tired out but it’s a GOOD tiredness.” Given the choice, most people prefer to work.

Here are a few tips to help you handle the stress of working life.

How much OTHER stress is there in my life? Stress adds up and it takes time to get over. If you have had a recent loss in your family, some big bills arrived yesterday and you got a traffic ticket on the way to work this morning, then you might find that something as minor as running out of staples pushes you to tears. You might not be thinking of those other things but they have worn down your resilience and so that little problem with the stapler seems huge. If you feel stressed, you are stressed… but it might not be work itself that is the problem.

Different people handle stress differently. Some people seem to love stress! The fact that your workmate can work long hours without a break doesn’t mean that you should. Learning what your body and emotions are telling you about how much you can handle is an excellent mental health skill. If you have, or have had, anxiety or depression or some other mental or physical health issue, that may make you less able to handle stress (at least at the moment – your resilience can rebuild).

You can work harder and produce less. It is obvious that if we work harder, we produce more… but only up to a point. If we push ourselves too hard, the stress makes us less efficient. People who don’t take breaks or holidays have been proven to be less productive. If you want to be a good worker and employee, aim to work efficiently, and that doesn’t mean knocking yourself out.

Get enough sleep. Nearly everyone could do with more and better sleep! Our whole society staggers on with too little sleep. “I can’t sleep because I worry about work!” Hmmm… then that lack of sleep is going to make you even more vulnerable to stress – it’s a vicious circle. Sleep is so important in helping us handle stress that we should make conquering our sleep problems a real project. Three tips: have a fixed bed time, don’t eat a lot before turning in and resist looking at your phone. Fourth tip – Google, “Getting enough sleep,” but don’t stay up too late reading all the advice!

Prioritize and organize. You probably do a lot of clever things for your boss… now it’s time to do some clever things for yourself! One of the best defences against stress is a pencil and paper. Make lists. Plan your day, including planning when you are going to take breaks. Take the big scary things on your to do list and break them down into smaller and smaller steps. “Yard by yard is very hard but inch by inch is a cinch.” And get everywhere early! Running late, or running to be on time, runs you down. So much better to have a few minutes to spare to take some breaths, stare out the window, and feel the stress sliding off you.