Stress at Work: 15 Warning Signs to Watch Out For

A tired, stressed and overworked young woman sitting at her desk
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Many factors in our life that can cause stress, but one of the top causes is work, according to the American Institute of Stress. As we strive for excellence in the workplace, we end up burning the candle at both ends without even realising it.

And while a little stress is healthy and occasionally unavoidable, it’s imperative that you keep cortisol levels (the steroid hormone responsible for stress) to a healthy state. But minimalizing your stress levels is difficult when you don’t even realize that you’re overdoing it - especially when you work in a naturally overly stressful work environment.

Here are the top 15 signs to watch out for that your work is causing you unnecessary stress.

1. You Rarely Leave Your Desk

If you’re so bogged down that you can’t find a minute to make a cup of coffee or eat lunch away from your desk, then it’s clear that you’re overly stressed. Being chained to your desk is unhealthy for many reasons: you’re straining your eyes, you’re not giving yourself time to have a break and refocus, and you’re not stretching your legs, which all lead to decreased productivity and motivation.

2. You Forget Easily

If you don’t break away from your desk and rest your eyes, it’s only logical that you forget things. According to a study carried out by stress expert Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University, while stress initially energises the brain by sending blood to it, after a short while of constantly being stressed (30 minutes), the body stops sending extra blood to the brain. This, as a result, causes us to be less focused and alert, which can easily lead to a constant cycle of forgetfulness.

3. You Have Aches and Pains

When you’re worried, you feel tense, both physically and psychologically, but sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between backaches from a chair or headaches from staring at the screen for too long as an indicator of stress. However, if you’re constantly going home feeling like you’ve completed an eight-hour weight training session, you can definitely thank (or blame) stress.

4. You Suffer from Insomnia

Even though you feel physically exhausted at the end of a working day, you tend to spend all night tossing and turning, because you can’t get that important end-of-year report out of your mind. If this sounds like something you can relate to, then use it as a wakeup call to be more mindful of your emotional wellbeing. Start a relaxing bedtime routine that involves turning off all your electronic devices and focusing on your wellness through breathing exercises and mindfulness.

5. You Eat Lots of Junk Food

A less obvious sign of workplace stress is overindulging in greasy food, including sugar, fatty carbohydrates and fast food. Although they initially give you a high, they make you crash within a few hours, making you feel more lethargic and less motivated than ever before. So, if your ideal evening consists of hurrying home from work to eat junk food and binge-watch your favourite Netflix series, then you may be dealing with workplace stress.

6. You Turn to Alcohol for Release

Are you destressing with a glass of wine or two in the evening? Although it might seem innocent at first, if you get into the routine of relying on alcohol to take your stresses away at the end of the day, it might result in a vicious cycle of increased anxiety and mood swings.

7. You’re Easily Agitated

Is the printer jam grating on your last nerve? Is the fact that your colleague left the toilet seat up making you extremely angry? If you notice that you’re getting annoyed with the smallest things in the workplace, it could be a great indication that it’s all getting a little too much for you. This agitation can also be transferred to your home life – for example, you can end up arguing with your partner because they’ve left their shoes by the door or forgotten a load of washing in the washing machine.

8. You’re Always Ill

If you’re constantly fighting off the flu, it’s a clear sign that your body is screaming for help. Stress weakens the immune system, and it makes our bodies more susceptible to viruses. ‘When people are stressed, they get sick,’ says Dr Shanna Levine. ‘It could be a cold or cold sores, which pop up because the immune system can't suppress the virus’.  If you find yourself constantly sick, you can use natural remedies, combined with a healthy diet and plenty of rest to make yourself fit again.

9. You Spend a Lot of Time Procrastinating

When you’re distracted by workplace stress, you’re more likely to procrastinate, worrying about everything that you need to complete instead of knuckling down and working on your issues. This procrastination then causes a higher level of stress, and you can end up feeling completely overwhelmed. If you find yourself procrastinating, it’s ideal to take a break and calm your mind; you’ll then be in a much better position at tackling your tasks and taking control of your to-do list.

10. You Have Acne

Sadly, the teenage nightmare sneaks back into adulthood when we are extremely stressed out! Cortisol causes our skin glands to produce more oil which naturally contributes to clogged pores, but there are even more factors that contribute to bad skin.

I bet you haven’t noticed how frequently you touch your face when you’re feeling stressed out? You think about something and scratch your forehead, or you deliberate about something and rest your hand on your chin. But these innocent actions spread bacteria to the face, and with a weakened immune system, you’ve instantly developed acne overnight!

11. You’re Experiencing Hair Loss

Hair loss is normal, and most of us lose between 80 to 100 hairs per day, but if you notice an irregular amount of shedding, it could be due to increased stress. When you’re stressed out, your natural hair cycle is disrupted, pushing a large number of follicles into the resting phase, which then increases the amount of hairs that fall out.

12. You’re Anxious

If you’re always thinking of the worst case scenario or you’re experiencing frequent heart palpitations, you could be suffering from anxiety related to stress. You could be worried about losing your job or fearful that your boss doesn’t agree with the way that you’re working, causing you to doubt yourself and even constantly make careless mistakes.

13. Work Is Always on Your Mind

Is work constantly on your mind? While you’re in the shower, eating your breakfast, cooking dinner or getting into bed? If so, it’s a clear giveaway that you’re stressing too much about your duties in the workplace. If this is happening more and more frequently, take time off so you can switch off and unwind.

14. You Have Digestive Issues

Digestive issues such as constipation, excess gas and diarrhoea can all be caused by high levels of stress. ‘When the brain feels severely stressed,’ writes Chris Woolston for HealthDay, ‘it unleashes a cascade of hormones that can put the whole digestive system in an uproar’. If this stress is left untreated, it can cause irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn in the long term.

15. You Feel Depressed

Workplace stress can also make you undervalue yourself which, in turn, causes depression. If you feel like you’re not good enough, there’s a high possibility that you’re feeling this way because you’re stressed at work. These thoughts could be caused by many factors, so it’s important to identify the areas that you’re not confident in and work on building your skills in those areas.

As you can see, there are many signs that your work can be causing you stress. But don’t immediately put these symptoms down to stress! It’s important to be aware of them and change your lifestyle to eliminate the causes.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? Let us know what’s stressing you out at work in the comments section below.