3 types of job stress, and what to do about them

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The Best Ways to Handle Work-Related Stress

Work-related stress is all too common these days. Although stress levels, overall, have declined in the last few years, 60 percent of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association last year reported feeling stressed because of work. The problem is likely to continue as long as our modern culture of overwork persists.

job stress

(Photo Credit: AIM Neutron (On a break)/Flickr)

But, just because stress is somewhat common these days, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to do something about it. In fact, just the opposite is true. It's helpful to understand the different kinds of tensions that exist for workers. It can help us understand ourselves, and it allows us to support each other a little better too. Through better understanding the nature of the work-related stressors that are dragging you down, you can more fully combat them and get back to feeling like yourself.

Let's take a closer look at a few emotional states that we generally think of as "stress" and also think about what we can do to address them.

1. Acute stress.

Acute stress can happen to anyone and everyone at some point in their lives. Acute stress is situational and is connected to passing/fleeting issues – it's the kind of stress that's only around for a little while, and it can actually be kind of fun. Facing a new and exciting challenge can be thrilling, but still, the feelings associated with acute stress deserve our attention.

If you're going through a particularly crazy time at work, don't neglect yourself along the way. Be sure to get plenty of rest, eat well, and exercise, for example. Also, even during a busy time, it's a good idea to have some balance in your life; schedule time with friends and family even though it seems difficult. Keep an eye on the stressful situation and look forward to getting over the hump. Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel should help you get through this busy time a little easier.

2. Exhaustion and burnout.

When you are exhausted, physically, emotionally, or intellectually, the symptoms can have a really huge impact on you and your work. Also known as burnout, this type of work-based stress deserves immediate attention. If you've been under consistent, prolonged stress, you could begin to experience some serious symptoms such as a negative mood, lack of motivation, or feelings of detachment or depression. This is when you know your stress has transitioned to burnout, and it's essential that you take action.

First of all, in order to take care of yourself immediately, you could try getting away and taking a break for a little while. Time off will allow you to begin to heal and regroup. Once you've had a chance to catch your breath, seriously consider making some lifestyle changes (or even career changes if you must) that will allow you to take better care of yourself. It's essential that you slow down a little, one way or the other, or you'll just find yourself in this same situation again farther down the road.

3. Stress that's based in fear.

In a recent article in Fast Company, Robert Maurer argues that for some workers, usually managers, stress is more like fear in disguise. He goes on to explain that the symptoms we associate with stress – some of which he identifies as muscle tension, change in appetite, trouble sleeping, etc. – are actually experienced, by mammals at least, as a result of fear. When reflecting back on a typical workday, an employee is more likely to report feeling "afraid" than "stressed" when they are tasked with making important decisions with wide-ranging consequences on a regular basis.

"So why do these and so many other successful people prefer the word fear to stress?" Maurer asks, after explaining that CEOs tend to talk about being afraid more often than they talk about feeling stressed. "Successful people assume that whenever they're doing something important, they'll experience fear — and they're right. Every animal has a built-in fear response: the deer runs, the bird flies, the mouse burrows, and the lion charges. Successful leaders appear to have discovered the healthiest possible human response to fear: reaching out to others for support."

So, if you're feeling intimidated and afraid of the level of responsibility you've been granted, you could be experiencing this type of fear-based stress. In this case, sharing your thoughts and feelings with people who care and understand can be really helpful. Telling others about what's going on and how you're feeling about it could help you gain some valuable perspective, and feel less alone.

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