JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Work Stress—The Silent Epidemic



Work Stress—The Silent Epidemic

In recognition of Mental Health Month, this article addresses a common form of stress for Americans which can lead to significant mental health problems—work stress.

When thinking of stressors people face in current times, many people cite wide-reaching concerns, such as racism, divisiveness, hatred, and violence. We often view these stressors as ones in which we have little or no individual control over nor method to escape, leaving us feeling powerless and hopeless.

For some, work stress produces similar feelings to those we have when we think about larger societal ills; we feel that we have no control over our work climate and believe that we cannot escape it. The feelings we have in response to the world not being a good place right now seem to parallel how many people feel about their jobs; these feelings of distress become amplified when we face them every day.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that there are three qualities that comprise a satisfactory work experience, “autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.” When I work with clients who report significant work stress, they often identify experiences which are the opposite of the above: micromanagement, work that is not engaging or meaningful, perception of having little control while having lots of demands, not being heard, belief that their expertise and opinions don’t matter, little recognition of positive contributions, and low salaries. In some settings, employees say they are operating in a climate of fear with implied or stated threats to their job security.

According to The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey, work is consistently identified as a “significant source of stress by a majority of Americans.” This type of stress can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, feelings of hopelessness and disillusionment, problems with sleep, irritability, fatigue, and overall apathy. In a nutshell, it is more difficult to face life stressors—much less to feel healthy and engaged—when our workday leaves us feeling powerless and the solutions seems outside of our control.

So, what can we do when we are faced with this significant stressor? Recognizing symptoms and linking them to our jobs can be an important first step, as is focusing on healthy self-care. APA identifies making healthy choices in response to stress (such as doing physical activity when stressed as opposed to eating junk food or drinking alcohol), engaging in meaningful and enjoyable activities outside of work, and practicing relaxation techniques as positive ways to manage work stress.

Identifying the most problematic work situations, and our responses to them, can be beneficial in terms of gaining perspective on the problem. Consulting with a coworker or friend can help in identifying work triggers and practicing new responses to these triggers.

Finally, engaging in therapy can be a helpful and rewarding way to address work stress. A mental health professional can provide support, help you identify healthy coping strategies to manage stress, and provide a safe place to explore potential changes that might be beneficial to you. If you are experiencing mental health symptoms which you believe are linked to work stress, contact JFS Mental Health Specialists at 720.248.4701 and see if therapy is a viable option for you.

Betty TulliusBy Betty Tullius, LMFT, Psychotherapist, JFS Mental Health Specialists
Betty Tullius is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a master’s in clinical psychology. She has more than 20 years of clinical experience and has been with Jewish Family Service for 14 years. She works with adults, adolescents, families, and couples dealing with life changes, stress, depression, and anxiety.


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