What your stressful job is doing to your health

IGNORING stress caused by your toxic workplace can lead to serious mental and physical health problems, experts have warned.

Over a five-year period up until 2015, Safe Work Australia says 92 per cent of serious work-related mental disorder claims were attributed to mental stress.

And as the post-holiday bout of inspiration wears off for many Australians, employees are being encouraged to be wary of the impacts of toxic work conditions.

Stanford University organisational behaviour professor Jeffrey Pfeffer found in a 2015 report that poor management in the US was responsible for up to 8 per cent of annual health costs and 120,000 deaths each year.

In his book, Dying For A Paycheck, Prof Pfeffer argued that while workers' physical health and safety was being addressed in workplaces, mental health and stress was not.

The first and most obvious result of a destructive job is loss of sleep, according to US clinical psychologist Monique Reynolds from the Centre for Anxiety and Behavioural Change.

"People report either not being able to sleep because their mind is racing or not being able to stay asleep," she told Huffington Post. "They wake up in the middle of the night thinking about their to-do list."

A pattern of insomnia may be a sign your job stress is unhealthy.

"If it's consistently related to work, that is a sign that something is off balance," Dr Reynolds said.

When you see the workplace as an unhappy environment your muscles tense up, according to the American Psychological Association, with chronic tension in your neck and shoulders causing migraines and tension headaches.

Being wound up with stress can cause the rest of your body to ache too.

"Our nervous systems in toxic jobs are constantly on edge," Dr Reynolds said.

"We are constantly anticipating, ready to react to an unpleasant boss or co-worker."

The mental health of the worker could then spiral out of control, which can "cross the clinical threshold" if they have suffered from similar issues in the past.

Feelings of being unfairly treated at work can cause amplified stress, Saint Mary's University research chair in occupational health psychology Kevin Kelloway said.

The mental healthof a worker could spiral out of control, which can ‘cross the clinical threshold’.
The mental healthof a worker could spiral out of control, which can ‘cross the clinical threshold’.

"Injustice is a particularly toxic stressor because it strikes at the core of who we are," he said. "When you treat me unfairly you attack my dignity as a person - essentially saying that I don't deserve fair treatment or to be treated the same as others."

Research shows that chronic stress can break down your immune system and make you sick more often, while taking that work-related stress home with you can also lead you to lose interest in sex.

The American Psychological Association says women who struggle with stress in their personal life as well as their own personal and financial responsibilities can have a reduced desire for sex.

And these issues can lower a man's testosterone production which leads to lower libido.

"There has to be a certain amount of relaxation in order to allow the arousal feeling to arise," Dr Reynolds said.

"Then there's the time factor. People report not having enough time to have sex."

Constant stress can lead the employee to feeling drained and tired all the time.

"You're feeling overwhelmed, because you're working too long, and you're working too long because you're feeling overwhelmed," Prof Pfeffer said.

A toxic workplace causes more tangible illnesses, with indigestion, constipation and bloating all playing up because stress affects what the gut digests and can also change gut bacteria.

Dr Kelloway told the Huffington Post that he suffered from stomach pains from a previous job.

He said it would flare up every Sunday, which was a clear indicator to him it was related to worrying about working the next day.

"All symptoms went away when I quit the job and moved on to something else," Dr Kelloway said.

Heightened stress can shut down an individual's appetite, according to the Harvard Health Letter, because the nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline. This suppresses your hunger.

In the long-term, however, numerous studies show stressed people turn to eating for comfort, particularly sugary foods which may blunt stress-related responses and emotions.


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