Does work stress you out? Are you drained and irritable at the end of the day? Or do you experience other symptoms of stress, such as nervousness, worrying about mistakes, getting stuck in unpleasant thoughts or nausea?
No one is immune to stress at work. It comes when you work long hours, when demands are high, with job uncertainty, when you're expected to perform tasks you're not trained in or skilled at, when work conflicts with personal obligations and when you are working with difficult people.
But, stress at work does not come from our work environments alone. Work stress, like stress in other aspects of life, comes from external pressures and strain, as well as from our own dispositions and internal experiences of stress. Individual differences affect how you think about situations in your life and how you deal with different situations. For example, one person may think of a potential layoff as a disaster that means his or her life is spinning out of control, while another may see the same potential layoff as an opportunity to explore new options.
People cope differently when under stress, which can have a significant impact on their stress levels. Some cope by seeking support from loved ones, exercising or taking extra time for relaxation. Others find themselves doing things that ultimately increase their stress, such as becoming self-critical, avoiding problems, becoming aggressive, overeating or giving up.
Job demands can certainly cause stress. But your own reaction to those demands can have a significant impact on the intensity of stress you experience. The following are factors that influence your stress levels.
Pessimism: Do you tend to expect bad things to happen to you? If you do, you are less likely to adapt to negative situations at work in constructive ways, which worsens your work situation and increases your stress levels. For example, if you tend to be pessimistic, when time pressures at work increase, your sense of distress is also likely to increase sharply with thoughts that you can't manage the situation. Feeling as if you are under significant amounts of strain and believing that things will not work out make it more likely that you will cope in ways that don't have positive results, increasing stress even more.
Feeling out-of-control: If you tend to feel like your life is controlled by forces that you can't influence -- say, people in power, fate or chance -- you may feel more strain at work. Take the example of layoffs, again. People who believe they have control over their lives may respond to potential layoffs by searching for new job opportunities, while someone who feels out of control of his or her own life is more likely to feel stuck or unable to change bad circumstances.
Feeling incompetent: When you believe you are incompetent, you give up more easily when you hit a roadblock. The difficulties you encounter reinforce your feeling helpless or unqualified. The result is that you give up. People who feel competent are more likely to keep trying in the face of obstacles, and as a result are more likely to have positive results, which decrease stress.
Work load, job complexity and uncertainty all have an impact on work stress. But how you react to those external demands has a significant impact on your stress levels and whether you solve the problems contributing to your stress. Knowing how you tend to react to stress is the first step toward making positive changes and reducing your stress levels.
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