stressful work environment

Is a Stressful Work Environment Getting the Best Out of You?

Is a Stressful Work Environment Getting the Best Out of You?

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Updated 8th July, 2022

You might have heard that stress is a natural and helpful reaction to unexpected changes or a challenging situation, either personal or professional. That is completely true! In fact, stress can help you perform better in a multitude of situations, working as part of our fight-or-flight reaction, such as when you have a tight deadline. But being immersed in a stressful work environment, day-in and day-out, can knock your progress down and crawl into other areas of your life.

Mental health is not just up to you

Before moving on to the effects of stress on health and behavior, you need to get something straight: you are not solely responsible for a stressful work environment. Of course, your attitude and the way you choose to experience your work life can have a bright and powerful effect, not just on yourself but on your team. However, making sure that there is a good work environment is also part of a company’s culture and responsibility.

In other words, while it’s great that you’re building up a positive mindset, a toxic work environment will need more than good intentions from your end to improve. You cannot solve everything by turning yourself into the most optimistic and resilient worker. Holding your company, superiors, and peers accountable and setting healthy boundaries are also ways to promote better practices and relationships in the workplace.

This is not to say that there aren’t people who are easily overwhelmed by stress and need to learn how to manage it to thrive in their workplace instead of constantly changing jobs. But, since there is a huge risk of letting companies use this as an excuse to get away from their own responsibility, you should pay attention and analyze if it’s just you or if your company’s work culture is starting to take a toll on your physical and mental health.


Signs of a toxic work environment

Not all high-paced environments are toxic and not all productive work environments are healthy. Work environments can become toxic when people can no longer manage the toll of their demands at work. Still, there are some tell-tale signs that you can be on the lookout for if you’re feeling overwhelmed: 

  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Apathy about work
  • Fatigue and sleep problems
  • Trouble focusing on your tasks

The effects of being in a stressful work environment

Here are four questions you should ask yourself to identify if the stress you are experiencing at work is truly getting the best out of you.

Are you constantly exhausted or sleep-deprived? 

Being in a stressful work environment can completely drain your energy. It is exhausting to constantly be worrying about meeting impossible deadlines, avoiding difficult coworkers or bosses, or getting unconstructive feedback. There are plenty of situations that can hinder the quality of your work and the quality of your life.

If you feel like your batteries run out every day and you cannot sleep at night, analyze if it’s because your mind is being consumed by the anxiety of going back to work the next day. When the causes of your restlessness outweigh the fulfillment you receive for a job well done, it may be time for a change.

Is your mental or physical health being compromised?

Again, stress is not always bad. It is a natural reaction of your body that helps you react in a challenging situation or stay focused when you are under pressure. However, when you can’t lower your stress levels because you are excessively challenged, it can start messing with your physical and mental health. Soon enough, the build up of work-related pressures can manifest in your life through:

  • Intense headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Anxiety
  • Limited concentration
  • Burnout
  • Depression

Sure, some or even all of these symptoms could be a matter of balance lacking in other areas of your life. Remedying the situation begins with the source of the issue. If the source of yours is from having to deal with negativity, unrealistic demands, and passive-aggressive communication, then you’ll have a better idea of how to go about making improvements.

Did you used to love your job, but don’t enjoy it anymore?

It’s not uncommon for anyone to occasionally have days or weeks full of struggles that make them daydream of possibly changing careers, but then carry on like everything is fine. However, if you have stopped enjoying your job, even when it is something you genuinely feel passionate about, then maybe it has more to do with your surrounding environment.

You could be on the short end of bad management practices, or maybe you feel undermined, or like you are refrained from growing or learning. Or perhaps you are suffering from burnout because of expectations you or others have set upon your performance. If that’s the case, then get your priorities straight and examine if a toxic work environment is turning your passion into something you dread.

Have problems at home increased? 

A stressful workplace is awful but can be worse if it finds its way into your personal life, especially now that work has taken a physical space at home with remote jobs. Stress caused by work-related negativity and frustration can start getting in the way between you and your family or friends.

Work overload and bad relationships with your boss or coworkers can make you irritable, and if the conversation with your family keeps revolving around your work problems, your quality time with your significant others will eventually wear out.

Managing stress in the workplace

Stress can be useful and some would say, even necessary and expected in some workplaces. The medical field and high-paced professions are common targets. Even for those career paths, it’s important that companies and workers know how to reduce work related stress. That is why the term emotional intelligence is making the rounds as a buzzword.

Some companies are fully aware that their work demand is usually through the roof and try to help employees gain some work-life balance through perks that make workdays a little more manageable. But as mentioned, it’s a two way street and the prevention of burnout isn’t only an employer’s responsibility.

Your choice

Alright, it might not be up to you to right the wrongs of a company’s or team’s bad work culture, but it is up to you if you remain in a stressful environment without taking steps toward making it better. You can start by asking questions and addressing any issues you have identified with your manager or the HR department. Get some insight into what could be done to reduce stress and favor a healthy and more productive work environment.

Problems aren’t usually solved overnight, but if you have already gone through the motions and realize that there is no intention from your company’s end to improve employee wellbeing and mental health, then it may be time to start looking for a job elsewhere. 

Before jumping the gun, take a moment to find clarity in what it is you want to find in your next job and what you want to avoid. Look for a job where the company not only offers you the chance to grow your career but where its benefits and culture prioritize mental health in the workplace. Preparing for a career change could involve immediately taking a step away from your current position or company, but for those without the financial means to leave without something lined up first, consider the benefits of working with a recruiter.

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Contributed by Mónica Martín del Campo and Ana Martinez

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