Workplace Stress: How Much is Too Much?

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated June 16, 2021

The American Psychological Association (APA) cites the following areas as commonly cited sources of stress at work:

  • Low salaries—or lower pay for similar work (46 percent)
  • Lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41 percent)
  • Too heavy a workload (41 percent)
  • Long hours (37 percent)
  • Unclear job expectations (35 percent)
  • A workplace bully or harasser

Other frequently cited sources of stress in the workplace include:

  • Co-workers who do their jobs poorly or not at all—but receive equal pay
  • Competition from a peer or subordinate who seems to be after your job
  • New technologies that are difficult or time consuming to learn
  • Overcrowded work areas with too many cubicles and too much noise

Long-Term Side Effects of Stress

Prolonged job-related stress can eventually affect not just your mood and emotions but also your physical health—partially because most adults under stress typically:

  • Don't get enough sleep or sleep way too much
  • Watch too much television
  • Don't exercise regularly (or at all)
  • Eat a diet composed largely of high-fat, high-salt "comfort foods"

Stress has been linked to a variety of health concerns including depression, heart disease, stroke, obesity, eating disorders, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Stress Management Techniques


Stress can't be eliminated but it can be managed. Stress management gives you a variety of tools to reset the "fight or flight" stress response and restore yourself to calm.

"It's essential that you find some way to step back from the rat race—whether it's journaling, walking the dog or working in the garden," notes Liz Ferron, senior consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "Ask yourself what you want and need to feel more fulfilled and more balanced and then set goals for getting there."

You can't control everything in your work environment, but that doesn't mean you're powerless. Finding ways to manage workplace stress isn't about making huge changes or rethinking career ambitions, it's about taking small, positive actions each day.

Understand Your Triggers: A major component of stress management is developing the ability to readjust how you react to stressful situations. To build this skill, you must first take an honest look at the types of things that trigger stress for you—and why.

It's not always easy to admit that you're stressed out by things that may not bother other people. For example, some people are energized by meeting new people, going new places and doing new things. Others find those situations highly stressful.

Choose Your Reactions: Knowing the types of situations you tend to find stressful gives you a chance to decide how you want to react. Is there anything you can change about the situation? Can it be avoided? What has getting upset about similar situations accomplished in the past?

For example, a co-worker at a new company makes fun of you for making a simple mistake—and you find this stressful. Do you:

  • Get mad at him or her and brood over how you're going to get even?
  • Call a co-worker or family member and talk about it?
  • Take a deep breath and decide it's not the end of the world?

For most people, staying mad is the most stressful option—even though it may feel somewhat pleasurable.Talking a stressful event over with a trusted friend or family member (hopefully one who prefers calm to chaos) helps many people let go of their anger. People who use the third option experience the least stress—particularly if they use deep breathing as a method of calming and relaxing themselves.

Learn to Relax: Deep breathing, yoga, tai chi and meditation are all techniques that activate the body's relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.

When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Practice Self-Care: The same things that promote health and well being, such as eating healthy foods at regular intervals, getting enough sleep, taking breaks and exercising regularly, are often the first things people stop doing when under stress. Resist the impulse to zone out in front of the TV.

Reducing Stress:

How Your EAP Benefit Can Help

Simply call 800.383.1908—any time of the day or night—for a free, confidential consultation about how to reduce stress and create a better work/life balance. Our master's- and doctorate-level counselors can provide telephonic and face-to-face services to help you:

  • Understand the sources of stress in your life
  • Develop a plan for reducing stress
  • Help you weigh your options for diet and exercise
  • Refer you to the resources you need to put your plans into action

Helpful Online Resources

Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based Work & Life Resources on the Member Website, including the following articles on workplace stress:

  • Stress at Work: Tips to Reduce and Manage Job and Workplace Stress (Parts 1-6)
  • Surviving Office Politics
  • Top 10 Ways to Set Boundaries
  • Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Coping Strategies (Parts 1-5)

Contact VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or through the VITAL WorkLife App to access your resources today!

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