From the time we could talk, people have been asking us what we want to be when we grow up. Many of us dreamed big, wanting to be astronauts, Olympians, firefighters, or the president. This question engrained in us the importance of our one-day career. Not only do they provide a source of income, but they also help us fulfill our personal goals, build networks, and serve the community. One thing the adults forgot to warn us about though, is that all jobs are a major source of emotional stress. Is there a correlation between job stress and mental illness?

Work Is Stressful

They call it “work” for a reason. No matter the dream status of your job, you have to face stressful deadlines, performance expectations, and other responsibilities of the like. Some people find that stress helpful and actually thrive in it. It is a motivator that gets things done after all. But workplace stress can easily spill into and overpower your personal life. And there’s nothing worse than being preoccupied with work during vacation and other pleasurable time off the clock.

And we haven’t even begun to think about the stressors we can’t control. Layoffs, restructuring, absorption, or management changes can also heighten work-related anxiety. In fact, a Norwegian study showed that the mere rumor of a factory’s closure caused rapid increases in workers’ pulse and blood pressure. Research in the U.S. has found that workplace injuries and accidents tend to increase in organizations that are being downsized.

It Gets Physical Too…

Stress definitely has a toll on our emotional and mental wellbeing. But did you know that prolonged job-related stress can drastically affect your physical health as well? Being caught in anxious thoughts about work can often lead to limited movement and erratic eating habits. This can result in weight issues, high cholesterol, and elevated blood pressure.

Hostile work environments and long hours toy with your heart as well. Work-related stress can accelerate the chance of heart disease and the likelihood of having a heart attack. Blue-collar and manual laborers suffer the most from this. Studies suggest that because these employees tend to have little control over their work environments, they are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those in traditional “white collar” jobs.

Let’s Talk About Burnout

Psychology Today defines burnout as, “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. cynicism and detachment”. This condition can also lead sufferers to have a negative or cynical attitude towards themselves and others. Burnout can also lead to depression – a gateway to a number of other health concerns. Depression can lead to heart disease and stroke, obesity and eating disorders, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Chronic depression also has a negative effect on your immunity. So, the next time you get sick out of the blue, check-in on your work stress, as they may be signs of burnout.

Things You Can Do: Job Stress and Mental Illness

Use Your Breaks

If you get an hour for lunch, go take at least half of that hour and get away from your workspace. Even 10 minutes of “personal time” will refresh your mental outlook. You really shouldn’t sit for more than an hour and a half straight anyway. Go take a brief walk, chat with a co-worker about a non-job topic. Or simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe.

If You’re Feeling Emotional, Walk Away

Mentally regroup by counting to 10, then look at the situation again. Walking and other physical activities will also help you cope.

Manage Expectations

We know you know perfection doesn’t exist. But we need to remind you to lower perfectionist standards. If you feel you aren’t being challenged or overworked, talk to your employer. If Dave from sales always sends you the wrong file type, it might be time to meet Dave where he’s at and offer to help him if you can. Take a look at your expectations of yourself and others and re-evaluate.

You Have to Sleep

Let’s say it again for those in the back. You have to sleep. Stress and anxiety already cause a lack of sleep. And when you don’t sleep, you’re left tired, groggy, and vulnerable to even more stress. When you are well-rested, it is much easier to keep an emotional balance, which is key to dealing with job and workplace-related stress.

Small Steps

You don’t have to make life-altering changes to become less stressed. Make small, manageable changes and you’ll begin to see a difference. If you feel rushed in the morning, set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier and see how you feel as you move through your morning. 5-10 minutes can make the difference between frantically hurrying to your desk and having time to slowly ease into your day. And try breaking down projects and tasks into small steps. If a project seems to be overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one small task at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.

Set Work Boundaries

When you come home from the office, you need to be home from the office. Modern technology makes that really hard, as most of us have work email connected to our phones and the latest document draft on our iPads. This can be especially difficult for freelancers and remote employees who work from home. We are not meant to work all hours of the day. Don’t accept a call or return an email after 6:00 if it isn’t an emergency. There will always be something to do, but you will not always have this time of your life.

We Would Love to Help Guide You Through Work-Related Stress!

We know you need a toolbox full of skills in order to cope with the challenges life and work throws at us. At CPA, we will always encourage patients to explore coping mechanisms that work best for them. However, we also know that a number of those skills come from counseling and different methods of therapy. Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how our counseling services can help teach you the skills to fight depression and anxiety!


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

Scott Cunningham

For the past 20 years, Scott has been providing a safe and supportive environment where people feel comfortable talking about their depression, fears, stresses, and hopes for life. Having a collaborative relationship with clients is important to him. Scott brings hope and knowledge into his sessions and provides psycho-education to aid in the effectiveness of therapy. He works with clients coping with issues such as, but not limited to anxiety, trauma, depression, partner-relational issues & phase of life transitions. My experience entails couples, adolescent, family and adult counseling. He is certified in Chemical Dependency Counseling, ASIST Suicide Intervention, Crisis Intervention Stress Management, and Comprehensive Crisis Management. He has earned his Master’s Degree in Counseling Education from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor’s of Science in Christian Counseling from Fort Wayne Bible College.

Scott’s goal is to help people struggling with trauma to regain stability and strength as well as insight into their issues. He believes that everyone has an innate ability to grow and learn. He enjoys helping people accomplish that goal and live better and more productive lives.