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TL v58n1 Stress in the Workplace
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 1


Stress in the Workplace 


Virginia L. Salmon
Northeast State Technical Community College

Program Abstract: Common stressors in the workplace can lead to physical illnesses and reduced productivity. Learn how to recognize and reduce stress in your day-to-day life.

Stress is caused by any event that forces us to adapt to a new set of circumstances.  Stress is a normal part of everyday life and very necessary; however, too much stress can damage your health.

American companies spend $200-$300 billion or more each year for job stress and related problems such as absenteeism, turnover, accidents, and lost workdays.  An estimated 1 million people are absent from work each day because of stress-related problems, which results in more than 250,000 workdays lost per year (Arden, 2002).  In 2003, the World Health Organization called job stress a “worldwide epidemic.”  In a 2004 survey, 26 percent of employees reported being overworked often or very often in the last month, 27 percent were overwhelmed by how much they had to do often or very often in the last month, and 29 percent often or very often did not have time to step back and process or reflect on their work in the last month.  Overworked employees are more likely to make mistakes at work, be angry at their employers, and resent coworkers who are perceived to not work as hard as they do (Galinsky, 2005).

Of over 1,000 workers surveyed nationwide, 54 percent report that stress has lead to physical maladies, 59 percent said that stress had lead to psychological side effects, and 54 percent said that stress had lead to behavioral issues such as impatience, procrastination, withdrawal, isolation, and being argumentative (Linstedt, 2007).  Thirty percent of workers said that stress impeded their progress up the career ladder.  Job stress varies by age, employment situation and demands at home. Being chronically overworked is reported by 28 percent of Generation Y (age 18 to 25), 29 percent of Generation X (age 26 to 39) and 37 percent of baby boomers (age 40 to 59) (“Third in U.S.”).

Physical Symptoms of Stress can include:

  • Cardiovascular irregularities and shortness of breath
  • Digestive disorders (indigestion, diarrhea, etc.)
  • Sleep difficulties (insomnia or fatigue)
  • Grinding teeth at night and/or TMJ (jaw pain)
  • Menstrual problems
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Neck aches and back spasms
  • Skin disorders – hives, acne, and other rashes
  • Aggravate destructive or unhealthy behavior such as smoking, drinking, nail-biting, and eating disorders

Psychological Symptoms of Stress can include:

  • Forgetfulness and indecision
  • Depression, apathy, and hopelessness
  • Impatience, irritability, and anxiety
  • Aggressiveness and defensiveness
  • Loneliness or wanting to escape
  • Bossiness or suspiciousness
  • Easily upset or doing poor work

There are several workplace stressors, including:

  • Constant stream of phone calls.
  • Feeling that you may be fired if something goes wrong - job insecurity.
  • Constantly having “urgent” projects dumped on you at the last moment.
  • A coworker who never shuts up.
  • A big scary project about which you have procrastinated.
  • The big messy pile of papers on your desk.
  • A huge workload.
  • Poor communication about an assignment.
  • Techno-stress – too much information to wade through.
  • Lack of clear goals, objectives, and responsibilities.
  • Lack of support from supervisors or co-workers.
  • Frequent, unnecessary, and unforeseeable obstacles.
  • A position in which you have to perform beyond your ability.
  • A supervisor who criticizes often and praises rarely.
  • Supervisory responsibility.
  • Intense and continual pressure.
  • Age, sex, or racial discrimination.

The good news is that, according to an article published in The Seattle Times on May 6, 2007, research indicates that workplace stress has declined by 23 percent since 2000.  The most de-stressed workers are those with children (down 20 percent in office tension).  Women’s stress levels fell 16 percent and men’s stress levels fell 13 percent.  The reason for the decline in stress includes companies offering more family-friendly, flexible work life.  The majority of the reasons, however, are because employees are de-stressing by doing more exercise, yoga and Pilates, and trying to obtain more balance in their lives (“Survey says Job Stress”).

So, how can you reduce your job stress?

  • Get enough rest. It is harder to cope if you are exhausted.
  • Read a good book.
  • Seek out positive people.
  • Meditate or pray.
  • Delay or delegate non-critical projects.
  • Volunteer for a charity or cause.
  • See a funny or uplifting movie or play
  • Keep a journal of the good things that happen to you each day.
  • Do the unpleasant tasks early in the day and get them over with.
  • Eat properly and exercise regularly.
  • Don’t “sweat the small stuff.”
  • Deal with only one thing at a time.
  • Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Create a change of pace.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish – don’t ask too much of yourself or try to be perfect.
  • Don’t take your job home with you.
  • Reduce the noise level in your environment, if possible.
  • Always take a lunch break away from your desk and/or office.
  • Take a mental health day.
  • Give yourself praise for all of the good work you do.

Listed below are some good stress reduction exercises that you can do at work.

1.  Massage:  Rub your temples and the back of your neck.
2.  Reach:  Take a couple of minutes to stretch.
3.  Breathe:  Inhale slowly and deeply for a few seconds, then exhale.  Repeat 10 times.
4.  Change your scenery:  Close your eyes and picture yourself at the beach, in the mountains, or any peaceful location.  Imagine the sights, sounds, and smells.
5.  Feel good about yourself.  Remind yourself of what you have accomplished as well as your good traits.

For the following exercises, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.  At the end of the exercise, take a few minutes to sit comfortably.

6.  With legs outstretched:

  • alternate curling and stretching the toes
  • flexing and bending the whole foot at the ankle
  • rotate the ankles to the right and then to the left

7.  With arms extended in front:

  • Move your hands up and down, bending from the wrist.
  • Alternate stretching your fingers, then making a fist.
  • Rotate your wrists to the right and then to the left, and then relax.

8.  For your shoulders:

  • Raise your right shoulder up toward your ear. On the exhale, release your shoulder down.
  • Move your shoulder forward and return to the starting position upon the exhale.
  • Move your right should back and return to the starting position on the exhale.
  • Repeat with the left shoulder.
  • Bring both shoulders up toward your ears, tense, and then drop your shoulders down on the exhale.

9.  For the head and neck:

  • Drop your chin to your chest.  Stretch out the back of your neck and hold.
  • Look as far as you can over your right shoulder and hold.
  • Look as far as you can over your left shoulder and hold.
  • Drop your right ear to your right shoulder and hold.
  • Drop your left ear to your left shoulder and hold.

10.  Shoulder shrug:

  • Raise shoulders to your ears.
  • Roll your shoulders back as if you are trying to have your shoulder blades touch.
  • Drop your shoulders.
  • Repeat several times while breathing deeply.

11.  Neck Roll:

  • Drop your chin to your chest and roll your head to the right and left.
  • Bring your head upright and drop it towards your back.  Roll your head left and right.
  • Do not roll your head all the way around.

12.  Hand push:

  • Place hands together close to your chest
  • Push hands together with elbows pointing outwards
  • Breathe deeply

13.  Chest Expander (Stand up for this exercise):

  • Stand with your arms at your side.
  • Raise your arms high and apart, breathing deeply.
  • Inhale and exhale with slow deep breaths.

Resources for further information

American Institute of Stress

American Psychological Association Help Center

Job Stress Network

Mind Tools



Arden, John B.  (2002). Surviving Job Stress:  How to Overcome Workday Pressures.  Franklin Lakes, NJ:  The Career Press.

Galinsky, Ellen, et al. (2005). Overwork in America:  When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much.  Families and Work Institute. March 2005. 

Linstedt, Sharon.(2008).  “On-the-Job Stress Can Trigger Litany of Woes.”  Buffalo News [NY] 13 Aug. 2007: B7.LexisNexis Academic.  Wayne G. Basler Lib., Blountville, TN.  13 Mar. 2008 .

Survey Says Job Stress is Down, But Not Everyone Believes It.”  The Seattle Times. 6 May 2007: E2.  InfoTrac Custom Newspapers. Gale.  Wayne G. Basler Lib.,
Blountville, TN. 13 Mar. 2008 .

Third in U.S. Say They Are Overworked, Survey Finds.” The Seattle Times 27 Mar. 2005: I2.  InfoTrac Custom Newspapers. Gale.  Wayne G. Basler Lib., Blountville, TN. 13 Mar. 2008 .

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