Stress becomes a health issue when people are unable to escape it, said Chip Coffey, director therapy services for St. Luke’s Behavioral Health.
“If we’re in a workplace where we’re constantly under deadlines, what that does is put you in a ‘fight or flight’ syndrome where we’re always pressured to perform. As long as you keep this ongoing pressure, the deadlines keep piling up. The ability to react to deadlines decreases. You get stress. You don’t think as clearly. It’s harder to stay focused. It’s harder to meet those deadlines because of stress. Then you have more deadlines. It’s a cycle,” he said.
If the stress continues at home, if a person finds they’re sleeping too much or too little or not finding joy in things that they enjoyed in the past, then there’s a problem, Coffey said.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of patients who are having extremely high levels of anxiety. From a rating of one to 10, they’re talking about being at a 9 or 10 all the time … whether they’re at work or home. If their job is the source of anxiety, when they get home at the end of the day they’re still panicked about what they didn’t get done or what they have to do tomorrow. Instead of home being a place of respite for them, it’s an extension of the stress or anxiety they’re feeling at work,” Coffey said.
One scenario Coffey is seeing is in workers whose companies have experienced layoffs. The rest of the staff absorbs the duties.
“Even though those people are gone, the workloads are not decreased. They’re transitioned to someone else. They’re now not able to get all the work done. They’re starting to internalize that because they can’t do it all and that feeling of failure is fueling into depression and hopelessness,” he said.
Coffey said employees need to be able to tell employers, “I’m struggling to meet this goal. Can we adjust the goal so I can get more time?” And, Coffey said, the boss needs to be able to respond.
“I come at it from being a supervisor,” he said. “If one of my employees comes up and says, ‘I need something taken off my plate,’ we as supervisors need to listen and adjust and make accommodations where we can.”
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