A job that is completely stress-free doesn’t exist. With deadlines to meet, people to please, standards to uphold, and new markets to enter, your job will always present challenges and circumstances that force you out of a state of perpetual complacency. Stress shouldn’t necessarily be perceived as a bad thing; it is what motivates you to respond to danger, meet deadlines, and think about the future. A person who experiences no stress at all is probably living a very easy and sheltered life. But as is true with all things, an excess of stress can eventually result in a number of physical and mental symptoms that will endanger your health and well-being over the long term.
Our bodies are designed to withstand some degree of stress. What it is not designed to do is maintain a constant fight-or-flight response over a long period of time. Whether it is your job, your personal life, or your family, the effects of excessive levels of stress will eventually bleed into the other parts of your life. Your job performance will especially begin to suffer: you can’t deal with setbacks as easily, you lose your temper more often, you don’t think clearly, and if left long enough, you will experience burnout. These deleterious effects are not irreversible, but in order to be dealt with the root cause of your stress has to be dealt with.
The following effects are some of the inevitable symptoms of prolonged stress upon the body:
1) Weight gain and heart problems
These two problems go hand-in-hand. Stress by itself does not necessarily result in weight gain, but people who are placed under constant stress are more likely to eat fattening and salt-heavy foods. This can also arise indirectly – intense, high-stress jobs can sometimes encourage people to eat a lot of take-out and fast food, which will also contribute to the problem. This all exacerbates the strain put on your heart, which is already dealing with a persistently elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Eating healthier foods can help to reduce this issue, but the root cause of your health issues stem from the stress you experience in your daily life.
2) Persistent fatigue
Stress doesn’t just affect your mental state; your entire body as a whole suffers. Stress results in your adrenal glands working overtime to maintain its fight-or-flight response. In the short term it can increase your performance and concentration, but over time it exhausts your body and depletes it of its strength. Your muscles, nervous system, brain: their performance all suffers after extended periods of stress. Fatigue not only reduces your ability to perform physical tasks, it also makes you less capable of handling additional challenges and unexpected outcomes.
3) Irritability and a reduced capacity to handle setbacks
All people have a limit as to how much stress they can deal with in a day. The more you feel, the more overwhelming it will seem when things go wrong. If you’ve ever seen somebody completely snap over what was a seemingly minor issue, they were most likely under a substantial amount of stress to begin with. The effects of stress on your mental health can be quite significant; people reporting high levels of stress in their daily lives report lower levels of job satisfaction and a reduced level of productivity, and so addressing the cause of you (or your team’s) stress can make a big difference in their work output and overall morale.
This is the end result of prolonged periods of high stress. Burnout is characterized by a deep sense of detachment, lack of motivation, persistent exhaustion, and apathy. You’ll see this frequently occur in extreme-stress jobs: air traffic controllers and investment bankers are two examples. It can also occur in academic settings: South Korean students can spend over twelve hours a day between school and hagwons, many of them report varying levels of burnout after years of maintaining that kind of a schedule.
If you have reached the point of burnout, it’s not going to just get better. People who have reached the point of burnout have lost nearly all motivation to do their jobs; they generally do the bare minimum at anything they do. This is where you need to seek some form of mental health services – whether it’s therapy, medication, or just taking a vacation, a break from work is often what a burned-out person needs to restore themselves.