No one is immune to stress at work. It comes when demands are high, with job uncertainty, when you’re expected to perform tasks you’re not trained in or skilled at and when you are working with difficult people.
But, stress at work does not come from our work environments alone. Work stress, like stress in other aspects of life, comes from external pressures and strain, as well as from our own disposition and internal experience of stress.
Individual differences affect how you think about situations in your life and how you deal with different situations. For example, one person may think of a potential lay-off as a disaster that means their life is spinning out-of-control, while another may see the same potential lay-off as an opportunity to explore new options.
People cope differently when under stress, which can have a significant impact on their stress levels. Some cope by seeking support from loved ones, exercising or taking extra time for relaxation. Others find themselves doing things that ultimately increase their stress, such as becoming self-critical, over-eating or avoiding responsibilities.
Job demands can certainly cause significant stress. But your own reaction to those demands can have a significant impact on the level of stress you experience. The following are factors that influence your stress levels.
Pessimism: Do you tend to expect bad things to happen to you? If you do, you are less likely to adapt to negative situations at work in constructive ways, which worsens your work situation and increases your stress levels. If you tend to be pessimistic, when time pressures at work increase, your sense of distress is also likely to increase sharply.
Feeling under significant amounts of strain and believing that things will not work out make it more likely that you will cope in ways that don’t have positive results, thereby increasing stress even more.
Feeling out-of-control: If you tend to feel like your life is controlled by forces that you can’t influence, say people in power, fate or chance, you may feel more strain at work. Take the example of lay-offs again. A person who believes they have control over their life may respond to potential lay-offs by searching for new job opportunities, while some one who feels out-of-control of their own life is more likely to feel stuck or unable to change bad circumstances.
Feeling incompetent: When you believe you are incompetent you give up more easily when you hit a road block. Difficulties reinforce that feeling that you aren’t capable, so there is no need to keep trying. People who feel competent are more likely to keep trying in the face of obstacles and, as a result, are more likely to have positive results, which decreases stress.
Work load, job complexity and uncertainty all have an impact on work stress. But how you react to those external demands has a significant impact on your stress levels and whether you solve the problems contributing to your stress. Knowing how you tend to react to stress is the first step towards making positive changes and reducing your stress levels.
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Last reviewed: 29 May 2012