That stomach-churning feeling as you rush to meet a deadline or have to make a presentation in front of the whole team is unpleasant but common and normal. Everyday work-related stress is not always a bad thing — it can be motivating. But when work stress becomes prolonged and debilitating, when you wonder how you're even going to get out of bed, much less put in a full day's work, it can have serious consequences on your health.
Chronic job stress, also known as career burnout, negatively effects every part of an individual's well-being — mental, emotional and physical, says Caroline Sandford, career specialist at Love Your Career.
She says there are many possible causes of burnout, "but one that is prevalent in our constantly changing world is lack of job security, and the continual changes and unpredictability some workers face.
"Other causes may stem from a role with high demands, bullying or a personality conflict with someone at work, having little control of your work and how you manage it, or where the effort put into the job is not balanced by the rewards gained."
Symptoms of burnout include feeling drained, depleted and tired most days, having trouble sleeping and loss of appetite.
"Burnout can also make it difficult to concentrate or focus your attention, which adds to the stress because you're not able to do your work properly," says Sandford.
Some people may experience physical symptoms such as chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain and heart palpitations, but Sandford says that because these symptoms could be for a variety of different health issues, it's very important to get advice from a medical practitioner if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.
She notes that because acute stress depletes the body's resources, it can make even minor ailments such as colds and infections harder to fight off.
"Anxiety and depression are also possible results of prolonged stress, and becoming irritable and negative can affect other areas of your life too."
Feeling drained and depleted most days is a sign that something is not right and then it's important to tune into your body, advises Sandford.
"Some very simple strategies that are in your control are ensuring you get enough sleep, eat healthily, get regular exercise, take time to breathe slowly and deeply, and have a routine that puts you in a positive state of mind.
"Keeping a gratitude diary or making positive affirmations are good places to start. Learning some stress-reducing techniques can also be beneficial. These might include meditation, yoga, taking a walk, reading a book, listening to music, talking to a friend or a professional — it is important to find the right one for you."
Sandford says it's also important to look at the balance of your work and life.
"Are you spending too much time at work and not enough time recharging with activities that give you energy, such as spending time with friends or going to a movie? If your life feels out of balance, try taking up new activities or rediscovering interests that take you away from work."
She says that people often try to hide symptoms of burnout so as not to appear weak to managers and colleagues.
"Burnout can sneak up on you. A worker may battle on through initial symptoms of burnout, not realising they're being caused by stress. They may ignore them, or think that making a big deal of them will impact negatively on their reputation."
Sandford advises that no matter how hard it is, it's important to talk to your manager about how you're feeling and to find out how your organisation can support you.
"Many organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme that workers needing support can access.
"Find out if you can share your workload if it's too heavy, take some time out, or reduce your hours. Do you need training or greater resources to help you get your work done? Is there another option within the organisation that would be less stressful?"
If you've already taken some of these steps and you're still feeling burnt out, it may be time to ramp things up a notch.
"Your health is a high priority," says Sandford, "and if it's being significantly compromised because of work, it needs to be addressed. Taking time away from work is an excellent first step to first address your health, and then give you the opportunity to stand back from the situation and assess it critically.
"Can work be changed? Can you make changes? Or does it mean a complete change in job or occupation?
"Often when you're in the middle of a situation, it can be challenging to see the options available. Taking time out from work can give you the necessary space to make a good decision for yourself."