Work Stress & Finding a Balance

By UB’s Bob Ryan, LCPC

This article was initially conceived as an advice piece for business owners and executives – individuals who by their own choice eat, sleep, and breathe their businesses – and the positive effects counseling can have on productiveness at work. As so often happens, however, when a topic is examined trends tend to emerge which were not evident before. Here that trend is the increasing level of stress prevalent at all ranks of working and business classes and the negative effects stress can have on one’s health.

Today it’s not just the entrepreneur who feels he or she is caught living from paycheck to paycheck. A far greater portion of the middle class now does not have enough savings to financially survive a major setback, such as loss of a job or a major illness. Middle class families are mostly two-income families, with commitment to children, homes and lifestyles. There is also the minimum wage worker, whose stress may come from variable scheduling that makes it hard to find a second job or too little income to support a family. These individuals live with a different level of stress than those earning a living wage. Whatever the cause of one’s stress, today counselors have the tools to help individuals address the problems they are experiencing.

While the stress felt by each of these groups comes in different forms and from different events, the effects on the mind and body are similar for all. Stress amps up the central nervous system, keeping the fight or flight reflexes on high alert. This exhausts the individual, wears out the immune system and leaves the person open to chronic aches, pains, and illnesses. This can in turn lead to either a growing sense of helplessness and depression or anxiety and feelings of panic.

Gone are the days when a bread winner could pick up a moderate-paying job whose big benefit was that one could work nine to five and leave the job at the job. Today’s work environment requires most mid-level employees to maintain some connection to work seven days a week. Without adequate financial means many individuals feel there is no option but to bend to the business environment. Research has shown that when individuals believe they lack options or a say in how their jobs are performed, they experience their jobs as more stressful than those who believe they have some control over their work environment.

Even the successful executive who made her mark by working long hours may feel trapped by success. When a person believes that failure is not an option, when in fact that person may never have experienced failure in their working life before, the consequences of not living up to one’s own high expectations can be overwhelming. Without noticing a change, the individual may begin giving up outside pursuits, such as the gym, tennis or movie nights. They may still function at work, but without a sense of accomplishment, and at home the family might seem more and more like a burden.

These symptoms are familiar signposts to most counselors. They signal that a change is in order. With the right approach and willingness on the part of a client, major life improvements often can be accomplished through minor life adjustments. Counseling can help a person feel free to take those moments needed for oneself, to feel more in control and to adjust priorities. Through counseling, individuals can come to understand their feelings and problems and learn techniques for coping with the stresses of work and life. Counseling truly can help individuals find their life’s balance.


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