Stress and bullying in the workplace

TAKING ON STRESS: Vernon counsellor, clinical hypnotherapist, editor and writer writes about workplace issues

I wonder how many of you have experienced job stress to the point that it has made you physically or mentally ill?

Sometimes the expectations of the job itself increase exponentially, making it seem impossible to achieve what is demanded of you.

For conscientious people, this is one of the worst things that can happen. It may mean you never feel good enough when it comes to your job.

Our bodies have a built-in warning system to help protect or warn us from stressors such as animal attacks (cave days). It is called the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

That is when the hypothalamus (located at the base of the brain) sends out signals that there is a threat to the mind and/or body. When this happens the adrenal glands (on top of your kidneys) release adrenalin and cortisol. Hence the “fight or flight” reaction identified by Canadian, Dr. Hans Selye.

Unfortunately, these same chemicals react in a job where there may be no obvious stressor, but where it is insidious and expectations become more and more unreasonable.

The chemicals keep releasing over and over again and that is what makes you sick—both physically and emotionally. You may experience what naturopaths call adrenal fatigue caused by an adrenalin and cortisol overload.

Having presented workshops on stress, I know that while I provide information on how to deal with stress it is unlikely management will make the changes that would make a difference. It is tokenism at its worst.

It is like the proverbial pat on the head as a ‘there-there,’ here is a little something to make you think things might change. Look how we care about you. We have brought in a stress consultant haven’t we?

Sadly, in today’s world workplace bullying has increased and joined forces with already existing stress, sending it to an unmanageable level. Most work stress is caused by some form of bullying, either blatant or subtle, with subtle being worse as the person doing the bullying becomes skilled at hiding their behaviour.

Frequently, it appears that management does not seem to know how to deal with this situation. Ironically, this happens in environments where the main industry is health related.

Symptoms of stress vary and may include insomnia, memory problems, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, self doubt, feeling overly emotional, feeling lethargic, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness and suicidal thoughts may occur.

Physically, your blood pressure may spike, you may either gain or lose weight and any illness you may have could be exacerbated. Long-term stress will make you sick, shorten your life and can even kill you.

The Business Insider states: “Ever since the late 1970s, Japan has had a word to refer to people dying from spending too much time in the office: karoshi. The literal translation is ‘death by overwork.’”

When employees are treated with respect, their level of production increases and they are less likely to be sick. The measure of a business can be judged by the amount of sick time that employees are taking.

Happy employees bring smiles to the workplace daily and this attitude is spread as the workday progresses.

Is your work environment a toxic place? Are you unhappy at work most of the time? How much overtime are you expected to work? Are you feeling weepy?

Are you depressed and want to stay in bed all day? Do you have suicidal thoughts at times? Do you doubt your abilities? Do your symptoms feel life threatening?

Yes to any of these questions should send you looking for help.

As I write this I am aware of three corporate employers who are treating their employees in a way that is making them sick. Why? Why is it so difficult to be kind, supportive and listen to employees?

The tiniest change can make huge and positive workplace environment improvements, providing hope as employees feel heard.

There is help out there. Either through a company plan, privately, friends, family and various social agencies. Don’t give up on yourself.

There is no change if there is no change.

You are worth it.

Carole Fawcett is a Vernon counsellor, clinical hypnotherapist, editor and writer.

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