The American attitude toward work is unique on a global scale. Rather than working to live, many Americans, out of want or need, find themselves living to work. The average worker in the US works 47 hours a week, one of the highest averages in the Western world. In fact, the EU imposes a limit of no more than 48 hours a week, with many member countries averaging around 35 weekly hours.
There are many factors that play into this. The US approach to capitalism encourages working under high pressure to deliver financial goals. In addition, the wealth divide leaves many Americans unable to support themselves on just one job. Around 13 million Americans work a minimum of two jobs.
For many US workers, a healthy work ethic is a source of pride. Those who can’t support a family or pay bills often see negative effects on self-esteem, while those who can may feel more accomplished or superior. This high-achieving drive is now seen as central to the way of life in America, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Too much work can be damaging, both mentally and physically. The body isn’t designed to withstand the stress of work on such a high-volume basis. As such, it’s not uncommon to see problems related to mental health and addiction arise, especially when combined with outside stressors like illness or relationship issues.
From toxic job environments to high-pressure roles that demand countless hours, there are many components of employment that can be damaging to overall wellness. If you’ve ever thought “My job is affecting my mental health,” you very well may be right.
Stress, in some form or other, is a normal part of life. Virtually no one can live a life free of any kind of stress or source of anxiety. Sooner or later, a deadline at school, rough day at work or fight with a significant other will lead to stress, whether major or minor. Most stressors are relatively short term — for example, school stress will alleviate when a project deadline passes or a semester ends — but this isn’t universally true.
Stress isn’t inherently bad, and it’s a natural response within the body for a reason. The fight-or-flight response is related to stress, guiding proper action in a dangerous situation. In less serious circumstances, it can provide motivation, such as finishing an important project or acing a job interview.
However, at higher levels, stress can be damaging. Too much stress for too long extends the biological reaction past a natural point in a way that can manifest physically. Stress can cause trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, weight loss and even hair loss. And, unfortunately, stress can also cause mental health issues that may result in drug or alcohol abuse.
Work as a Stressor
For the vast majority of people, not working isn’t an option. Employment is a requirement to afford food and a place to live. And, unfortunately, the work world isn’t always fun or pleasant, and many jobs are depressing.
Many jobs, particularly white-collar jobs, can require long hours in a stressful environment. Career paths such as finance, law and medicine can carry immense pressure, especially when thousands of dollars, legal penalties or the lives of others hang in the balance. A stressful day every now and then is fine, but when every day is stressful, the tolerability of going to work starts to wane.
Stress isn’t unique to high-pressure jobs. Any workplace can be a source of anxiety when the bills aren’t paid. In addition, coworkers can be mean, rude or aggressive, bosses can be overbearing and demanding, and corporate culture can be toxic. Jobs that pay based on productivity, such as waiting tables, can carry ongoing concerns about whether enough work will be available to meet financial needs.
The Connection Between Stress, Mental Health and Addiction
As indicated, stress plays a primary role in helping determine whether to fight or fly in a high-pressure situation. However, as stress continues, this can lead to a deterioration of stability.
Short-term stress generally resolves quickly, but long-term stress can have a serious effect on the body. The pressure of too much stress for too long can keep the body from returning to normal, resulting in changes to things like memory, attention and emotional regulation. This can lead to shifts in the brain, increasing the likelihood of the development of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Addiction can be related to both mental illness and stress. In times of pressure, some people will self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to manage emotions. This can include the ramifications of stress and the side effects of mental illness. For those who choose this route, substance use can turn into a downward spiral, resulting in an an increase in stress and mental illness symptoms, not a decrease.
Tips for Evaluating Your Workplace Stress
All workplaces can be stressful from time to time, but some are worse than others. These questions can help you determine whether your workplace is the source of anxiety.
- Do you feel anxious or unhappy when preparing for a shift?
- Do you make excuses to leave work early, come in late or skip shifts?
- Do you leave work feeling frustrated or unhappy most days?
- Do you fixate on work when you’re not at the office?
- Does stress about work stand in the way enjoying hobbies or time with loved ones?
- Do you feel like events at work are encouraging self-destructive behaviors?
How to Handle Workplace Stress
If you’re experiencing chronic levels of stress due to your job, it may be time to take action. First, start by determining the source of your anxieties. Is the problem direct management? If so, there may be a way to transfer to a new team and work under someone else. If the issue is related to workload, it may be possible to offload assignments, take a leave of absence or drop down to part time. Some jobs will also permit a mental health break from work.
If the company culture is toxic on all levels, however, seeking a change in employment may be necessary. This isn’t always easy, particularly in a down economy, but making strides toward improving the situation can be critical.
While deciding how to proceed, speaking to a professional is highly encouraged. There’s no shame in getting help, whether your experiences are minor or significant. Speaking with a counselor or therapist can help you identify the source of anxiety, signs of mental illness and coping techniques that can make work easier to handle.
Admitting the need for help isn’t easy, especially when something as essential as a job is driving negative effects, but it’s an important step. With professional input, it can be possible to mitigate symptoms, encourage a change in stress levels and reduce the likelihood of addiction.
If you’re wondering, “Can a job cause depression?” you’re not alone. Many people find that their job is affecting their mental health. If you need more than a few days off to attend to mental health or addiction issues related to job stress, FHE Health is here. Contact us at (844) 299-0618 and see how our compassionate team can support your journey to recovery.