PTSD Recovery Blog

Kevin William Grant- Counsellor / Life Coach

The impacts to your body when you hate your job, and what to do about it.

Everyone has bad days at work, but there are signs that employees need to watch out for before a bad week at the office turns into never-ending, debilitating work stress that ruins your health. A toxic job can make you sick in a multitude of ways.

Too many workers are trapped in toxic jobs, a problem employers and employees need to take more seriously. Poor management in companies accounted for up to 8 percent of annual health costs and was associated with 120,000 excess deaths every year (Dying for a Paycheck).

Your body may know before you entirely do that your job is to blame for your stress symptoms, sending you red alerts that you are not okay. 

You can’t sleep

A lot of times, the first thing experts witness in their clients are sleepless nights. People report either not being able to sleep because their mind is racing or not staying asleep. They wake up in the middle of the night thinking about their to-do list.

A few restless nights is not a huge deal, but if it becomes a pattern, that may be a sign your job stress has become toxic. If it’s consistently related to work, that is a sign that something is off-balance.

You get headaches 

Your muscles tense up to guard your body against injury. According to the American Psychological Association, when you see the workplace as a danger zone, it keeps your muscles wound tight. Chronic tension in the neck, shoulders, and head can be associated with migraines and tension headaches. In addition, stress creates physiological symptoms, and that manifests as pain.

Your muscles, in general, ache. 

When your job is toxic, it can feel like you’re fighting off a wild tiger at your desk. Under a perceived threat, your brains flood your system with adrenaline and other stress hormones.

Our nervous systems in toxic jobs are constantly on edge. We are continually anticipating, ready to react to an unpleasant boss or co-worker.

If you are constantly typing just following up emails with your shoulders hunched and your jaw clenched, this could be a sign that your job is impacting your health. 

Your mental health gets worse. 

Increased stress could exacerbate existing mental health issues. For example, someone who might be a worrier in a toxic work environment; that worry will often exacerbate to cross the clinical threshold.

Your mental health pays the price if you feel like your boss is always out to get you. One 2012 analysis of 279 studies linked perceptions of organizational unfairness with employee health complaints such as overeating and depression.

Injustice is a particularly toxic stressor because it strikes at the core of who we are. When you mistreat me, you attack my dignity as a person —essentially saying that I don’t deserve fair treatment or be treated the same as others.

You get sick more often.

If you are catching colds constantly, consider how you are feeling about your job. A large body of research shows that chronic stress can compromise the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. 

You lose interest in sex.

How you spend your time reflects what you value. Unfortunately, when you bring your work home with you, your relationships can suffer. The American Psychological Association notes that when women have to juggle professional stress on top of their ongoing personal and financial obligations, it can reduce sexual desire. For men, this chronic stress can result in lower testosterone production, leading to lower libido. 

There has to be a certain amount of relaxation to allow the arousal feeling to arise. Then there’s the time factor. People report not having enough time to have sex.

You are tired all the time.

This is fatigue, a bone-deep weariness that no nap or weekend lie-in seems to cure. There is no set way individuals react to a toxic workplace. Fatigue is in the range of physical symptoms employees may feel. 

Toxic jobs can create a cycle that drains us. You’re feeling overwhelmed because you’re working too long, and you’re working too long because you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Your stomach is acting up. 

Indigestion, constipation, bloating can all be associated with stress because stress impacts what the gut digests and can also change our gut bacteria, affecting our mood. For this reason, you may get stomach pangs when upset.

Your appetite changes

Your appetite is closely linked to your brain. According to the Harvard Health Letter, under acute stress, your fight-or-flight response releases adrenaline, telling your body to suppress digestion to focus on saving us from a perceived danger. Under long-term stress, though, your body’s adrenal glands release and build up cortisol, a hormone that can increase hunger. When your job is causing long-term emotional distress, you may turn to food for comfort. 

Eating sugary foods may blunt stress-related responses and emotions, which is why they’re often seen as comfort foods ― but that’s an unhealthy habit you should avoid. 

What you can do to combat this 

Take breaks. After your body goes on high alert to defend you from unreasonable demands and bad bosses, you need to give it time off. 

When we don’t allow our nervous system to relax and reset itself, it starts to cause long-term damage. Companionship outside of the workplace, meditation, and exercise could help to offset the stress symptoms.  

Reframe your negative thinking. One of the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy is that how you think can change how you feel. Everyone can’t switch jobs, but we can focus on the situation that we can control. You can use mindfulness to manage our unhelpful rumination about how the presentation went or our colleagues thinking about us. 

Leave and move on. Never look back. See this as the warning that you need to get a new job or else. Long hours, absence of autonomy, uncertain scheduling, and economic insecurity at positions are all factors that contribute to a toxic workplace environment that employees need to leave behind, not just cope with. You need to fix the underlying problem, not deal with the symptoms.

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