Ohio's Jobs: Dealing with stress in the workplace

By Missy Loar Ashland Times-Gazette Published:

Stress is normal, but excessive stress can be an obstacle for both the unemployed and the employed as people struggle to balance responsibilities.

Levels of stress can vary depending on the job, the person and other factors, but Oscar McKnight, director of counseling services at Ashland University, said excessive stress often results from the compounding of smaller stress factors over time.

"Hassles build up," he said. "Eventually, what happens is they've grown up to the point where individual factors accumulate and now you have chronic stress."

Repeated rejections when searching for a job can be one example of accumulated chronic stress.

"They're under a lot of stress to get jobs because they're taking care of their family," McKnight said of job applicants. "Eventually, they learn to be helpless and they say, 'I'm not even going out there.'"

Stress at home also can affect job performance. Dennis Dyer, director of the Ashland County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said stress over finding childcare, taking care of one's family and other problems at home often affect workers on the job and on the job hunt.

"It's hard to get that all together," he said. "When they get the job, many times they're not making that much money and they still have to balance all of that."

Dyer said people often add to their stress levels by coping with negative behaviors, such as smoking, drug use and substance abuse.

Mental health experts recommend other ways of coping with stress. The Ashland County Mental Health and Recovery Board provides resources on its website, www.ashlandmhrb.org, that outline how sleep, exercise and nutrition relate to mental health and how to improve habits in these areas.

Steve Stone, director of the Ashland County MHRB, said the goal is to make changes in incremental steps.

"Don't think you have to wake up tomorrow and change everything," he said. "It's really overwhelming sometimes."

People who are already struggling with excessive stress may think lifestyle changes like eating better, sleeping more and exercise take more time and effort than they are able to commit but McKnight said change is important.

"Break your habits," he said. "Look at your lifestyle change that's going to result if you make that choice. ... If you choose to keep eating the fast food and not exercise, then your choice is to wbe under stress."

Before making those changes, however, McKnight said the first change has to be in how a person thinks.

"A lot of times they have more control over it than they know," he said. "One of the goals is to have an internal locus of control and start taking control of your life."

McKnight explained that many people think they have no control over what they do and what their obligations are but said people can often restructure their lives by rearranging obligations, finding others to help with tasks or eliminating tasks that aren't necessary.

That includes reevaluating a person's sense of obligation to others, Dyer said.

"They may have a whole network of people they feel responsible for and try to take care of," he said. Dyer recommended reducing obligations to others when possible.

Friends and family can provide support to people who are excessively stressed and trying to change their habits. Stone said it can be helpful to find a network of support in which people hold the person accountable and help them focus on their goals.

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