What Happens to Your Body When You Hate Your Job And Signs It's Time To Leave

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 is ruining your health.

Too many Americans are trapped in toxic jobs, a problem employers and employees need to take more seriously. Jeffrey Pfeffer, an organizational behavior professor at Stanford who wrote the book Dying for a Paycheck, found through his research that poor management in U.S. companies accounted for up to 8 percent of annual health costs and was associated with 120,000 excess deaths every year.

Your body may know before you fully 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 we’ll hear about is sleepless nights,” said Maryland-based clinical psychologist Monique Reynolds of the Center for Anxiety and Behavior Change. “People report either not being able to sleep because their mind is racing or not being able to stay 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,” Reynolds said.

You get headaches

Your muscles tense up to guard your body from injury. When you see the workplace as a danger zone, it keeps your muscles wound tight, according to the American Psychological Association. Chronic tension in the neck, shoulders and head can be associated with migraines and tension headaches.

“Stress creates physiological symptoms, and that manifests as pain,” said Reynolds.

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,” Reynolds said. “We are constantly anticipating, ready to react to an unpleasant boss or co-worker.”

If you are always 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

Reynolds noted that increased stress can exacerbate existing mental health issues. “Someone who might be a worrier in a really toxic work environment; that worry will often exacerbate to cross the clinical threshold,” she said.

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

E. Kevin Kelloway, the Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology at St. Mary’s University, said that unfair treatment at work can cause us outsized stress.

“Injustice is a particularly toxic stressor because it strikes at the core of who we are,” he said. “When you treat me unfairly you attack my dignity as a person —essentially saying that I don’t deserve fair treatment or to 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. 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, which in turn leads to lower libido.

“There has to be a certain amount of relaxation in order to allow the arousal feeling to arise,” Reynolds said. “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.

Kelloway noted that “there is no set way that individuals react to a toxic workplace,” but he said that fatigue is in the range of physical symptoms employees may feel.

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

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, which in turn impacts our mood.

It’s why you may get stomach pangs when you are upset, said Kelloway, who experienced this himself in one toxic job.

“About six months in I started to notice that every Sunday afternoon I developed a pain in my stomach. It was not the symptom but the timing (just as I was starting to think about what I had to do on Monday morning) that alerted me to the connection to the job,” he said. “All symptoms went away when I quit the job and moved on to something else.”

Your appetite changes

Your appetite is closely linked to your brain. 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, according to the Harvard Health Letter. Under long-term stress, though, your body’s adrenal glands release and build up cortisol, a hormone which can increase hunger. When your job is causing long-term emotional distress, you may turn to food for comfort.

Harvard also reports that 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 give our nervous system an opportunity to relax and reset itself, it starts to cause long-term damage,” Reynolds explained. She said that companionship outside of the workplace, meditation and exercise can 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. “It’s not possible for everyone to switch jobs, but we can focus on the situation that we can control,” Reynolds said. We can use mindfulness to manage our unhelpful rumination about how the presentation went or what our colleagues are thinking about us.

Leave. See this as the warning that you need to get a new job or else. Pfeffer said that long hours, absence of autonomy, uncertain scheduling and economic insecurity at jobs 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,” he said.


14 Signs It's Time To Leave Your Job 

“For some, when it’s time to leave a job can be quite clear -- where as for others, it might not be so obvious,” says Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, star of MTV’s Hired, and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad.

Teri Hockett agrees. The chief executive of career site What’s For Work? says some employees know when they’ve reached a point where it’s time for a change, “because they reflect on a regular basis to ensure their job aligns with their long-term goals.” If the two are not aligned, they often make adjustments to keep things on track, she says. 

As for others, they don’t realize they’re unhappy with their job until someone points it out to them, or they realize they spend too much time at, or outside of work being unhappy about their position, she adds. “It’s the topic that keeps them up at night thinking, what should I do? They consult with friends and family, seeking advice, to validate their reasoning. They know the answer, which always involves change, but the difficult part is making the change itself.”

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, says some people are able to see the signs that it’s time to leave their job, and they’ll either try to improve the situation, simply gripe about it, or go into denial that the situation isn’t as bad as they think. But others are unaware of the signals that it's time to get out, she says.

Here are 14 signs that your job isn’t a good fit for you anymore, and it’s time to consider how you can either improve the issues or think about leaving. “If multiple of these signs apply to your situation, then it’s likely time to leave as soon as possible,” Sutton Fell says.

You lack passion. “You’re not waking up most mornings with a feeling of excitement towards your job,” Hockett says. That feeling you had when you first started working there--thinking about all the possibilities and contributions ahead with a sense of glee—is gone.

Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, says if you're not doing what you love, you will never tap your true potential. “It will just continue to be ‘a job,’ and eventually each day will seem more of a grind.”

You're miserable every morning. Quite simply, you dread going into work, Sutton Fell says.

Your company is sinking. There's no need to go down with this ship, Taylor says. “Put on your life preserver and get in the water.”

You really dislike the people you work with and/or your boss. You can try to work out the problems you’re having with colleagues or your manager—but know that sometimes they’re not fixable.

You're consistently stressed, negative, and/or unhappy at work. If you get anxious or unhappy just thinking about work, that’s a good sign that it’s time to move on, Sutton Fell says.

Your work-related stress is affecting your physical health. “The work, people, or culture is unhealthy, and it has a negative impact on you physically and mentally,” Hockett says. “The stress is present both inside and outside of work; it’s consuming. Your family and friends are affected by this, too.” Taylor says when work starts affecting your health--physical, mental, or both--it’s time to get out.

You don't fit in with the corporate culture and/or you don't believe in the company anymore. “You feel that there are ethical or moral differences in how the company and you believe the firm should operate; cultural differences; work ethic clashes, and so on,” Taylor says. Whatever the issue, you're morally misaligned with your employer, and it's an uncomfortable workplace setting.

Your work performance is suffering. If you’re no longer productive at work, even though you’re capable of performing the task(s), you might want to start looking for new work, Hockett says.

You no longer have good work-life balance. When you find that you’re spending less time with your family because of work, or you cannot commit the necessary time to your job, you should consider looking elsewhere, Sutton Fell says.

Your skills are not being tapped. Management doesn't acknowledge that you have more to offer than what you've been contributing for a significant amount of time, you've been passed over for promotion, or attempts to take on more challenging assignments have failed, Taylor says. “No one has said anything, however, you are no longer getting the plum assignments, you are no longer asked to attend key meetings, or your proposals are met with silence or denial,” Hockett adds. “These are signs that you should be looking for a new opportunity.” 

Your job duties have changed/increased, but the pay hasn’t. Sometimes there’s a good reason for this—but Sutton Fell says it’s usually a sign you should go. “When downsizing has moved your team into double time, but certainly nowhere near double compensation, it may be time to move on,” Taylor says. That’s especially true if the company is performing well, but it’s not reflected in your salary or other rewards.

Your ideas are not being heard. If your ideas are no longer heard or valued; you can't seem to get time with the ‘powers that be’; or you cannot get approvals or acknowledgment for great work, think about finding a new job, Taylor says.

You're bored and stagnating at your job. If you're not growing or learning anything new, it might be time to leave, Sutton Fell says. Hockett and Kahn agree. They say when you’ve outgrown the position and there is no opportunity for advancement--or you seem to work the same job day in, day out without any opportunity for growth, even though you crave more--it’s time to get out.

You are experiencing verbal abuse, sexual harassment, or are aware of any type of other illegal behavior.  If you're the victim of bullying, sexual harassment or other egregious behavior, you should certainly keep an eye out for other positions, regardless of what corrective measures you're taking, Taylor says.

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Last modified on Saturday, 07 November 2020 16:12

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