Health Management Insight: Stress

For most people, pressure can make work exciting and challenging. However, continuous or excessive pressure can result in stress – a natural physiological reaction to demands that are too much to cope with.

Stress can become long-term or chronic and can lead to poor work performance, reduced motivation, absence and a decrease in energy and stamina.

According to HSE statistics in 2020, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

Not everyone manifests the same symptoms but below are some of the common physical and emotional signs of stress:

Physical symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches
  • Upset stomachs
  • Breathlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Back aches
  • Appetite changes
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle tension

Emotional symptoms

  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Low self esteem
  • Apathy
  • Loss of concentration

As many of these symptoms are associated with other medical conditions, it may take time for a definitive diagnosis to be made. Often it is other people who are the first to recognise that all is not well, rather than the individual themselves.

Other signs of stress

People who suffer with stress often complain of feeling tired all the time. Their behaviour may be affected and you may notice some of the following changes:

  • Inattention, resulting in accidents or errors
  • Self-focus and insensitivity to others, possibly verbally or physically abusive
  • Increased nicotine and alcohol consumption
  • Over-eating or loss of appetite
  • Work performance may be suffering
  • Increased number of absences or lateness
  • Working longer hours but productivity decreases
  • Expressing discontentment or sense of inadequacy
  • Inability to cope with routine activities

>> Read the full Health Management Insight: Stress article, which explores how stress can manifest itself negatively in individuals - along with our occupational health physicians’ view on measures which employers can take to support those suffering from it.