7 signs your job is making you ill

Over half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress and depression. Are you one of them?

by Dr Ellie Cannon
Last Updated: 22 Jan 2018

Our jobs are making us ill. Data reveals that over half a million of us suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Across the UK, this led to a staggering 12.5 million working days lost in 2016/17.

And yet job-related ill health can be hard to spot in yourself: perhaps you’re missing the signs, or subconsciously don’t want to admit what’s happening to you. Here are the tell-tale signs that your job is playing havoc with your health.

1. Brain burnout?

Feeling busy and challenged at work is expected and normal for everyone. Feeling overwhelmed is not and can be a sign of stress. You may feel there's so much to think about that it stops you concentrating on individual tasks or your mind won’t stop racing with deadlines and tasks to the point where you feel out of control. You may find it has become hard to make decisions or you constantly expect something to go wrong. This can be accompanied by feeling particularly irritable at work which is not your norm. These are classic signs of work-related stress and need addressing.

2. Manic Mondays?

Health symptoms that only happen on certain days or disappear when you are on holiday are a classic sign of a job that is making you ill. It seems so obvious but actually it can be hard to spot that pattern in yourself: with hectic lives and lots going on, it's not always easy to remember the specifics accurately – is it really every Monday that the headaches start? Take a diary for a month, even two, and record when you get symptoms: write down for each day what was happening at work and what symptoms you get to see the pattern clearly. 

3. Too much pressure!

High blood pressure is common affecting more than 25% of adults in the UK. But if your high blood pressure is difficult for your doctor to control or they think you’re too young to have the problem, it may be that work stress is actually the cause. Blood pressure and stress are very closely related and I've often seen an improvement in someone because they are on a break or changed their working pattern. As well as stress, a poor lifestyle at work can also worsen high blood pressure - too much coffee and a sedentary desk job will not help!

4. It’s such a headache!

We all know the typical features of a tension headache – that tight band of stress you feel around your head, with tightening neck muscles and pressure building. But it is not just stress from jobs that causes headaches: it can also be your work environment and lifestyle that contributes. Screen use, stuffy offices, poor desk posture, caffeine intake and dehydration will all add to the job-caused headache. If you find yourself suffering on a daily basis and always popping headache pills, you need to think about your job as the cause.

5. Nightmare nights

Has your sleep pattern changed or got worse? Sleeping problems are a very clear sign of stress, anxiety and even depression. Typically when work is making you anxious or stressed it can be hard to fall asleep churning over worries in your mind; at times it can even wake you in the night panicking. Waking up too early and not being able to fall back to sleep is associated with depression. The main issue with insomnia is that it makes people feel awful and far less likely to cope with a hard day at the office, so an impossible vicious cycle starts.

6. Can’t shake the germs?

Are you constantly ill? Stress affects the immune system, weakening its fight against common infections like coughs and colds. Combine that with a germ-filled commute and workplace, and it is easy to see how a job can make you ill. For some people, it's just bad luck that they get every infection going. But if you notice this is starting to happen to you and it didn’t before, it could be stress affecting your usual ability to fight infection.

7. Has the panic attacked?

We all have a moan about going to work, the pain of Monday morning and Sunday-night blues. But for some people this becomes more than a grumble or a joke, and the idea of going to work does make you feel anxious and even physically unwell. This type of panic, particularly as work approaches after a holiday or a weekend, is a clear sign of a problem: the panic rises in a wave out of the blue and involves your heart racing, nausea, and even dizziness, pins and needles and feeling faint. This is a clear sign something is wrong. Get help.

Is Your Job Making You Ill? by Dr Ellie Cannon is available in paperback (Piatkus, £14.99) from Amazon.

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