Remember when you just couldn’t wait until the day came when you could work at home?
We all know the advantages of working at home can be anything from more time spent with family and friends to more money saved on gas and dry cleaning. However, like with all advantages, there can also be disadvantages. One of these disadvantages can be too much stress.
What is Stress and What Causes It?
We’ve all heard the of the flight or fight syndrome caused by fear or stress. This is when the body produces excessive adrenaline to either get ready to flee from danger or stay and fight. Many of us have also heard that stress can be good for us, because without stress, many of us would not even get out of bed in the morning and strive to be productive.
As there is a good side to stress, there is also a bad side to stress. Too much stress over a period of years, can lead to health problems such as heart attack or stroke. While this level of stress is usually associated with high-profile corporate jobs, working at home can also produce less than favorable levels of stress.
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How Can There Possibly Be Stress When Working at Home?
So, what are the causes of work-at-home (WAH) stress? This list is by no means complete, but here are the most common stressors:
- uncertain income
- long hours
- working in isolation
- unexpected interruptions
- tight deadlines
While these stressors may be part of the reality of working at home, there are ways to add balance to the situation. Even this negative side of working at home, should never allow stress to escalate to unhealthy levels.
What Are the Symptoms of Long-Term Stress on the Body?
The unhealthy symptoms of too much stress are:
- skin problems
- weight fluctuations
- sleep disorders
- teeth and gum disorders
- substance abuse
- more and frequent boats with colds and disease
- gastrointestinal disorders
- cardiac disorders
Now let’s look at each one individually.
Skin problems such as acne flare-ups or hives can be caused by too much stress. This is because stress causes your body to produce cortisol and other hormones, which tells your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Oily skin is more prone to acne and other skin problems. Hives are caused by already sensitive skin responding to a stress or panic attack.
Headaches can be a direct result of stress, especially migraine headaches and those that are considered debilitating. Migraine headaches are usually associated with pain on one side of the head, vomiting, diarrhea, and light and sound sensitivity. Stress can play a key role in triggering a migraine as well as too much caffeine, alcohol or chocolate. Sleep disturbances and hormones can also play a role in triggering a migraine.
Weight fluctuations such as gaining too much weight or losing too much weight can be caused by stress. Stress affects the appetite in everyone differently. Some will begin to eat out of stress while others will experience a knot in their throat and not want to eat. Carrying too much weight (obesity) or not enough weight both can add to long-term health problems.
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According to Dr. Laura J. Martin at WebMD, sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep deprivation can lead to a recognized disruption in mood and cognition. Insomnia can be a result of worry or stress, but can also be a sign of another health issue such as a thyroid problem or low blood sugar known as hypoglycemia. Nothing will disrupt WAH productivity and concentration more than too little sleep.
Depression can be caused from a variety of problems such as working in isolation with too little personal contact or dealing with too much uncertainty, such as how much income can be made per month. Long-term stress can even lead to clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which would take the diagnosis of a psychiatrist and be treated with anti-depressants.
Teeth and gum disorders such as grinding your teeth at night can be considered a direct result of stress. Most dentists will agree that those who grind their teeth are those that are consistently staring at something (a computer screen) for long periods of time or those who are under serious stress. A dental guard–especially if worn at night–can help with this.
Substance abuse is something that occasionally does happen to the WAHer. Whether it is alcohol, drugs (even prescription drugs) or food (“comfort foods” and carbohydrates)–abuse happens. Sometimes the stressed out WAHer will turn to one of these three substances as a way to relieve the ongoing reality of stress yet end up creating more stress. Probably the most common for the WAHer would be food.
More frequent colds can also be a direct result of stress. How many times have you gone through a very stressful period to end up with a cold in about five to seven days?
Gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation can be a direct result of the stress hormone, cortisol, on abdominal fat. Too little exercise can also affect the intestines.
Cardiac disorders such as heart attack are caused by the heart rapidly beating due to fear or stress and the blood being pumped more quickly into vessels, which may already be slightly clogged by plaque. The plaque is likely to rupture and cause a blood clot leading to a heart attack. A stroke may happen if the brain cells suddenly die due to lack of oxygen. Prolonged stress causing the heart to palpitate faster, the blood pressure to rise higher, and the muscles to become tense can also lead to a stroke.
Are Most of Us Operating at an Unhealthy Stress Levels?
While most of us probably are NOT operating at serious levels of stress, other outside factors added to any current levels of stress could cause the current levels to escalate. An example would be your current level of stress plus a family illness or move could cause your stress levels to escalate.
If your stress level is out of control and causing any of these health problems, go ahead and see your doctor. Your doctor really has heard it all before and has definitely heard about stress in the Twenty-First Century. Almost daily, he or she sees patients who have allowed stress to escalate to heart problems, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, and other stress-related problems. If a referral is needed, it should come from your doctor.
Are There Any Helpful Online Resources?
A helpful web site to go and take a stress survey to see if you are under too much stress is at Mental Health America’s web site. This is also a great web site with tools and tips to better manage stress at all levels or find additional support groups in your local area. Another great web site is HeartHealthyWomen.org.
What Can You Do to Keep Stress From Escalating to Debilitating or Damaging Levels?
You can do several things. Here are just a few:
- Talk to your family about your need to reduce stress. Get them involved in “hands-on” ways they can help.
- Exercise every day at least 20 minutes per day. This will release endomorphism into your bloodstream and create a sense of well-being.
- Meditate or pray daily. Just taking deep breaths and releasing your cares to a Higher Power can feel liberating.
- Eat healthy. Watch for stimulants such as too much caffeine and sugar.
- Get enough rest. Easier said than done, but consider the extra hour or two of rest an investment in your health.
- Enjoy a hobby or novel. This will create the “great escape” from everyday living.
- Cuddle with a cute puppy or kitten. It may sound odd, but Swiss researchers found that this creates a sense of protectiveness.
- Have activities outside of the home. This will get you out with people and interacting.
- Examine your workload at both work and home. Are you really doing too much?
Again, the main thing with stress is to know how to manage it. It isn’t going away, as we would like, but it can become more manageable. If the stress became too much while working at home, you could always consider going back to a regular job outside the home. Definitely, not what most of us would like to hear or do.
However, we work-at-homers already expertly manage to work at home and run a household with all of its distractions. Why not learn to effectively manage stress? Your health will thank you.