There’s no denying it: Stress can make you sick. According to one recent publication, which looked at more than 80 studies related to health and stress, there is a clear correlation between stress and physical health symptoms. And if you ask anyone what their biggest source of stress is, chances are they will tell you that it’s work.

One of the greatest ironies of the health care field is that those responsible for taking care of others’ health often do so at the expense of their own. Not only is it a great responsibility to ensure that patients and clients are healthy and have the tools they need to get and stay healthy, but there are challenges inherent in working in a team environment, especially when that team includes members from across agencies and provider groups.

While many signs of stress are obvious, many health care professionals are often unaware of mounting stress until it’s too late. That’s why it’s important to be alert to the subtle signs that your job could be slowly killing you. If you notice these issues in your work, it’s time to make changes — even if it means going back to school and changing career paths entirely, and there are many other degrees for those interested in remaining in health care available.

1. Your Job Description Isn’t Clear

Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing every day? Are you doing that? Often, when your job description is different from what you actually do every day, it’s stressful. You might feel let down that you’re not challenged by your work, or overwhelmed by doing more work than expected. The best solution to this problem is to discuss your role with your supervisors and clarify what you should be doing. Establish goals and outcomes that you can use to gauge your progress and provide a sense of purpose.

2. There’s Conflict Between Departments

Even if your team is healthy and functioning, conflict between departments can cause stress. If you dread working with a particular department, or if another department consistently makes it difficult to get work done, it’s probably causing stress and affecting your health. Again, the best solution is communication; meeting with the other department to determine where (and why) breakdowns are occurring, and finding mutually agreeable solutions, can go a long way toward reducing stress.

3. There Is a Lack of Trust

Your boss is constantly breathing down your neck, and needs to approve everything you do, even though you’ve completed similar tasks many times before. Or maybe you’re convinced that no one can complete a particular task as well as you do, so you don’t delegate. In both cases, the problem is a lack of trust, and that causes stress. Solve the problem by reflecting on why there are trust issues, and how you can mitigate those problems. Trust takes time to build, but by acknowledging the issue, you can improve the situation.

4. Poor Communication

In all of the scenarios mentioned above, communication is first solution to the problem. But what if communication is the actual problem? Good communication is more than just keeping people informed. It involves choosing the right terminology, paying attention to nonverbal cues, and knowing how to respond and inform in such a way that the other party feels respected and heard.

If you often feel misunderstood, or communication often breaks down in your workplace, try to identify the source of the problem and make changes. In some cases, additional training or education in communication may be necessary.

5. A “Culture of Sickness”

The term “culture of sickness” refers to how your company actually handles the health of employees. Do people come to work sick, or fail to take care of their own health? Why is that? Although health care professionals are supposed to be the experts in managing and preventing illness, they aren’t always the best example of how to stay healthy. Not only does such a culture create an environment in which people are more likely contract minor illnesses, but it also creates stress in the sense that people feel like taking care of their health will reflect poorly on them and harm their careers. So instead of practicing self-care, or following treatment plans, they stay sick and only get sicker. If this sounds familiar, there needs to be change within the organization to encourage a culture of wellness and good health.

Recognizing the signs of a troubled workplace is only the first step to avoid the negative health effects of a stressful job. You need to make changes in order to prevent damage. If any of these signs sound familiar, take steps to change, whether on a personal or organizational level, and enjoy a healthy career and a healthy life.


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