Five Major Health Hazards of Social Work stress
With sickness rates that are 60% higher than the average for other jobs, stress is a significantly negative side-effect of being a Social Worker. As well as the well-known damage this can cause to your emotional well-being, it can harm your physical health in the following ways:
Respiratory and Cardiovascular difficulties
Stress causes you to breathe faster and raises your heartbeat as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that drives this behaviour when beset by perceived danger. This is beneficial in the short term if faced by clear and present danger, but over-stimulation caused in the workplace (where your fight or flight response is mostly an unnecessary side-effect of emotional pressures, not physical danger) can cause lifelong damage. This is because constant stress leads to your heart beating too fast for too long and significantly raising blood pressure as a result.
This means that Social Workers can be at increased risk of hypertension, heart-attacks and strokes.
Have you found yourself getting heartburn and indigestion more often since you started your job? Maybe you’re feeling fuller quicker or crave more junk food? This is because stress has a significant impact on your digestive system (which, after the brain, has the greatest number of nerve endings in your whole body).
As well as raising our heart rate and accelerating our breathing, stress causes our body to produce glucose to give us extra energy reserves in times of crisis. As we rarely expend this energy in our jobs, by taking the intense physical action it is intend to fuel, the glucose lies dormant until it is reabsorbed by the body. This reabsorbing of glucose can cause our blood sugar levels to spike, which makes stressed out Social Workers more likely to develop diabetes (Type 2).
On a short-term basis, the changes in our digestive system that are brought on by stress contribute to:
- Acid reflux
There’s a reason why (if you’re lucky) your best friend in the office will sit behind you and massage your shoulders when you are feeling stressed. This is because pressure causes your muscles to contract as they fill with the blood your racing heart is pumping through your body. Continually facing stressful events results in these muscles tightening up for unnatural lengths of time without being effectively used.
The long-term impact on your muscular system can result in:
- Poor posture
- Muscle pain
- Increased likelihood of muscle tears
- Difficulty exercising
A reduced sexual desire and harmed reproductive system
I know this can be an embarrassing subject to talk about… but, if we’re being honest, how many of us have found ourselves with a lower libido or lacking the same sexual urges that we had before workplace stress took its toll?
Consistently facing unnaturally stressful situations causes over-stimulation of testosterone in men and, in women, the impact of oestrogen amplifies the stress response (which is why women are more likely to experience higher levels of stress in the workplace). With both hormones driving our sexual desires, it is no wonder that stress results in our hormones being unnaturally wasted; leaving little left to stir our loins after a long day at work.
If left unchecked, long-term stress can result in disruption to menstrual cycles and men can experience erectile dysfunction.
A suppressed immune system
Alongside the side-effects of stress explored above, it also stimulates the immune system to heal any wounds that may be causes in the effort of having to ‘fight’ or take ‘flight’. As with other stress-induced body functions, this is clearly a bonus when facing real danger but is damaging when consistently faced by emotional stressors in the workplace.
Prolonged artificial stimulation of our immune systems means that they are less efficient and slower to respond when faced by true illness or injury. Ever wondered why you always seen to get poorly when you take a holiday from work? It’s because your stress levels finally reduce after months of stimulation and you are bombarded with all the germs that are out there; your immune system weakened by the stress you faced when at work.
This suppressed immune system not only makes your more likely to suffer illnesses, but also lengthens the period of time taken to recover… it’s not just old age catching up with you!
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