Veronica Johnson

The Effects of Working in a Stressful Environment

Have you chosen a career that is causing your stress level to be extremely high? Do you enjoy going to work? Do you view it as a place where you can perform your daily duties without experiencing anxiety or depression? Do you ever find most of your conversation in life is centered on complaints about your place of employment?

I am quite sure if we were to hold a round table discussion of these questions, there would be a lot of “collaborative dialogue.” I have read countless articles about people feeling overworked and overwhelmed in the workplace. As a matter of fact about 3 years ago I was one of these individuals who went to work daily with a smile on my face while on the inside I felt like a wounded, helpless puppy. So the question I have for you is: Do you truly understand the effects of working in a stressful environment?

My Story

I am currently an instructional technology consultant at DePaul University, but for 14 years I was an elementary educator. I have two young sons with whom I am very active. Every evening my schedule is different because either one of them is staying late after school or there is a sporting event or practice to take them to. So after dealing with 100+ schoolchildren throughout the day I still had to put on my supermom cape and make sure I was raising my own sons to be productive citizens of our nation. Yes, some years I interacted with over 100 students because I taught middle school as well.

It’s no secret that teaching is a rewarding but stressful career because not only are you trying to mold the future, but also there is a lot of paperwork involved. Since there wasn’t enough time in the day at work, I often completed a lot of it on the weekends or once my children were asleep. For 14 years I received excellent evaluations and once received the Teacher of the Year Award. Many people viewed me as an excellent mom and teacher, and those words of encouragement are what kept me going. However, as I look back on my life I realize I took care of everyone but myself.

Since I had to always be in compliance with my paperwork, I rarely had time to cook a well-balanced meal. I was always on my feet and after work was exhausted, and so an Oreo McFlurry or a vanilla shake was needed daily. This extra kick of sugar was what I needed in order to give me energy to be “SUPERMOM.” Now we all know that unhealthy eating habits can lead to weight gain. But did you know that stress can lead to fatal consequences?

Starting at about age 35 it took me about 30 minutes to get out of the bed in the morning because my body was in so much pain. After driving home from work I could barely walk from the car to the house. I went to the doctor because I said I am too young to have the body of an 85 year old. After getting x-rays I was diagnosed with arthritis, so at 35 years old I was wrapping, icing, and putting Ben-Gay on my knees.

When I was initially diagnosed with arthritis, I was in denial about the root cause of it. Every time I would go to the doctor my blood pressure would be 190/54 and I’d be told I was a candidate for diabetes, and that if my blood pressure continued to rise, I could have a stroke and die.

Although I took my boys places I rarely did the activities with them because I was too tired and out of shape. I was over 300 pounds and wore a size 30. I would always have a smile on my face but there were so many days I cried in the school parking lot because I was depressed.

These were the effects of a stressful work environment. At the time I didn’t even understand the danger I was in. I was in my mid 30s and successful on a high stress job, but my health was in the red zone. Many people don’t realize that stress is a silent killer. Many stressed out people find coping mechanisms, and many times they are unhealthy ones. For me my coping mechanism was eating sweets. For others it may be having a few drinks daily.

Take a few minutes to read and reflect on this useful infographic that outlines the ways that your job may affect your health. I am sure you may have some questions or be able to connect with some or all of the information.

Paying Attention to Our Bodies

It has been my experience that nobody else knows your story the way you do. I urge you to pay attention to your body because too much stress will cause it to breakdown. I now have a personal trainer, participate in 5K runs, and eat very healthy. I have no symptoms of arthritis and every time I go to the doctor now my blood pressure is normal. Last month I went for my annual and for the first time I didn’t have to hear “well you know your tests can come back showing you may be a diabetic or have high cholesterol.”

If I had listened to my body, I wouldn’t have had the health issues that I had for so long. For example, I blamed the arthritis in my knees on an old injury. However, the truth was that I had too much weight on my knees. My blood pressure was constantly high, but I ignored the headaches and just took some aspirin. I am grateful to still be alive because I know everyone isn’t granted this opportunity.

How to Deal With Stress at Work

Although I was fortunate enough to go back to school, earn another degree and change careers, I know everyone may not be able to do that. As a result I have included some tips to deal with a stressful work environment.

  • Accept what it is and learn some things are out of your control. When I implemented this step I felt a lot of weight lifted off of my shoulders. It is like I was able to find my own place of contentment while still teaching. Minimizing my complaints worked tremendously.
  • Keep track of all the things that are stressing you out by journaling. While doing this you can learn the triggers and determine steps on how to deal with them in a healthy manner.
  • Establish boundaries and just know you can’t and won’t get everything done to perfection.
  • Take some time out for yourself and do something that is fun, relaxing, or healthy like a walk, run, going to the gym, museum etc.
  • Talk to your supervisor or another employee to get maybe some management or organizational tips. I am sure we have all had that one co-worker who seems to manage their time and resources very efficiently.

That’s a brief snippet of my journey of transitioning from a stressful to a non-stressful work environment. I leave you with a photo of myself to show that eliminating the stressors in your life can make a difference!

Before and after photo of Veronica showing fitness gains

Veronica Johnson

About Veronica Johnson

Veronica Johnson has been an instructional designer for the School for New Learning since February of 2015. In December of 2014 she graduated with a Masters in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University. Veronica has a Bachelors in Elementary Education and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction. Before coming to DePaul, Veronica was a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for 14 years. While teaching she discovered that she enjoyed designing her own curriculum so this is what led her to become an instructional designer. Veronica enjoys collaborating with faculty to ensure the best practices of online design are embedded in every course she designs.

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