Does Your Work Make You Sick?

Sick Young Woman Lying in BedNot happy at work was an understatement! My client was terribly upset. Her manager had just told her that he did not think she had the skills to be promoted and that she probably would stay in the position she was in for the rest of her career. Talk about a discouraging work review! This was it.

She had been depressed by her situation for quite a while. Up to this point she had decided to grin and bear it even though the stress was really unbearable. She now decided she would need to find a new job so she hired me to help her.

Another client I worked with had a manager that criticized her in public and humiliated her. With my coaching this client was able to find ways to manage her own behavior so that her manager did not criticize her as frequently but the job was still stressful. She never knew what to expect. She was not happy at work but liked the work so she wanted to stay. She complained that her stomach was tied in knots from the job and she felt physically ill.

During my tenure at AT&T we went from working 8 hours a day and an occasional weekend to working 10 to 12 hours a day and almost every weekend. Those of us with other non-work related responsibilities constantly had to manage the tension between work hours and non-work hours. Relationships with spouses, children and significant others were at risk. We were not happy at work because none of us could have a life outside work. One of the managers I worked with noted that we had all gained weight.

Depression, stomach problems and weight gain are all mentioned in an article in the AARP Bulletin entitled Stress – Don’t Let It Make You Sick   The article describes 8 different conditions that research shows may be caused by stress.

The conditions specified in the article were:

  • The common cold – Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University says, “When under continuous stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond properly, and consequently produce levels of inflammation that lead to disease.
  • Weight Gain – My colleague was right when he noticed we were all fatter. Long evenings at work meant salty and sugary snacks from the vending machine. There is evidence that people who experience stress burn fewer calories.
  • Slower healing – The human body reacts to stress by producing adrenalin and cortisol into the bloodstream. Excess cortisol slows down wound healing.
  • Sleep dysfunction – When we are under stress the excess cortisol contributes to nighttime wakefulness and then when we can’t sleep we think about all our problems.  I know I’ve experienced this. The tiredness that comes as a result of this makes it even harder to handle stress. It is a vicious circle that is hard to break.
  • Heart disease – Research shows that during stress our bodies produce extra disease-fighting white blood cells. The cortisol that comes from stress then alters the texture of white blood cells so they now stick to the walls of the blood vessels. The result is plaque that blocks the blood vessels and leads to heart attacks.
  • Depression – Stress makes the brain release extra substances that throw it out of balance so that mood, appetite, sleep and libido are negatively affected. Huda Akil , a professor of neuroscience at the University of Michigan says “Depression truly is an illness that changes the brain.”
  • Ulcers and other stomach problems – While ulcers are caused by the bacteria, stress causes a change in the immune system that allows the bacteria to thrive. Other stomach problems that scientists agree are caused by stress are irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Back, neck and shoulder pain – While stress itself doesn’t cause the pain it does intensify it so that it becomes more painful and lasts longer. The theory is that stress induced inflammation prevents the healing necessary for the pain to be alleviated.

A moderate amount of stress is to be expected at work but when there is no relief and it is constant it can make you sick. No job is worth getting sick over. It is hard when you have responsibilities to just up and leave the situation. It does become bearable though when you have a plan to take action and you know you will eventually be in a better place.

To read the full AARP article go to

A Coach Can Help You
If you are under a lot of stress at your current job and would like to do something about it, I’d like to help you. Whether you decide to work on ways to manage the stress or you want to find a new job or start a new business, I can help you. I’ve worked in a start-up, a large corporation and a school system. I’ve started my own business and I counsel new businesses for SCORE.   I have experienced stress in many environments and managed to cope with the challenges. I would love to help you. You can reach me at 781-598-0388 or email me at, There is no obligation when you call. We’ll explore your options so you can decide what is right for you.


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