Causes and consequences

Everybody suffers from stress once in a while. We have to deal with stress at work, when sitting an exam, in our family life, and in almost all other facets of our life. Stress is actually one of the great mechanisms of our body: the moment we are threatened, our body produces hormones which prepare our body to respond adequately to an emergency. They raise our blood pressure, quicken our heart beat and tense the muscles: our body is now fully prepared for fight or flight. A bit of stress also helps increase one's performance and enjoyment of life and work. Most people are familiar with the feeling of getting a so-called adrenaline boost, helping you perform better: you always write your best pieces right before the deadline and you always play your best game right before the critical moment of the match. So why is stress so problematic at other times?

Healthy and unhealthy stress: causes

Healthy stress is the type of stress or tension that provides that one boost to help you perform and is gone afterwards. When you experience too much, too little or unpleasant tension, however, you're dealing with unhealthy stress. Unhealthy stress is the result of a disruption of the balance between work and private life and of tipping the balance of what you can personally deal with. The notion of stress often conjures up an image of a very demanding job overburdening someone. The Netherlands has one of the highest per hour production levels in the world. This puts a great deal of work pressure on many people. But a job that is not challenging and involves too little responsibility may also lead to unhealthy stress. The various causes of work-related stress are the following:

  • The work activities: work pace too high or too low, monotonous work, dangerous work, few opportunities to schedule in work performance yourself;
  • Working conditions: reorganization, flex work agreements, job insecurity, distorted balance of working and free hours;
  • Labour relations: bad management, insufficient social support, sexual harassment, lack of public participation.

A lot of people working for the UT will be familiar with high work pressure and insecurity as to whether they will keep their job or their future within their unit. This does not become a problem for everyone. As long as you continue to enjoy your work, it is unlikely you will suffer stress-related complaints. Some are better able to take such situations in stride than others.

Usually, those staff members who are more motivated, show more drive and are devoted to their work are the ones that will come to suffer stress and burn-out symptoms. It is exactly their drive and sense of responsibility that pushes them to continue those tasks that cause stress - be it their work, volunteer work, or social commitments - even when they start to suffer the first symptoms of stress.

Consequences of stress

When suffering from an excess of ongoing stress, the body is unable to recuperate and remains in an alert and active state. The body will prioritize maintaining this state over other bodily functions like the digestive and immune systems. This may cause all sorts of physical and psychological complaints. In addition, work behaviour changes:

Physical complaints: increased blood pressure, raised blood cholesterol level, sleeplessness, palpitations, muscle aches, headaches, constant weariness, bad appetite, decreased resistance to diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases.

Psychological complaints: depression, losing the ability to enjoy life, testiness and vexation, decreased interest, indecisiveness, feelings of powerlessness, agitation, being very emotional, and anxiety.

Behavioural changes: eating too much, smoking more, drinking while on medication, problems concentrating, constant talking, complaining a lot, cynicism, bitterness

At work: decreased production, more error-prone, indecisiveness, decreased motivation, increased short-term absence, internal friction and conflicts

All these complaints are alarm signals. The sooner you recognize the complaints and start taking measures to tackle their cause, the smaller the odds of becoming overworked. Take these complaints seriously!

Note: these complaints are not always caused by work-related stress. There are many causes for stress. So also try and look for solutions outside of your work environment. The 'burnin' website allows you to take various tests to find out if you're suffering from unhealthy stress.

Stress in the Netherlands

There has been a marked increase in the number of work-related psychological complaints (stress, burnout, tiredness, being overworked) these past few years. Of the seven million Dutchmen with a paid job, 1.7 million frequently have to cope with high work pressure. So one in four are in danger of becoming overworked or suffering a burnout. This makes work-related stress a common problem, one suffered in all sectors and all occupations.

Some 30,000 people are declared unfit for work due to stress or being overworked each year.. About a third of all people receiving invalidity benefits suffer psychological complaints, often due to work-related stress. 10% of the working population in the Netherlands suffers from burnout symptoms. Sixty percent of Dutch employees suffers from stress to some extent - or 15% more than the EU average.