How stress can become toxic in the workplace, affecting mood, morale and productivity.

There's so much to do and fret about, but all that worrying is actually keeping you from doing your job and making you feel more stressed. Stress is a normal reaction to life's different challenges, including work, but when it becomes overwhelming, your mood, morale and work can suffer.

A certain amount of stress can help boost work performance and satisfaction.

"Studies show that we work best when we have an appropriate level of stress, so we feel challenged, masterful and useful, especially to others, which can help us find meaning in our working lives," says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a clinician associate at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute. Not being challenged enough can actually breed boredom and increase stress, she adds.

When stress becomes toxic

Stress in mega doses can become toxic. "Too much stress on an ongoing basis can impact memory, mood, and cognitive functions such as decision making and social judgment," says Khatri. It also increases the risk of developing mental illness, such as depression, and worsens other chronic diseases, such as hypertension or diabetes.

An online survey conducted by Ipsos Reid found that more than 20 per cent of employees in Canada say they currently suffer from depression. Another 16 per cent of respondents report they have experienced depression in the past.

Workplace stress can stem from anything from concerns about job security, feeling a lack of control or engagement, to interpersonal issues and poor job fit. For boomers, stress from other parts of their lives can especially intersect with work.

"The sandwich generation (caring for later-launching children and aging parents at the same time) is expanding sideways—more like a pizza. Now it includes lateral or peer relationships, caring for siblings, partners, ex-partners, friends and others," says Khatri. Those additional concerns and responsibilities can compound work stress.

Financial worries may plague boomers too and increase concerns about job stability, security, ageism, retirement, children's education costs, eldercare and one's own health. "Add to the mix a possibly longer work horizon needed to adequately prepare for retirement, and life can feel pretty stressful."

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