What is Stress Overload? (Causes, Effects and What Employers Can do to Address Stress)

Stress Overload is one of the most common problems people face across the world, and it has a direct impact on a person’s health, social life, behavioral pattern, among others. If not reduced or well managed at the workplace, Stress Overload can affect the health and wellbeing of the people in question, as well as the overall productivity of organizations.

However, the thrust of this article is to discuss extensively on Stress Overload, ranging from its meaning, intriguing facts about it, its effects on the personnel and organizations, symptoms, common causes, and how to manage it.

Let’s get started!

WHAT IS STRESS OVERLOAD? Stress Overload occurs when the body reacts [physically, mentally, and/or emotionally] to certain change that requires an adjustment or response.  Stress Overload is that feelings we develop when we perceive that we are being overwhelmed or that the demands are too hard to cope with.

To further understand what stress overload is, consider the following examples:

Stress Overload Example 1

Assuming someone is given a task that is far beyond his/her skills and abilities, such person may develop some negative feelings towards it since he/she knows little or nothing about the given task. The person in question could become very nervous, and at the end of the day, the task may not be perfectly done.

Stress Overload Example 2

Assuming someone is given a tight schedule to complete certain tasks, the employee could feel overwhelmed since the given deadline is too short, and the final job may actually differ from the expected output as it is done under duress.

Having said that, Stress Overload could be perceived differently by people i.e what is overwhelming to someone may not be for someone else. For instance, in our “Stress Overload Example 1” hadn’t been the task was given to an employee with the right skills and abilities, he/she will not find it difficult to execute it since he/she already has the capabilities required to handle the tasks.

However, stress overload is not limited to only the workplace; it can also be experienced in other spheres of life, ranging from finances, relationships, and so on.

Additionally, Stress overload can affect us physically, psychologically, and even behaviorally. If it persists for a long time it can lead to various issues like Sleep problems, Fatigue, Increased sickness, Increased Aggression, Reduced creativity and initiative, Reduced work performance, Inability to maintain interpersonal relationships, Unstable mood, but to mention a few.

The good news is that we can overcome stress overload by learning some self-management tips. [More about this later in this article].


Stress overload has a direct impact on us as human being; it can affect our social life, financial life, and even personal health. In fact, several studies such as the one conducted by the U. S. News & World Report reveals that long periods of work stress overload can actually shorten a person’s life span if it is not reduced or well managed.

Due to these stress, a person may actually develop some unhealthy and unfriendly habits just to be able to cope with the tasks given at work. This includes habits like:

  • – Skipping meals or eating fast foods before/during work
  • – Smoking; to enhance the energy
  • – Drinking; to reduce overthinking
  • – Social withdrawal or Isolation
  • – Lack of sleep
  • – Increased Procrastination
  • – Neglecting responsibilities, etc.

When someone continues with these behaviors, it may lead to serious, long-term health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease and even mental illness.


13 long-term negative effects of workplace stress overload include the following:

  • 1. Cardiovascular disease
  • 2. Musculoskeletal disorders
  • 3. Psycological disorders
  • 4. Workplace Injuries
  • 5. Allergic reactions,
  • 6. Sleep problems,
  • 7. Fatigue,
  • 8. Increased sickness,
  • 9. Increased Aggression,
  • 10. Reduced creativity and initiative,
  • 11. Reduced work performance,
  • 12. Inability to maintain interpersonal relationships,
  • 13. Unstable mood

Cardiovascular disease: A study by the Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety reveals that when employees are overwhelmed with psychologically demanding tasks, they are more susceptible to the risk of cardiovascular diseases, which is quite detrimental to such an employee and even the firm.

Musculoskeletal disorders: Increased, long-term stress overload is also linked with back and upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders. The aftermath of this is that such a person will not be as effective and productive unlike before.

Psychological disorders: Aside cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal disorders, different job stress levels can also lead to serious mental issues like depression, burnout, but to mention a few. There are several studies backing this as well.

Workplace injury: When an employee is overwhelmed with stressful tasks and activities, there is a high tendency that such an employee may get injured at work, since they are not really focused and that their minds are not really fixed at the tasks at hand.

Others: Long-term stress is also linked with several physical issues, including Stomach ailments, Headaches, Sudden onset of allergic reactions, Sleep problems, Fatigue, etc. It is also associated with behavioral issues like Increased sickness, Increased Aggression, Reduced creativity and initiative, Reduced work performance, Inability to maintain interpersonal relationships, Unstable mood, among others.


The symptoms of Stress Overload can be categorized into: physical, psychological and behavioural. They are further described below:

Physical symptoms of Stress Overload:

  • – Stomach ailments
  • – Headaches
  • – Sudden onset of allergic reactions
  • – Sleep problems
  • – Fatigue
  • – Muscular tension
  • – Heart palpitations
  • – Sleeping difficulties, such as insomnia
  • – Gastrointestinal upsets, such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • – Dermatological disorders.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • – Overwhelming sadness, hurriness or depression
  • – Anxiety
  • – Discouragement
  • – Irritability and moodiness
  • – Pessimism
  • – Reduced ability to concentrate on the given tasks
  • – Inability or reduced ability to make sound decisions
  • – Anxiety and panic attacks

Behavioural symptoms include:

  • – Increased sickness
  • – Increased Aggression
  • – Reduced creativity and initiative
  • – Reduced work performance
  • – Inability to maintain interpersonal relationships
  • – Unstable mood
  • – Lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
  • – Lack of interest
  • – Increased Isolation



Some of the common causes of work-related stress include:

Low morale: when there is a low morale at the workplace, it may result in stress for the employees. For instance, if an employee observes that he/she is being over-monitored; such person may be feeling that the intense supervision may be because he/she is not capable enough to handle the work. In situations like this, such employee is likely to work under stress, and may even perform below expectations.

Management style: The management style in use in a certain firm can also impact stress. When employees are working in an environment where their opinions are not respected or where there is poor communication, they may feel unsupported by their co-workers as well as employers, and this is likely to cause stress overload.

Job responsibilities: another thing that could innate stress overload is the gravity of responsibilities attached to a certain job or task. When employees are saddled with tasks that are far beyond their capabilities and knowledge, they will find it difficult to execute such task, and even if they complete it, it may not really be in tangent with the expected standards. Again, when there are issues like poor communication about the work to be done, infrequent breaks, extended work hours, unnecessary routine tasks, etc. stress may set in, and this will surely affect the level of productivity.

Career concerns: When there are career concerns like job insecurity or lack of advancement opportunities, it can result in stress overload.

Work environment: The work environment is yet another factor that may cause stress overload. For instance, when employees are placed in an environment where there are issues like lack of privacy, excess noise, poor ventilation, inadequate facilities, etc. it may induce physical stress.

Other Causes of Stress Overload

  • – Long hours at work
  • – Heavy workload
  • – Sudden changes in the work routine and duties
  • – Tight deadlines
  • – Job insecurity
  • – Dealing in jobs that require extra skills and knowledge
  • – Lack of autonomy
  • – Unclear work description
  • – Insufficient skills for the job
  • – Over-supervision
  • – Turbulent working environment
  • – Lack of resources and equipment required for tasks at hand
  • – Few promotional opportunities
  • – Harassment
  • – Discrimination
  • – Poor manager-employer relationship
  • – Death of a loved one, etc.



There are many strategies that employers can adopt to help control stress overloadOpens in a new tab. at the workplace, some of which include the following:

  • – Make the job design in such a way that will accommodate each employee’s mental and physical abilities.
  • – Treat all employees with utmost respect and fairness
  • – Be understanding to staff working under duress
  • – Carry your employees along when taking some decisions
  • – Give your employees the chance to give their opinions and views
  • – Provide a serene and friendly work environment
  • – Equip each staff with the training, skills and resources needed to perform effectively in their positions
  • – Avoid overloading your employees with tasks
  • – Value and recognize individuals’ results and skills.
  • – Communicate clearly about job expectations.
  • – Provide manageable deadlines and pay for extended work hours.



Here are some tips for reducing stress at your workplace:

  • – Keep a positive attitude about your work.
  • – Accept that there are events you have no absolute control over
  • – Don’t be aggressive, be assertive.
  • – Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
  • – Engage in regular exercises, it can help reduce stress.
  • – Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • – Be time conscious; don’t procrastinate.
  • – Learn to say no to requests that are likely to create excessive excess stress for you.
  • – Don’t deprive yourself of adequate sleepOpens in a new tab.; it is imperative for recovering from stressful events.
  • – Never be tempted to take alcohols or drugs, they won’t give you a permanent relief and can even cause additional health problems.
  • – Spend enough time with your loved ones.

If after try these and more stress management techniques and it still persists, you may need to speak with your employer, consider taking another job, or seek advice from a qualified career counselor or psychologist.

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