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"Normal" Stress vs. Problem Stress

answered 09:37 AM EST, Tue February 28, 2012
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I accepted a new job in London in Dec. We decided it was too tough on the kids to bring them out in the middle of the school year so we decided that I would go first and get us all settled over there and the rest of the family would join us after the school year ended. I am currently working 3 weeks on and 1 week off back at home with the family. The hours and stress of the new position are considerable and there is substantial European travel as well as the twice a month Trans-Atlantic flights. Most days I leave my hotel room before 8 and if I’m back by 9 at night I count myself lucky.

I have started to have frequent and reoccurring headaches, twisting feelings in my stomach and I will sometimes feel my pulse just racing for no reason at all. I feel stressed all the time and it is interfering with my abilities to think clearly and perform to an acceptable standard on the job. I also have a real nagging worry that I am making a big mistake with this new job and that my family is going to suffer some terrible fate from my selfish need to get ahead at work.

I am starting to wonder if the way I am feeling all the time is not caused by normal job stress but maybe instead I am getting some sort of mental illness. I really don’t feel well psychologically. What worries me the most is that my feelings of stress don’t really abate when I am on my weekly vacation periods once a month back home with the family. I am normally able to turn work off when home with my wife and kids but these last few weeks I still have the nervous feeling in my stomach even when I am supposed to be feeling relaxed. How can I know if the way I am feeling is normal due to increased job stress related to a new position or if is caused by something deeper that is wrong with my mental health?

Jill Palmer Says...

It sounds like your stress level is extremely high!! I'm not surprised that you're having physical symptoms with everything you have going on. The top 3 stressors are a change in job, a move and a change in relationship. You are doing all 3 of these at the same time (you aren't changing your relationship but you are apart most of the time which is a change) so I'm not surprised you are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. I'm not sure what "normal" is but I would expect an elevated level of stress, depression and anxiety in your situation.

If you choose to see a therapist, you could learn relaxation techniques, various coping skills, and anxiety reducing techniques to make the stress and anxiety more manageable. It might bring you some relief so you can enjoy more of your week off and give you the confidence that you can make it through this rough time. It might also be helpful to talk to someone about the choice to move the family to lower any guilt or regret. You'll want to get the anxiety under control so you don't feel the panicky feelings you seem to get.

I would continue to pay attention to how you are dealing with all of the stress. It seems overwhelming from my perception but some of this might be alleviated as soon as your family moves in with you. I wouldn't assume there is anything wrong with your mental health in general unless these symptoms continue long after your family is settled.

I wish you and your family the best. I hope everything settles down for you soon.

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Page last updated Feb 28, 2012

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