Work, Stress, and the HSP by Scott Kerlin

Work, Stress, and the Highly Sensitive Person

Are you currently struggling with too much stress at work?

Take a few moments to think about all the jobs you have held in the past ten or twenty years. What have been your greatest challenges in all of your jobs?

If stress management is one of the major factors affecting your job satisfaction, you are far from alone.

In her book “Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person”, Barrie Jaeger suggests that stress occurs “when the demands of life significantly tax our emotional, mental and physical resources, such as overscheduling ourselves even though experience has taught us that we can’t do this.”

In my professional career in academia I have learned much about my own challenges with stress.

I’ve also spent considerable time researching the effects of stress and burnout in the workplace.

Having interviewed hundreds of professionals and support staff on the topics of job satisfaction and employee morale, I’ve gained key insights about the world of work and the high-pressure demands it places on our souls and our sanity.

Stress can become debilitating when you are constantly bombarded with high pressures, short windows for completing projects or assignments, supervisors who are always putting new demands on you, and poor communications systems in the workplace.

Although all of us are potentially subject to these stressful working conditions, Highly Sensitive Persons have special challenges in how we tend to react and respond to stress.

Jaeger observes that for HSPs, the key to managing stress is having a high degree of self-awareness about what stresses us.

This means cultivating the development of our personal boundaries, especially recognizing what stresses us and not allowing it to do damage to us. This is no easy task when the core of our work leaves inclined toward high levels of empathy and compassion for others.

I particularly like the list that Jaeger provides for the most common causes of stress:

  • Long, irregular hours
  • Repetitive, unstimulating work
  • Distasteful work
  • Isolation
  • High performance requirements
  • Poor pay or low income
  • Working under pressure
  • Conflicting demands
  • Red tape or bureaucratic complications
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Low respect or poor appreciation from organizational leaders
  • Low job security
  • Disillusionment

To this list I would add several items that can be attributed to a “toxic” or dysfunctional organizational work climate. These include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Inequitable compensation based on gender and/or race
  • Poor interpersonal working relationships with colleagues
  • Lack of trust in the managers or leaders of the organization due to a history of perceived favoritism toward only a few employees
  • Inadequate communications systems within the organization

If you have ever considered quitting a job because there’s just too much stress in the organization, first ask yourself whether there are ways that you could seek to reduce the level of distress that is going on around you.

Think about joining a committee of other staff who contribute their recommendations for improving the quality of the workplace climate.

If you find yourself reaching a stage where anxiety and/or depression are prevalent in your daily work life, evaluate your current career pathway.

Is it the right fit? If not, be kind to yourself, and seek the support of family, friends, and a trained career development counselor. Never allow yourself to feel truly powerless.

Remember: You are the best judge of the quality of your work experiences in your career. Trust your feelings. Find allies with whom you share similar values and insights.

I would love to hear from my readers about your own personal challenges with stress and work. Consider the following questions and please feel free to share your comments in care of this blog or with me personally:

  • What have you learned about yourself as a result of being employed in work that is highly stressful?
  • What coping strategies have been most useful for you?
  • If your occupation is prone to high stress or high burnout rates, have you evaluated your potential for making a career change to a more rewarding occupation?


Pic credit via 10219

Scott holds a PhD, is an Academic Director, an advocate for graduate students and offers support at He writes about the numerous career challenges faced by HSPs. He's also a passionate outdoor photographer.

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