Chronic Stress is a Serious Problem in the Workplace and at School, According to Two New Reports

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If you’re someone who feels completely drained physically and emotionally drained by work, perhaps experiencing feelings of dread, detachment, or cynicism when you think about your job, take a minute to read this on your next lunch break: Burnout from work-related stress is officially a syndrome acknowledged by the World Health Organization. While not considered a disease itself, burnout will be added to the WHO’s handbook of health conditions, the International Classification of Diseases, a move that may expand treatment options for people whose jobs are a source of chronic stress.

People who feel burnout are finally fully recognized as having a severe issue,” a spokesperson from the WHO told NPR. Having burnout officially included in the ICD may make it easier for people to receive treatment for their work-related chronic stress in health care settings, especially in countries whose health care providers use the ICD as a reference… which unfortunately isn’t the U.S.

Awesome bosses will take this news as a cue to better support their employees’ health in the workplace by finding ways to promote positivity, purpose, and work-life balance. After all, the WHO defines “reduced productivity” as a sign of burnout. Making these changes may be easier said than done, of course, but ultimately will benefit employers as well as employees.

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Chronic stress isn’t just a condition that afflicts working adults. A report released last week by the Economic Policy Institute and the Opportunity Institute examined the ways that chronic stress affects schoolchildren. Stress, in this case, comes from outside of the academic setting but influences how students perform and thrive in school. Students from low-income households, as well as African-American students, are especially susceptible to chronic stress since they are more likely to experience things like discrimination in or out of school, abuse, financial hardship, violence, and also are more likely to have a close family member face a serious illness or be absent due to time spent in prison; the report referred to these as “adverse childhood experiences.”

The consequences of chronic stress in terms of how it affects academic performance are devastating. In comparison to their peers who had not faced adverse childhood experiences, the report found that stressed-out students made up a 70 to 80 percent greater share of children who had below-average reading and math skills. They also were way more likely to struggle with attention issues in a classroom setting and were more likely to face health issues than their peers, most likely reflecting the way the chronic stress chips away at immune health.

The authors of the report emphasized that while teachers and counselors cannot necessarily mitigate stressors for their students outside of a school setting, there are ways to help them succeed. For one thing, school staff should receive trauma-informed training so that they have an awareness of how chronic stress manifests in the classroom; instead of disciplining children for acting out or underperforming, school staff and policy should find ways to support these students as they tackle their academic responsibilities.