When Your Job Really Makes You Sick

“It was as if the very life was being sucked out of me. The expectation was for me to give, give, give, produce, produce, produce, and I had nothing left to give. It was just entirely too much,” says Erica Benson, 33, who today works from home as the sole proprietor of A-Solution. Located in Bear, Delaware, it offers job coaching among many other professional and business services. Before that she was a compliance manager for First USA, from 2000 to 2001, a position, according to Benson, that actually required three employees. Aside from pressures at work, Benson had obligations at home to her husband and two daughters. Balancing the two had become mentally and physically burdensome.

“I was always too fatigued or busy with work when I was at home to really enjoy my family in the evening. I would rush my kids through their bath, or to bed, so that I could finish a project. I would make promises to do things with my kids, but then ended up being too tired to hold true to my promise,” acknowledges Benson. “I also noticed that I was short-tempered with my family over little things.”

According to research conducted by Peak Learning Inc., a corporate consulting firm based in California, a person faces 27 occurrences of adversity in a typical day—which is almost a 300% increase from 13 years ago. This means that on any given day, we could have to deal with a combination of many minor annoyances and/or major setbacks in the place where we spend a great deal of our time—at work. “The workplace is not as nurturing a place as it used to be,” stresses Boris Thomas, M.S.W., J.D., a psychotherapist based in Chicago with a background in labor and employment law. “It’s not secure. People are exhausted. They’re not sleeping. They’re working hard. There’s been downsizing, so they’re doing their job plus the job of another person or two people. And they’re not necessarily being financially rewarded,” he says.

In these present conditions in which many of us are now working, how does one handle the stress? Survival and success in our careers depends on how we deal with the many daily strains that threaten our physical and/or mental well-being. “It’s a rare person [who] can thrive, and flourish, and prosper in the same difficult circumstances that tend to beat most people up,” says Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., CEO of Peak Learning and author of Adversity Quotient @ Work (William Morrow; $26). These exceptional people, who have high Adversity Quotients (AQs)—estimated to be about 5% to 25% of the people in any given organization—are able to harness adversity and allow it to make them something better as a result of their struggle. “That’s not happy think. We’re not talking about painting a happy smile on your face and looking at everything as opportunity. That doesn’t change a thing. What we’re talking about is fundamentally rewiring how we respond to life’s adversities automatically,” says Stoltz.

That is where Benson struggled.