Violence in America: The workplace is a breeding ground

The number of homicides and recipients of violence in the workplace is staggering and the primary cause is stress Photo: wikimedia/stuartpilbrow

WASHINGTON D.C., April 19, 2013 — “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”- Isaac Asimov.

It seems America has gone wild with violence even in what used to be an innocuous environment; the workplace. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 2 million violent acts are committed annually in the workplace and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 13, 827 homicides from 1998 to 2010.

OSHA suggests several reasons for this phenomenon:

-A general increase in tolerance of violence in society

-Easier weapon availability

-The rise in stress from unemployment, downsizing and less control in the workplace

-Substance abuse

-Psychological factors such as stress, anger or breakdown of family and community support systems

Examining stress, we learn there are two types. First, there is eustress, also called good stress. Eustress comes with events and outcomes well within your control. For example, planning a wedding or a party.

Second, there is distress, or bad stress. This is stress beyond your control, such as downsizing at work, losing your job or any event you cannot influence to a positive or acceptable outcome.

When one experiences long term chronic stress, the result can be allostatic load or a condition by which physiological changes from prolonged stress occur over time. Stress can cause elevated epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol levels. These hormones are involved in ‘fight or flight’ response, and in most cases, fight or flight are not available responses to mediate these hormones and they can build up in the body to toxic levels.

There are a myriad of health issues as a result of hormonal build up ranging from immune system dysfunction, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Hormonal build up can stem from a sense of foreboding that your job may be eliminated, uncooperative, irritating co-workers, overbearing management, long hours, and insufficient compensation.

People who feel they lack an aspect of what is termed, locus of control, seem to develop substantially prolonged, unhealthy periods of stress. Locus of control is a theory in personality psychology that describes the degree of the extent people feel they can or cannot control the events that affect their lives.

Internal locus of control defines those who feel they are in control of the events in their lives. External locus of control is the belief that decisions and life itself is controlled by environmental factors, which they cannot affect or influence. Those with poor external locus of control are prone to greater levels of stress.

The workplace is a breeding ground for losing it from stress. Employees that are disagreeable or aggravating bosses are people that cannot be avoided and can quickly become targets for those suffering from overload of stress. If you feel you are overly stressed by symptoms such as:

-Feeling sadness and helpless

-Anger, frustration, irritability and tension

-Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

-Reduced interest in usual pleasurable activities

-Consistent bad dreams


-Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach troubles back pain

-Sleep issues and crying jags

You can help yourself by getting exercise, proper sleep, eating healthier, talking to others of trust, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

If these changes do not make you feel better or alleviate symptoms, visit a mental health care professional. Chronic distress can make you psychologically and physically ill, miserable and shorten your life.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.


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