Your job may quite literally be making you sick, whether that’s mentally, physically, or both. Sometimes when you notice the signs that your work is making you unwell, you might be able to make changes on your own to improve the situation and your health.
There are also cases where you might have to leave your job as a result.
The following are some of the most unhealthy careers, and also other things to know about your job making you sick.
Police Officers and Firefighters
Among all careers, police officers and firefighters, particularly over the age of 45, are at the most risk for job-related medical problems.
There is a myriad of reasons for this.
For example, firefighters at a high risk of developing cancer because of the toxic substances they’re exposed to. There’s something called Aqueous Film-Forming Foam or AFFF, which is used to put out liquid-based fires for example. It’s linked to several types of cancers, and AFFF health risks are simply too great to ignore.
When firefighters are battling fires, they’re also exposed to toxins in the air, which can put them at greater risk for cancer too.
Other jobs where there’s a high level of contaminant exposure include plumbing, animal control workers, and people in the oil and gas industries.
Both firefighters and police officers seem to be more likely to have certain risk factors for illnesses that are lifestyle-related. For example, an American Herat Association study found 90% of police officers and firefighters over the age of 45 were obese and 35% had high blood pressure.
People who work in the service industry also have high rates of health problems and illnesses.
This can include cleaning services, food preparation, and building maintenance. Sales workers and office support workers are similar in terms of having poor eating habits and not getting enough exercise.
Construction workers are often exposed to chemicals, particles, and fumes and many construction workers don’t wear the proper protective gear.
If you inhale dust on a job site, you’re at an increased risk of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
There are many different types of jobs in the military, and they are often considered unhealthy because of stress, personal safety risks, and exposure to toxins and contaminants.
Work Stress and Illness
It’s not just the direct health threats that can make a job dangerous.
If you have high levels of work-related stress, that can also contribute to sickness.
Stress isn’t just a mental health issue. It’s linked to many physical health conditions.
For example, physical health problems that can stem from chronic stress include high blood pressure, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome. If you already have a chronic condition, excessive stress can make it worse.
Some of the signs that you’re dealing with stress that’s making you sick at work include frequently feeling irritation and drinking alcohol or doing other unhealthy things to cope.
A lack of focus or concentration, crying, upset stomach, and breathing problems are also signs of pervasive stress that could be affecting your health.
If you can’t sleep or sleep too much, you’re experiencing weight gain or loss, or you feel unmotivated, your job could be making you sick.
When you’re stressed out, it also weakens your immune system. That makes it more likely you’ll get bacterial infections or viruses. Stress can also make it more difficult for you to recover from illnesses. Long-lasting colds are a sign of a weakened immune system.
What Can You Do?
There are various options available to you if you think your job could be making you sick, either directly or indirectly.
You have to ask yourself if the problem is so severe that you should quit and transition into a different career.
If you’re finding that your job is too physically and mentally taxing and your health is suffering, you may need to make this difficult choice.
If you can’t or don’t want to quit your job, there are other things you can do.
First, make sure that you follow all safety guidelines in your industry.
Those guidelines are there for a reason. If you’re sick because of something like toxin exposure, by wearing the proper equipment and following protocols, you may be able to reduce this.
If you’re unclear on something or training hasn’t been updated in a long time, speak to your employer.
If your employer isn’t dedicated to following safety standards, particularly in an industry with health risks, you should speak to human resources about what can be done and what your concerns are.
Your employer does have a certain level of responsibility to keep employees safe. If that’s not being done, it could become a legal liability issue.
If you aren’t going to leave your job and there aren’t necessarily procedural or safety steps that need to be taken on the part of your employer, there are still things you can do to improve your health.
Focus on building a toolbox of coping mechanisms that you can rely on when you’re feeling stressed.
For example, make it a priority to take a walk every day during your lunch break.
Set boundaries and get comfortable saying no when appropriate, and also take breaks throughout your workday.
Stop trying to multitask because that just breeds more stress and it can also make you less productive.
When you’re not at work, have a strong support system in your partner, friends, or family.
There are so many signs that your job could be making you sick. These can include high blood pressure, anxiety or depression, cognitive problems, gastrointestinal problems, or a weak immune system.
Evaluate exactly what’s triggering you to get sick from work, and then identify ways that you can either cut it out or perhaps rethink your job altogether. Think about whether you’re experiencing things at work that are more than what you mentally and physically can handle, and think about how you might be able to make a change proactively.