What Is Stress Leave? Learn How To Request It Like a Pro

Last night, you were tired, and you finally decided to turn off the light/ stop binge-watching on Netflix/ close the book. It's just that neither silence nor darkness can stop your thoughts and inner voices: “Will I deliver the project on time? I didn't complete the task! There is so much to do! I didn't have time to look at the subject! Will I ever learn how to do that?” 

So, this morning you pressed the snooze button. ”Just ten more minutes!” you said. But somehow, you woke up in 30 minutes. You panic, knowing that you have to prepare very quickly; you even realize that if you are not ready in a minute, you will definitely be late. Welcome to the world of stress.

Being late (again) at work when you have an important meeting first thing in the morning is one of the most common examples that can happen daily. You can ask every person you know what stress means, and you will see that everyone perceives it differently, and no one has a precise definition. Why? Mainly because each of us reacts differently to stressful situations. But, certainly, each of us must identify the cause of stress and not consider that examples like the one above can not be harmful if it happens daily for long periods.

Table of Contents:

  • Steps on how to get a stress leave from work
  • What is stress?
  • Types of stress
  • Leading causes of work-related stress
  • What is stress leave?
  • When do employees apply for stress leave?

What is stress leave?

Stress leave is a sort of medical leave of absence that employees can take if they are suffering from the physical and/or psychological impacts of stress, anxiety, or clinical depression.

Stress leave is required when the situation is so serious it can’t be fixed by a few days’ break or a short vacation. Some of the signs that may require stress leave include:

  • Inability to perform your duties
  • Stress levels affect your ability to work effectively
  • Work-related stress affecting your personal life or home
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety, as confirmed by your doctor.

Stress leave is a type of leave of absence employees can take to cope with stress-related issues. Note that “stress leave” falls under the umbrella of “sick leave.”

How to request stress leave from work?

Feel like you're sinking fast? If you're contemplating a "stress leave" from work, then the chances are high that the psychological demands of your life are fast exceeding your ability to cope. 

If you're suffering mental health challenges, set aside any shame - you are not alone. More than one in five Americans experience a mental illness during any given year. Take care of your psychological needs with a reprieve from a stressful job if you need one. Focus on taking care of yourself.

Below are the steps you need to take to file for a stress leave at work successfully: 

Step 1: Make an Appointment With Your Healthcare Provider

Many employees procrastinate seeing their doctor. Don’t be one of them. Waiting until your stress escalates could affect your ability to recover. So, if you think you are experiencing symptoms that may require a stress leave, then go and book an appointment with your clinical psychologist, social worker, counselor, psychiatrist, or family doctor. Your role is to describe your symptoms honestly. The diagnosis is up to them.

During the consultation, don’t hold back on what you are feeling. Stating exactly your feeling will help the healthcare provider make the right diagnosis and provide recommendations for your recovery.

Step 2: Get your healthcare provider’s note for stress leave

Many feel uneasy about asking their doctor for a note for your time off request. You shouldn’t. Remember that your doctor is here to help you. They have the experience and training to deal with situations like this. 

Be upfront about your stressors and how your work environment affects your mental and physical health (including migraines, tension headaches, worsening of any autoimmune conditions, etc.). Also, let them know what makes your symptoms better (including coping efforts, medications, or therapies you've tried) or worse (drug,  alcohol, or food abuse, risky behavior, and thoughts of self-harm).

Step 3: Inform your employer

By this time, you should have a note from your doctor stating that you qualify for a stress leave at work. How will you tell your employer? Many employees don’t feel comfortable explaining to their employers why they need some time off work. Remember that stress leave is a very common situation in the workplace. And chances are, it’s not your employer’s first time dealing with it. 

Many employees find it easier to speak with a close friend or family member first as it helps them to verbalize what they are feeling.

Don’t feel intimidated when talking to your manager, face to face. Your wellbeing is much more important than work. After explaining your situation, discuss with your employer the amount of time you need for time off and the sick leave note from your doctor.

Step 4: Focus on yourself and your recovery

Now that your stress leave is approved, it’s time to talk about recovery so you can get back to health in no time. Below are some of our tips:

Disconnecting from work – avoid answering work emails and phone calls whilst on sick leave. Remember that this is a period of recovery, so keep your work-related communications to a minimum (preferably to occasional updates about your condition to your boss).

Address the root cause of your stress – is it the lack of sleep? The absence of entertainment? Whatever your problem is, it is best to identify the root cause and then resolve them. 

Take care of your body – stress can affect you physically. While you are on stress leave, take good care of your body. Exercise lightly, take long walks, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water, and eat nutritious foods.

Be patient – it took time for severe stress to set in, it takes time to cure it. You might feel that you’re never going to live a normal life again. But just be patient. You will eventually recover, but there is no guarantee as to when. 

Step 5: Retrieving your job 

Returning to work after a stress leave can be an overwhelming experience. It’s easier to ease back into things, and start working a few hours a week, then move on to a few half days. As you’re getting back into the swing of things, you can also try working remotely. You can find on our website a request letter for work from home to send to your boss.

Monitor your feelings and make adjustments as necessary. Work closely with your doctor and employer during this period of transition.

Step 6: Managing stress at work

Again, stress at work is inevitable. Because prevention is better than curing it after the fact, we’ll talk about how you can minimize the amount of stress you feel at work:

Ask your employer to reduce your current workload by temporarily reallocating tasks you find stressful, switching to a less demanding position, or reducing your work hours.

Change your lifestyle by exercising, meditating, improving your diet, reducing the time you spend with electronic devices, avoiding toxic relationships, etc.

Working from home, as previously mentioned, can be a great way to mediate work stress by helping regulate your environment. Acknowledge that you will have rough days. Not everything will go according to plan. Just take a step back, relax, and accept things as they are.

What is stress?

Job stress is represented by the emotional and psychological response that occurs when the job requirements do not match the needs and capacity of the employee.

According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), a UK government agency responsible for workplace health,  stress is 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.’

The HSE report from 2020 demonstrates the scale of stress-related absence in the UK. It reports that the total number of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety cases in 2019/ 2020 was 828,000, a prevalence rate of 2,440 per 100,000 workers. Such numbers were statistically significantly higher than in the previous period.

In 2019/20, stress, depression, or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

The main factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression, or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support.

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. 

Types of stress

Everyone suffers from stress at times, and everyone experiences it in their way. Mental health is not negotiable. If you feel symptoms of stress, do something about it. Burnout is a real phenomenon, and sometimes there’s no way to get out from under a mountain of work other than taking stress leave.

Based on the manifestations, stress can be:

A. Physical Stress

One of the most common types of stress is physical stress, which refers to the exhaustion of the body. In connection with work, physical stress can occur, for example, in the case of people who travel a lot. Sleep disturbance will occur most of the time, which leads to the inability to work and a weakened immune system.

Consider that even the days when you work a lot, standing up, moving here and there, will cause you physical stress. 

B. Emotional Stress

Emotional stress occurs as a result of significant events in a person's life. Although most of these events happen in personal life (divorce, death, or others), they affect work. This type of stress will make the employee feel irritated, nervous, anxious, and it manifests similarly to depression.

C. Traumatic Stress

The traumas in a person's life are certainly a significant cause of stress. Similar to emotional stress, trauma most often occurs in personal life. But even during working hours, tragedies can happen - accidents at work, car accidents, or others and eventually, stress will take its toll.

D. Chronic and Acute Stress 

Chronic stress manifests daily, for more extended periods, while acute stress occurs only for a short period. Acute stress is usually caused by work-related stressors (i.e. workplace conflicts, meetings, and overworking).

The main causes of work-related stress

Management consultant Dr. Karl Albrecht described the most common stress causes in his 1979 book Stress and the Manager. According to Albrecht, the first step to overcoming stress is understanding stress. That enables the manager to work more productively, build better relationships and live healthier. 

The foundation comes from the following 4 Types of Stress:

Time stress

Time stress is the best-known form of stress in a modern, fast and demanding work environment. Often, projects and tasks have deadlines. People are worried about lack of time. They will feel trapped in time, which will make them unhappy. Especially managers feel that they are responsible for this. Trying to get the task finished in time or rushing to make the deadline can have a negative effect on the final quality because tasks are being rushed.

Sometimes, additional resources are necessary to meet the deadline. Checking these further details or pushing the deadline can all-cause time stress, and that is why good time management is vital to reduce stress.

Anticipatory stress

Anticipatory stress, also called future stress, occurs when people worry about events that still have to happen. Its causes include uncertainty about future events and their responsibility or both.

This stress can be very frustrating, mostly because people have no control over it. Sometimes, this stress can be related to a specific event, like giving a presentation. It can be accompanied by a vague feeling: ”What if something goes wrong?”

A lack of self-confidence can also cause anticipatory stress. By addressing personal fears directly, the stress will diminish.

Situational stress 

People experience situational stress during tense situations over which they have no control. This can happen, for instance, in emergencies when making major mistakes or during conflict situations. This stress results in a feeling of powerlessness and lack of motivation. Like there is no easy solution.

Compared to the other forms of stress, people are least prepared for this kind of stress. That is why it is essential to gain complete control over your own emotions, communicate well with others, and find the right solutions. 

Encounter stress

This encounter/ meeting stress is experienced when someone is worried about interacting with a particular individual or group of people—for instance, anxiety about meeting a boss with a dominant personality.

This stress can also occur when someone’s job involves a lot of personal interactions. Examples would be doctors, account managers, or social workers. They have to be on their toes all the time because they constantly deal with different people. Encounter stress can also occur when regularly communicating with unpredictable, dissatisfied, or unfriendly customers, patients, or colleagues.

When do employees apply for stress leave?

The causes when employees request stress leave are diverse, however, they can be categorized as follows:

#1. Lack of work-life balance

Emails, phone calls, and texts all disrupt the work-life balance. Checking emails from work first thing in the morning and before you sleep at night isn’t unusual but is not helpful if you strive for a balanced, healthy life. 

Especially since the pandemic started and working from home has become the new normal, the limits between work and personal life have faded, and the stress levels are sky-rocketing.

#2. Too heavy of a workload

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and unhappy when you have too many things to do. The pressure of maintaining good performance at work, and the inability to say no to a colleague or boss, is a trigger for stress.

#3. In-office issues

Harassment, a weak leader, little to no company culture, lack of a healthy feedback policy are just some of the many conflicts that exist in the workplace. Most of the time, our morale at work depends on the people we are dealing with. If you constantly deal with toxic individuals, then chances go up that you’ll be increasingly stressed. If such stress continues, your business might also encounter people quitting your company, decreasing employee retention levels.


Put yourself first, not your job. Remember that at the end of the day, it is the quality of your life that matters first. Stress leave is a crucial recovery period designed to help you maintain your physical and mental health.

How you spend your stress-based medical leave of absence is up to you. My advice to you: stay away from work! You can rest, exercise, pursue hobbies that relax you, catch up with friends and family, learn better coping and relaxation strategies, and focus on improving your wellbeing.

During your leave, sincerely explore whether your current job provides the work environment that best suits you and your skill-set. If the answer is no, then it's the ideal time to retool your resume, update your LinkedIn profile, and get a head start on your job search. 

While the point of your leave of absence is to return you to work, it doesn't necessarily have to be to a job that causes you ill health. Sometimes when we face stress we need to change ourselves. At other times, we need to change our environments. 

Do what is required to take care of yourself. Love yourself first!

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