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Operational Stress

Operational stress sometimes results from a single traumatic event, but more frequently occurs after a prolonged period of repeated exposure to dangerous or tense situations in an operational environment. Situations requiring constant vigilance can also lead to operational stress reactions. In most cases, these symptoms are temporary, and people recover after a brief period of rest and recuperation.

Other sources of prolonged, work-related stress can contribute to fatigue and emotional or behavioral problems. These include:

  • Work overload or long hours
  • Frequent or unexpected TDYs
  • Conflict with supervisors or coworkers
  • New job position or career field
  • Role ambiguity or role conflict
  • Exposure to harassment
  • Unsafe job environment
  • Poor physical work conditions, for example, excessive noise or extreme temperatures
  • Inadequate training or resources
  • Frequent changes in work hours, responsibilities, or conditions
  • Fear of job loss or disciplinary action

When a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a stressor like those mentioned above, and if their distress is disproportionate to the severity or intensity of the stressor, they may manifest an adjustment disorder. In most cases, once the stressor is resolved, the symptoms go away within six months. If the stressor is resolved and symptoms persist after six months, the person may have a mental health condition other than an adjustment disorder. In some cases, when symptoms are not addressed early and effectively, an adjustment disorder can evolve into another mental health condition.

Common emotional and behavioral symptoms of an adjustment disorder include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Mixed anxiety and depressed mood
  • Disturbance of conduct
  • Mixed depressed mood or anxiety and disturbance of conduct