Too Much Work Harms Your Health & Productivity
Written by: Janet Early
We all know ‘bout the grind.
We hustle every day, whether it’s putting in overtime at a corporation, running a startup, or meeting the endless demands of managing a home.
In each scenario, it’s the same story: if you stretch yourself too thin, you’re both less productive and less healthy.
Today’s workforce is in a chronic stage of burnout. American society pressures people for quantity and duration, while ignoring the importance of quality and individual wellbeing.
The Physiology Behind “Burnout”
When the body is under a state of chronic stress from triggers like job pressure, overtime and/or insufficient sleep, it responds in a primal fashion aimed at survival.
The hormonal response to stress is a lot like the one our ancestors experienced when faced with old-school threats like running away from a tiger. When your body perceives a threat, you shift into fight or flight mode. Your body is flooded with enough energy to either fight back against the threat or flee to safety.
In this situation, the hypothalamus (command center of the brain) activates the sympathetic nervous system, which circulates adrenaline throughout the bloodstream. Next, the HPA axis prompts the release of cortisol throughout the body.
The tag-team of adrenaline and cortisol lead to:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Increased alertness
- Sharper senses
Once the perceived threat is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system calms the body down. This worked well for our ancestors if the tiger was far away, but not so much for us 2016-ers when we’re working late, keeping up with errands or sitting in traffic everyday.
Chronic Stress causes:
- Major hormonal imbalances
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Nutrient deficiency
- Reduced functionality of neurotransmitters
- Suppressed immune system
- Slower metabolism
- Poor cell regulation
- Reactive airways
- Muscle tension
According to Harvard Medical School,
“Prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression and addiction.”
There are also preliminary links between chronic stress and obesity.
Humans were designed to experience the fight or flight sensation only in dire situations, but today, we continuously operate in emergency survival mode. It’s as though we’re facing a tiger every day of our lives.
How To Prevent Burnout
- Leave at the end of the day. If you work a 9-5, leave at 5pm. Don’t stay to take on extra projects or finish something up. There will always be work. The idea that you will finish it all if you just stay a little later is an illusion that over time will hamper your wellbeing and mental clarity.
- Take breaks. Numerous research studies have validated the links between regular breaks and improved focus, creativity and energy levels. Start incorporating breaks into your work day, such as going for a walk, stretching, going out for lunch, engaging in mindful breathing or reading an article.
- Work for a company that prioritizes employee wellbeing. If you are struggling with a work-life balance, communicate the struggle to your boss. Together, maybe you can land on a positive alternative to your current workload or schedule. If there is resistance, consider work opportunities at places that understand the importance of employee wellbeing. Look for good signs like new parent time off, positive employee reviews and a generous number of paid vacation days.
- Know your limits. Enforce them. If someone keeps asking you to stay late or take on new projects, explain that you could produce better quality work in a less demanding environment. While everyone may not understand this rationale, it’s vital that you stand up for it.
- Get that stress out. When you feel your adrenaline levels rising, don’t keep working. Take an active break. Acknowledge the restless energy in your mind and expel it through movement. Take a walk, do a yoga class during lunch or stretch your body out.
“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.”
– Richard Carlson, author and Ph.D.
“Don’t just climb the ladder of success – a ladder that leads, after all, to higher and higher levels of stress and burnout – but chart a new path to success, remaking it in a way that includes not just the conventional metrics of money and power, but a third metric that includes wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving, so that the goal is not just to succeed but to thrive.”
– Arianna Huffington, author, columnist and businesswoman in Thrive
“Approximately 90% of doctor visits can be traced back to stress.”
In what ways have you successfully dealt with stressors at work? Please share below.
Janet Early is a health enthusiast living in Los Angeles and working as a researcher for a major television company. An aspiring writer, Janet discovered her passion for wholesome nutrition and natural healing while navigating the struggles of balancing food sensitivities in a modern world. In addition to nutrition, she enjoys traveling, storytelling and embarking on daily adventures.
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