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Some of us have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet; others just don’t know how to say “no” to additional projects. In any event, there are steps you should take to protect your physical and emotional health.
Long-term work overload can cause serious health problems down the line. Working long hours or being pressed too thin not only may cause fatigue, depression, and anxiety, but can also manifest in terms of physical symptoms. When you don’t take adequate time to take care of yourself, you may wind up suffering from weight gain, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.
It’s helpful to separate people who experience work overload into two broad categories because the strategies for addressing the issue are slightly different.
Pop culture refers to these as workaholics, and in America workaholics are glorified. Being stressed or burned-out must mean that we’re accomplishing something, right? Add to that the rampant consumerism and high expectations of leading a certain lifestyle that exudes success.
Is your family telling you that they don’t have enough time with you? Are you feeling depressed, on medications, or not taking the time to exercise and eat healthily? Then take a step back and ask if this is the way you want to live your life. Reassess what’s important to you, focus on your top priorities (and they may not be work-related), and do not let the expectations of society dictate what you put your energy into.
One of the main challenges for the workaholic is that he or she believes “if I can just close this deal” or “if I can just finish this report,” all will be well again on the other side. But the truth is that there will always be another important deal or mound of paperwork. You can’t keep pushing your personal wellbeing into the future; you have to take care of yourself now. Be constantly mindful of the balance between realistic work expectations and your physical and emotional health.
This person is often the single parent with two or more jobs trying to make ends meet. Or, the self-employed entrepreneur who simply can’t turn down work for fear of it drying up in the near future. This may be your reality for a while. However, you can still do small things to help manage your overall health.
When you’re exhausted at the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to take care of yourself. All you want is to hit the drive-through for a fast-food meal. That’s why preplanning is essential. Shop for groceries, paying lots of attention to the produce, fresh meat, and dairy sections, before your workweek begins. Pre-pack your lunch the night before, if possible. Have a dinner meal plan in place for the entire week.
During your workday, take periodic breaks — even if only for five to 10 minutes at a time. Use it to close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing, or take a brisk walk around your building. These little steps can go a long way in taking some of the pressure off your day.
Good nutrition, exercise, and meditation/mindfulness techniques can all contribute to improved health and wellbeing. Next, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend a treatment of counseling or medication. And finally, pay attention to feedback from your friends and family. They may be more objective in picking up on your stress levels than you are.
Author of this article
Anthony Zabel, MD, specializes in family medicine. He is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Anson, 6866 W. Stonegate Drive, Suite 100, in Zionsville. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.768.6000.