Help, my job is making me sick! Four simple ways to beat stress before it impacts your life
Not feeling well? That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach could be caused by the flu or it could be caused by your job. Sounds a little funny but this really is no joking matter. The amount of stress caused by the pressures of work can lead to health problems that could prove irreversible if not treated; and if changes in your lifestyle aren't made, the effects could become permanent.
According to an article on webmd.com, stress can affect you physically by causing headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pains, and even sleeping problems. Stress can exacerbate existing health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Stress can especially weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to common conditions such as colds and influenza.
Ignoring the Obvious
I happen to be a walking billboard for complications caused by stress. After years of ignoring the signs, my blood pressure became elevated and I was teetering on hypertension, my acne worsened, I gained weight, my hair thinned out, and I developed uncontrollable muscle movements in my forearm and face that would come and go. But the work on my plate never decreased and expectations continued to escalate. So I did what most ambitious professionals do—I continued to push through, putting in 10– to 12-hour days and working on weekends, while rarely taking a day off. Weeks turned into months, months turned into years, and the pressure never let up. And many of my colleagues were facing similar problems. Having worked with some people for 15 years, we had grown older together, but not necessarily wiser. Yet, we were finally coming to the realization that due to the high levels of stress that we had endured over the past decade, we were now faced with hypertension, diabetes, blood clots, nerve damage, obesity, and let’s not forget the premature onslaught of grey hairs and wrinkles encroaching on our personal landscapes.
We were all guilty of ignoring the signs because there was simply too much work and so little time to get it all done. We made sacrifices—fewer vacation days taken, less time spent with family, working nights and weekends—and I’m sure many of you are personally familiar with this scenario. Looking back now, we wondered whether these sacrifices were worth the health risks associated with them. And burnout, at least for me, was becoming more than just a possibility, it was staring me right in the face!
Relief from the Pressure-Cooker
Many of us work in high-pressure jobs that don’t allow us to take random days off when the pressure is mounting. If you’re anything like me, you’re ignoring the signs of when you need a break from the hectic and somewhat-organized chaos of your workplace. Even if you can’t free yourself regularly from the bondage we all know as our bread and butter, there are some activities you can add to your day that eventually might help relieve some of that pressure and make you a happier and healthier person.
ONE: Buy a coloring book and some crayons and keep them in your desk at work. Did she just say that? Yes, I did. Right now, adult coloring books are all the rage. So if you’re Type A, you probably don’t take lunch, but you can block out 15 minutes to devote solely to a fun and mindless activity. Maybe this sounds weird to some of you or just flat out childish, but that’s the point! Thinking back to your childhood, wasn’t it fun to spend hours drawing or coloring, whether inside or outside the lines? And even if you aren’t good at it, coloring or even doodling is really a great stress reliever, and it’s less expensive than therapy! I started doing this once or twice a week at work. I would shut my office door, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and color for 15 minutes. It helped me get through the week and gave me a chance to clear my head. I even felt more productive after taking that selfish break. Try it for just 15 minutes, and I bet it’ll make you feel better.
TWO: Get off your butt! Seriously, if you have a job that involves sitting for long periods of time, you can’t afford to succumb to its sedentariness or you will notice changes in your butt and waist, and not for the better. Buy yourself a kitchen timer or use your smartphone’s alarm clock to alert you every two hours. That sound is your reminder to leave your chair and walk up and down the back stairs, or around the block, whichever is more convenient for you. Keep a pair of sneakers in your closet or drawer for convenience. Or close your office door, kick off your shoes, and hit the floor for some good old-fashioned stretching. These activities help with your circulation, which is impacted by the length of time you remain in a seated position. Many of us spend more time at work than at home, so force yourself to squeeze in some exercise. Keep it simple to avoid having an excuse not to do it.
THREE: The adage, laughter is the best medicine, is true. Find a way to add humor to your day—buy a joke book and spend 10 minutes reading a few pages; or take a page from my book: go on You Tube and watch old clips of Saturday Night Live. My favorite one is “Schweddy balls” with Alec Baldwin. Good times.
FOUR: Music soothes the savage beast. Seriously, it does. I now listen to my favorite CD or satellite station while I'm driving instead of listening to the traffic and news station, which, unfortunately, has been my ritual for 15 years. I finally realized that traffic jams are out of my control, so listening to a traffic station for 90 minutes isn’t going to change the conditions on the highway. I’m either going to be in a jam or not. So I now listen to music, and it really helps bring calmness and clarity to an otherwise chaotic and stressful situation. I've gone from always being one moment away from declaring war on the driver who just cut in front of me to being a more mellow and tolerant person while jamming to my favorite songs. And when I feel the stress building, I turn up the volume and start singing along! I also keep earbuds at work and I take a few moments to shut out the world. I don't always have time to do this, but I make sure I'm prepared just in case an opportunity presents itself. As an introvert, these quiet moments provide fuel for my soul at critical times.
The key takeaway in this article is to reclaim control of your life by minimizing the impact stress has on it, even in small doses. Remember, your employer doesn’t depend solely on you to stay in business, so if your health deteriorates, only you and your family will suffer from your inaction and apathy. Ambition and money aside, without good health, nothing else really matters.