A healthy life and a successful career shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Don't forget: take care of yourself and your health first.
Per the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2010, 86 percent of health care spending was for individuals with one or more chronic medical condition, and about half of all adults, or 117 million people, had one or more chronic health condition as of 2012.
In a 2006 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) survey, 72 percent of respondents said that daily work-related anxiety and stress interferes with their lives on some level, with 40 percent indicating they experience persistent anxiety and work stress daily. That same report indicated that 30 percent of those with daily stress take prescription medication to manage lack of sleep, emotional issues, stress, or nervousness, and 28 percent reported having had an anxiety attack.
Further, the American Institute of Stress reports that work is far and above the top contributor of stress in America and stress continues to impact more and more people each year. Now the question: can work stress make you sick Stress at work is a normal part of life, but prolonged stress can cause heart disease, including heart attacks and stroke, mental health problems, obesity, skin and hair conditions, and gastrointestinal problems, just to name a few ailments as provided by WebMD.
These are just a few stats and insights that highlight our overall state of health in the United States, as well as the major impact work can have on our health, indicating our need to focus on personal well-being when it comes to work, as well as life in general.
In America, our society has ingrained in us that working a nice, corporate desk job is what we should aspire to. We're climbing the corporate ladder and doing whatever it takes to get ahead without regard to how it's impacting our personal lives and health. When our list of tasks and priorities continues to pile up on our desks, instead of asking for help, we often feel the need to get the work done ourselves with fear that if we don't, it will reflect poorly on our performance and ability to do our jobs—our need to take care of our health is a lower priority than getting our work done. I get that making money and putting food on the table is important, but take it from me, when you don't have your health, you're no good for anyone, and getting work done won't be a priority, because it won't be an option until you're healthy enough to do so.
The United States' lack of required paid leave for employees doesn't help the situation, as it's the only developed country that does not mandate even a single day of vacation leave for employees. Nor does the U.S. mandate paid maternity or sick leave as other developed countries do. Some countries, such as France, require at least five weeks of vacation time for employees, a key contributor to reducing work stress.
In the United States, employees are often left to determine how to manage the need for sick leave or personal time without receiving a paycheck, and for those who do receive benefits from their company, it's typically a couple of weeks of vacation and a week or two of sick time in a calendar year. This amount of time falls short compared to what many feel they need to find balance in their life. How do we manage the increasing amount of anxiety and work stress making you sick when we don't have paid time away from work to do so?
It is possible to have a successful career while maintaining your health and work-life balance?
Though the information above might paint a grim picture, my intention is not to discourage you from pursuing your goals, dreams, and ambitions. On the contrary, I want you to have all you desire to have in your life, including a thriving career. With this type of information, my hope is that you'll be in a position to make better informed decisions about your career choices and overall well-being to be proactive vs. reactive (and therefore avoid work stress) in your life.
Having had chronic illness for the majority of my adult life, I have a deeply rooted awareness about how being out of alignment with work and life priorities can wreak havoc on your overall well-being. Yes, work stress can make you suck. Having a balance and listening to what our bodies and emotions are telling us as it relates to work, and our lives in general, is a must if we are to live a healthy and happy life.
The good news is, it is possible to have a meaningful career and maintain your health. At the end of the day, we have to create the circumstances to support our own well-being. As difficult as it might seem, it is possible. People do it all the time. The earlier we begin taking steps towards supporting our health and work-life balance, the easier it is to maintain and prioritize over the course of our careers.
How can you maintain your health and improve your life as it relates to work?
Find work or a culture that you enjoy.
If you are getting up every morning with dread about going to work, it will eventually impact your overall well-being. Evaluate what's not working for you to see if it's within your control to make things better at work. If not, it might be time to find a different company or line of work altogether. It might even mean you go from that nice office job to working for a non-profit or working as a barista at your favorite coffee shop. There are tons of options out there for work and income, so think outside the box and don't limit yourself from considering the numerous opportunities that could be waiting for you.
Ask for what you need.
If your managers and supervisors don't know what you need, they can't help you. In the 2006 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) survey noted earlier, 60 percent of respondents said they wouldn't talk to their employer about work-induced stress and anxiety due to fear of repercussions, so you're not alone if you're concerned about discussing your needs with your employer. At the same time, your health is important, and you shouldn't feel bad or fearful about asking for some guidance or support to complete your work while also supporting your health, especially if work stress is making you sick.
Trust your instincts and intuition.
We were born with an internal guidance system—our instincts and intuition—that we are often taught to detach from over time. When you have a "gut feeling" that something isn't right for you, or you keep getting a sense that you should be making different decisions, don't ignore it. Give yourself some time to evaluate if what you're sensing is true for you, and make decisions based on your evaluation. If something doesn't feel right for you, it probably isn't, and vice versa.
Listen to your body and emotions.
If you begin to get sick frequently, experience constant pain or headaches, develop a chronic illness, or feel depressed, sad, or emotionally out of balance, listen to your body. It is one of the best indicators that you might need to make some lifestyle changes, which includes taking an honest evaluation of your work situation to determine if you need to make some changes there, as well. It could be as simple as choosing not to take your job so seriously (and yes, I know that such a request is much easier said than done!).
Reconsider the corporate ladder.
It's no secret that climbing the corporate ladder to management level comes with sacrifices, including longer hours, more responsibility, and to some, a lot more stress at work. It's OK to choose not to climb the corporate ladder to support your health and well-being, if that's what feels best to you.
Write down your priorities.
It can help to keep a list of priorities in front of you. It could be work, family, or traveling. We're all different. Keeping the list in a place where you frequently see it can help to remind you of what's most important to you when you lose focus in your work or something else that's causing you to feel out of balance. Oh, and please make sure health is at the top of that list!
Leading a healthy life and a having a successful career need not be mutually exclusive, and I hope they aren't for you. Take care of yourself first, and you'll be in a better position to avoid work stress and be of service at work and for those you care about for a long time to come.
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