In today's demanding, fast-paced world, people can potentially be working 24/7. If your work email is synced to your smart phone, it's easy to check your email on the way home from work, in the middle of the night, at your child's soccer practice.
Even if you’re not checking email, when work is stressful to you, chances are good it stays on your mind, perhaps worming its way into your sleep. The end result: you never truly get away from work.
Is there anything wrong with this preoccupation? "Of course," says Patricia Normand, MD, a psychiatrist who directs Rush University Medical Center's Mindful Life Program. "Your brain can't be on all the time. You need down time and time for yourself. If you're a workaholic, you can't be giving yourself – and perhaps your family – attention."
The effects of self-neglect can pile up: You might not have time to go shopping or prepare dinner, leaving you less healthy dining options. No time for yourself can also mean not exercising, which can lead to weight gain, which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
When you're stressed, your body pumps out stress hormones: epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. You need those hormones in acute situations, like the fabled saber-tooth tiger our ancestors fought off. But today, our stresses are frequent and multiple; yet our bodies are still putting out these acute-response chemicals that, over time, can be harmful to your body.
Although it might feel like just one more thing on your to-do list, you can get a handle on work-related stress.
Normand recommends changing jobs as a last resort. Instead, ask yourself, do you generally react to stress in this way? If you're fine outside of work, and you're able to relax, then it's likely some aspect of work may be the culprit. But it may not always be your demanding boss: It could still be you.
"Is your stress something you're putting on to work, for instance, your expectations and your hopes for this job that are causing you to get stressed out?" asks Normand. If so, consider relaxation techniques or talk therapy.
But if the answer is objectively an external source like the amount of work, your supervisor or your coworkers, then it might be time to think about another job — one that will give you the work-life balance you need to be happy and healthy.
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