Stressful Work Lives are Killing us – The New Norm is a Toxic Work Culture
The normal 9-5 schedule is no longer the norm. The norm is now to get into the office early, stay late, and be available 24/7 digitally via email and/or text. This is expected if you want to move up within the company and show your superior how much you care about the job.
This is simply wrong. We were not meant to live to work, but to work to live. This increasingly demanding work culture is toxic to our physical bodies, to our mental health, and our overall emotional state of being. Why? These increasingly demanding work lives are causing us to feel constantly stressed.
What’s the Harm?
We are working more than ever, especially those of us who do not actually track our working hours, such as salaried individuals. As human beings, we were not meant to work these long chaotic hours with little to no time to enjoy life and leisure.
The harm is stress.
Stress is not a bad thing. The problem is in today’s culture we are constantly stressed. So, what is stress? This is the body’s natural flight or fight response which is a physical response that is triggered by your central nervous system by the hypothalamus in the brain which tells our adrenal glands to release a mix of hormones and chemicals. These include, but are not limited to; adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. When in actual danger these are very good things to be released as they may help us physically run away or fight off predators. Our ancestors would experience this feeling when they were in actual danger from a predator and needed to make the decision to “fight or flight”.
However, science has shown that in modern-day US culture we experience this physical stress response (fight or flight) response many times a day and for long periods. This is completely unnatural. In fact, when we experience this stress response in inappropriate situations blood flow is constricted in certain areas of the body and increased in essential fight and flight muscles such as the heart. Bodily functions like digestion are therefore decreased (shut down) while experiencing stress, physically the body is determining them unnecessary in a state of stress. In a normally stressful situation such as being face to face with a predator, this response will discontinue and go back to normal. However, with many of us being in a constant state of stress these physical responses do not discontinue as the stressor (the fear) never goes away.
In working long hours and essentially being connected to our jobs constantly we are more stressed out than ever. This constant state of stress is poisoning us.
Side Effects of Being in a State of Constant Stress:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Overeating or not eating enough
- Excessive drinking
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of sleep or poor sleep
- Depressed immune system – meaning you are getting sick more frequently and with possibly more severe symptoms
- Depression and anxiety
- Acne and other skin conditions
- Loss of hair (this is one I personally experience when I am stressed out)
- Lethargy and lack of energy
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased blood sugar
- Decreased libido
- Digestive issues
- Tense muscles
- Missed or irregular menstrual cycles
- Fertility problems
- Erectile dysfunction
What’s the Solution?
I wish I had a good answer as I am fully aware that not everyone can simply decide to leave their job. In fact, that is not an option for most of us. The problem is employers need to wake up and realize these unrealistic work expectations are leading to unproductive employees, unhappy employees, high-stress levels, and overall low drive and enthusiasm to actually want to perform at an optimum level at work.
So, if you can’t simply decide to work less what do you do? Here are some tips that you can implement to help decrease your stress levels:
- Set boundaries – Make it clear after 5 pm, for example, you are no longer available and will not check emails until the next business day. Also be sure to make it clear that your days off are your days off – meaning you will not answer any work-related messages until the next business day.
- Get outside – If you must work long hours take advantage of getting outside during your lunch break. If possible go to a local park and walk barefoot in the grass. This direct connection to nature can have some amazing health benefits on your emotional and mental health.
- Meditate – Make it a priority to meditate for at least 15 minutes every day. If you don’t have 15 minutes to meditate, then you should meditate for 20 minutes.
- Hobbies – If you don’t already have a hobby find something you truly love to do and allow yourself to enjoy time to do it.
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