Stress – It’s Killing Us

Stress.

We talk about it, but we underestimate its toll – every day – on our lives and our health and our well-being.

It’s a huge toll.

It’s killing us.

Especially at the workplace.

Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of the book “Dying for a Paycheck,” sat down with Dylan Walsh, Stanford Graduate School of Business Insights, to discuss this topic(See https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/workplace-killing-people-nobody-cares).

In summary:

Workplace -> Stress -> Chronic Disease -> Large portion of deaths in the U.S.

A little more detail for the above outline:

  • Research supports that the workplace is the biggest source of stress.
  • Research supports that stress is a significant driver of chronic disease – heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and more.
  • Chronic disease represents as much as 75% of the disease burden in the U.S.

Dr. Pfeffer pulls no punches, and he is very direct. He doesn’t offer immediate hope, and he downplays an employee’s choice to leave a stressful work situation. He focuses on outcomes: disease, people leaving jobs, leaving marriages, experiencing upheaval within families … even the new term “social pollution,” coined by Nuria Chinchilla (IESE Business School), to describe unhealthy practices such as long work hours.

It’s a bleak outlook for the near future, with Dr. Pfeffer offering advice for longer-term solutions that will take years for corporations to achieve. Turning around a big ship takes time when we’re talking about truly giving workers more control, changing organizational culture, measuring health and well being in new and more targeted ways. And more.

I don’t disagree with Dr. Pfeffer. I do believe, however, it’s a matter of perspective and focus. And timing.

It’s wise to pursue large organizational changes in how we work, and frankly, it’s essential for our sustainability – as individuals and as corporations. That work should begin and it should continue.

But if we minimize the positive, real effects of individuals taking charge of their health and their futures, we’re putting our heads in the sand. It means we’re waiting for leaders and policies to change, and meanwhile, social pollution creates situations that are untenable.

While we’re waiting for organizations to change for the better, we’ll still have horrific outcomes. And if we keep focusing on outcomes, it’s like receiving a late-stage cancer diagnosis. The damage is done. Yes, there’s a place for reporting the shocking statistical outcomes of workplace-induced stress. And there’s also a place for taking control.

If work is a major stressor for you, stop the bleeding first – try to do most of these (for best impact), or at least some of them:

  • Go to your doctor and get a complete physical. Discuss all your medical metrics with your doctor and follow his/her recommendations.
  • Develop a lifestyle plan for healthy living – keep checking with us at Doctor of Living for how our educational offerings can help you with that.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, or at least most nights.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your stress level at work and ask them for suggestions.
  • Find a meditation program that works for you – even just a few minutes a day will help. Ask around. You’ll be surprised how many people meditate regularly.
  • Establish and maintain work-life boundaries for time-of-day. If you cross the boundaries, keep it brief.
  • Make fresh, whole foods a large part of what you eat. Plan meals in advance and take healthy snacks or lunch to work to minimize fast food distractions.
  • Get outside, take a walk – suggest a walking meeting with a colleague.
  • Do something you love… have fun!

These are more than band-aid measures. These stop-the-bleeding actions are a pressure-relief valve on your stress-response emotions. They literally free up cognitive resources – you’ll be able to think better.

And when you’re thinking better, you can evaluate your situation better. Chances are, your thinking will be even clearer with continued conversations with that person you talked with about stress. Identify the sources of workplace stress, and you’ll gain insight into why you’re reacting with a stress response.

When you have that knowledge, your stress is already decreasing. You don’t feel as overwhelmed. You feel more in control. And this lowered stress response? It means that whatever effect the stress had on you before (hypertension, etc.), that effect is decreasing.

Then you have a few choices. As you tackle these, it’s likely that chronic disease impact will continue to decrease:

  1. In what ways can you actively work within stressful work situations to reduce the reason they are stressful? What changes will this require for you? Are you ready to start?
  2. In what ways can you adapt – in a healthy way – to stressful work situations that won’t change? What changes will this require for you? Are you ready to start?
  3. Is it time to consider finding a different job? What will you need to do? Are you ready to start?

Note that you might choose more than one of these paths. You may choose to adapt to a stressful schedule for a period of time, while actively working to improve a challenging relationship with a colleague.

This is not easy. It’s difficult. But you can do it.

And if you use the sequence described above, your chances for success are better:

You’re so worth it. Your health and your life are worth the work you invest in reducing your stress level. You can do it!

Image citations: Pexels

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