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Work Weighs on our Hearts

We spend A LOT of Time at Work

The average American spends 100,000 hours of their lives at work. To put it in perspective, you have 157,600 hours of live before the age of 18 years old. From 18-65 year old, you have 411,720 hours of life. You sleep for 1/3 of your life, so you have to subtract 8 hours daily. That’s 137,240. That leaves about 274,480 hours available between 18-65. If you went to a 4 year college, you can subtract that as well. 

The long and short is that you spend just under ½ of your available time between 18-65 years old at work. We LIVE at work. We give as much to work as we do to our families. Our work defines who we are. It’s one of the first questions people ask you. It’s one of the questions you are most interested in from others. We compare, we contrast, we relate, we understand all through where we work. It’s important. Have you ever considered that this really important, time consuming part of your life could be a health risk? 

Let’s start with the shocking statistic that less than 30% of Americans even like their job. We talked a little about why that might be the case in the last blog post, if you haven’t checked that out: Weight Loss Starts at Work.

If 70% of us don’t like our jobs, what does this do to our psyche. How do we feel about spending ½ of our lives doing something we don’t like or even hate? Why am I working this @$#% job? What else could I be doing? How can I better serve myself and make a living? 

Spiritual Dissonance Leads to Stress

Spiritual is everywhere these days, but still taboo at work. Yet, these are core questions you just asked yourself are spiritual in nature. When you ask them, you are asking about your purpose. When you ask them, you are asking about your life’s meaning. Now try telling me that they aren’t important. These are foundational to understanding not just your job, but what makes you tick. You can’t be happy in any job, until you have a clue about what the answers to these questions are. 

Here’s another key part of the equation. When there is dissonance between where you want to be and what you want to be doing and your reality now, you become unhappy. It’s logical to be unhappy. You wouldn’t be normal, if you weren’t. Our emotional wellness is tied to our definition of life’s purpose, our purpose and where we find meaning. If we have no meaning and HATE our jobs, then we will always be unhappy. That’s the basis for a lot of stress. We all feel it. We call it a “rough day” or “tough job.” We are feeling the burn. Even if you loved your job, you might have a “rough day,” but when every day is a rough day or more frequently than not, “Houston, we have a problem!” 

What happens to our health, when we are unhappy? We get sick. First, we feel stressed, whenever we perceive the gap between our hearts and souls and our reality. It’s really common! 73% of US adults “regularly experience psychological symptoms  caused by stress.”1 What’s really interesting about that number is that it’s nearly the same number of people who dislike their jobs. According to the American Psychological Association, the number one cause of stress in the U.S….You guessed it: “job pressure.” This is further defined as “co-worker tension, bosses, work overload.” This is the missing element to our crisis of chronic disease, which now impacts It isn’t just in our heads though folks. Stress causes us to start feeling physical symptoms right from the beginning…that’s the mind body connection. 77% of people “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.[1]

Our Jobs Weight on our Hearts

Ok, so 70% of people dislike their jobs, 73% get stressed out by their jobs. So, what does chronic stress do to our hearts? The INTERHEART study investigate the relationship between heart attacks and chronic stress in 25,000 people from 52 countries.[2] The results were that for people that reported “permanent stress” at work or at home, they were 2.1 times more likely to develop a heart attack.2

Another study from Stockholm patients presenting with an initial heart attack were “significantly more likely to have high work demands and low control.”[3] The Whitehall II Study “found a 2.15 fold increased risk of coronary heart disease in men who experienced a mismatch between effort and reward at work.”[4]

When we are unhappy we become stressed. Whether it’s our boss, lack of promotion, unreasonable demands, or low control or whether or not we have found the right job at all. When we get stressed our hearts get sick! 

Heart Disease is a HUGE Problem

Heart disease is HUGE! How huge? Here you go…

  • 11.7% of adults with heart disease[5]
  • 852,000 ER visits for non-ischemic heart disease5
  • 298,000 ER visits for ischemic heart disease5
  • #1 leading cause of death5
  • 614,348 deaths per year [6]

If we are 2 times more likely to develop a heart attack and coronary artery disease when we are stressed out and unhappy at work, then we need to start thinking about work as a potential health risk. It is! No job or unhappiness is worth having a 2 fold increased risk of heart disease. If it doesn’t kill you, it won’t make you stronger. Heart attacks that don’t kill us are often associated with heart failure, pulmonary edema, chronic shortness of breath, and fatigue. In some cases, people suffer so much that they wish they just died in the first place. 

What can we do?

  1. Time for Self-Reflection. We have to be honest with ourselves. It’s important to make a living, but we have to do something we enjoy. Start with a list of your interests. Then, add in all of the components of a perfect job: hours, location, pay, etc. Then, go hunting. 
  2. Accept that it won’t be perfect. Once we have landed on a job, we have to accept that it won’t be perfect. There will be ups and downs, but we should take comfort in knowing we are doing something we enjoy. 
  3. Demand good management. Managers are integral to a business. We have to start demanding that they treat us fairly, learn to say no, and protest when things are not good. Passivity is not a good quality when it comes to managers. We must let them know when things aren’t right. 
  4. Be willing to walk away. If things aren’t going well AND you have alerted all of the proper channels at work without success, then we must be willing to walk away. If we can’t do this, then there is no threat for change. Always, Always, Always, keep your resume crisp and keep your name in the hiring ring. 
  5. Seek out Companies that care. Money is so unimportant relative to happiness. We have all taken jobs we don’t like because they pay well. It’s time we start recognizing that this comes at a major risk to our health. 
  6. Companies Need Help Too. Recall my previous blog and the lack of demonstrable improvement with wellness programs. This happens because we companies either don’t care and their wellness program is no more than a line item on the accounting sheet or because they need help and won’t ask. Either way, it’s time that companies seek out solutions that work, because they care. 

[1] The American Institute on Stress.

[2] Rosengren A, Hawken S, Ounpuu S, et al. Association of psychosocial risk factors with risk of acute myocardial infarction in 11,119 cases and 13,646 controls from 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study. Lancet. 2004;364:953–62. 

[3] Theorell T, Tsutsumi A, Hallquist J, et al. Decision latitude, job strain, and myocardial infarction: a study of working men in Stockholm. Am J Public Health. 1998;88:382–8. 

[4] Bosma H, Peter R, Siegrist J, Marmot M. Two alternative job stress models and the risk of coronary artery disease. Am J Public Health. 1998;88:68–74. 

[5] CDC. Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey, 2015. Table P-9a, page 1 of 9. Accessed October 31st, 2017.

[6] CDC. National Center for Health Statistics. Heart Disease. Accessed October 30th, 2017.

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