Does feeling vibrant and healthy, with a great work-life balance, feel like an unrealistic fantasy? Corporate jobs can be very intense, with diverse and competing demands on us. We put internal pressure on ourselves to do our best and to do more. Challenges are good and stretching ourselves is healthy – unless we are overstretched for prolonged periods of time. Overstretching can become a habit, it can seem like the norm – and that’s a dangerous thing. Prolonged stress is the primary cause of deteriorating health and of illness. So what must you do to avoid that slippery slope, or to do an about turn if you are already on it?
Number One – look out for the signs. That may not be as obvious as it sounds. Stress manifests in different ways for us all. It is a collection of behavioral and physical symptoms. Some of them you may not recognize as important indicators that you are off balance, perhaps thinking ‘that’s just the way life is’, ‘that’s just the way I am,’ or ‘isn’t that just normal’.
Before I share the symptoms with you, let’s look at action Number Two – acknowledge where you are. As you read the list, honestly assess (a) how many of them you are impacted by and (b) how often. Are they occasional, frequent, or near constant occurrences?
- As a health/stress indicator first look at your energy levels and sleep patterns – are you regularly fatigued, is your sleep disturbed or do you suffer from insomnia?
- How is your appetite? Have you been overeating, or experiencing a loss of appetite? Is your digestion out of balance, resulting in constipation or diarrhea? Your gut health is a key indicator of your overall health and state of wellbeing. Common colds and flu also show that your immune system is down.
- Looking more at your physical health – do you get tension headaches, migraines, have aching neck and shoulders, lower back pain, suffer from menstrual distress, or have high blood pressure?
- How moody are you? Have you become irritable or impatient with colleagues? Have you had inappropriate outbursts of anger or hostility? Do you brood for prolonged periods? Do you get depressed? Do you have a lot of worrying thoughts? Do you worry excessively, especially about trivia?
- Looking at other behavioral symptoms, are you working late or more obsessively than usual? Do you have difficulty making decisions, large or small?
- When we are overloaded and stressed we are not as present. Have you been having minor accidents? Do you get confused or forgetful about dates, places, times, or other details?
- Finally has there been a sudden increase in your drinking or smoking habits?
That’s quite a big list I’ve shared and it’s by no means exhaustive. In isolation many of these may seem minor, however, each one is a sign that you are off balance. The more signs there are telling you that your wellbeing is out of whack, the more you need to take notice. As the saying goes, ‘health is wealth’. Consider a time when you have felt sick, with a cold or a stomach bug for example. Recall how much you craved feeling better. We all know that being ill (short or long term) is undesirable, yet how often do you sacrifice your wellbeing for your work?
So the next action, Number Three – change your priorities. Nothing is going to change unless you do.
What are the biggest causes of your stress symptoms? Step back and look at the bigger picture.
Are you putting too much pressure on yourself with unrealistic expectations? How much of the pressure is coming from others? If your health is being impacted that’s when you need to speak up. I’ve been there and had to have that conversation. Although it felt daunting at the time to initiate that conversation, the results had a huge positive impact on my life so it was really worth it. You may be surprised by how supportive others are when they know you are willing to explore other solutions but are not willing to put your health at risk. If they are not supportive, quite frankly, that’s a red flag. No job is worth your health, so it may be time to look elsewhere.
Changing your priorities may only require some simple changes such as getting out of the office at lunchtime, learning simple mindfulness techniques, going to yoga once a week, cutting down on refined sugar, getting regular massages or acupuncture, an occasional digital detox and early night, or scheduling catch-ups with friends who make you laugh!
In a nutshell, my recommendations are to be aware of your stress symptoms, address the root cause, and do more things that make you feel healthy, happy and vibrant!
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