Self Care

Is Your Job Killing You? How To Take Care of Your Health While Balancing the Demands of Your Job

Is Your Job Harming Your Health?

Is Your Job Harming Your Health?

After putting in three years of 50-60 hour weeks at my job, along with an hour long commute each way, I found that I had gained 25 pounds, my blood pressure had skyrocketed, I wasn't sleeping well, and my stress levels were through the roof.  I was eating on the run most of the time.  I was missing out on family activities and reconnect time with my hubby.  And I had forgotten what exercise was.  I felt like I was constantly in firefighting mode:  putting out everyone else's fires except my own, which was raging out of control.  I wasn't taking care of myself.  I came to the conclusion that my job was killing me.  Killing me slowly, but killing me nonetheless.

Do you work long hours and feel that your work is negatively impacting your eating habits, physical activity, sleep, stress levels and overall health?  You're not alone, and you're not wrong.  

Studies have shown that women who work long hours do, in fact, face a raft of negative health consequences.

One study conducted by researchers from The Ohio State University and Mayo Clinic tracked the work and health histories of 7,492 men and women over the course of 32 years.  This study found that women who worked long workweeks experienced much higher health risks than men.  Women who worked 60 or more hours per week over the course of three decades tripled their risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.  Women who worked 51 to 60 hours per weeks also had a higher risk of high blood pressure and asthma.  (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth)

Another study of 7,065 Canadians tracked over 12 years found that women who worked more than 45 hours per week had a 63% greater risk of diabetes than those women who worked 35-40 hours per week. (BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care)

A 2010 study by the European Society of Cardiology found that working 3 or more hours over a 7 hour workday increased the risk of  heart disease, nonfatal heart attack, and angina by 60%.  A subsequent 2017 study found a correlation between long working hours and an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia, which can contribute to stroke, heart failure, and stroke-related dementia.

Other health risks that can be experienced by women working long hours and demanding jobs include musculoskeletal disorders (especially for women working in manufacturing and assembly) and mental health issues including stress, anxiety, and depression.

In addition to our work, we women often engage in significant "unpaid labor", such as chores, childcare for our own children and grandchildren, and caregiving for spouses, elderly parents, or other relatives.

Demanding schedules and the costs of health care place many women at risk for delays in receiving their own health care. Caregivers, working mothers, and single mothers shoulder additional responsibilities that can make it harder for them to meet their personal healthcare needs.

Kaiser Family Foundation

With long work hours, long commutes, and family responsibilities, we have less time for self care, we eat what we can when we can, we put off exercising, we experience significant stress, and we lose sleep due to stress and higher rates of insomnia in midlife.

The risks of working long hours are clear, but there are ways to gain balance between the demands of your job and your health.  More employers are recognizing the importance of work-life balance and they are creating wellness plans for their employees.  

When I figured out that my job was negatively affecting my health, I knew something had to change.  Here are some strategies you can use to improve your health while balancing the demands of your job:

Eat Healthier

One of the perils of working long hours is eating out, eating fast food, and eating on the run.  Making the decision to substitute healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, can improve our health.  You can begin to make changes by packing a healthy lunch, bringing healthy snacks to work, and meal prepping healthy dinners for the week.  (If you need help learning to add more fruits and vegetables into your diet, join the Bunny Trail Challenge.)

Exercise - Schedule a regular exercise time

Treat your exercise time as an important meeting on your schedule.  You wouldn't skip out on that important meeting, so don't skip out on your exercise time.  Just 30 minutes a day is all you need for walking, biking, jogging, swimming, body weight exercises, or some other physical activity that you enjoy and can commit to.  Schedule a time of day when you have no other obligations (I find early morning is the best time for me.)


Set Aside Time for Self Care

I know time is hard to come by, but if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of the other important responsibilities in your life.  You have to make yourself a priority.  Self care is your pampering time, the time you use to make yourself feel valuable and cared for.  Don't willingly give this time up!

Schedule regular check ups and request the days off well in advance

When you visit your doctor regularly for well woman checkups, you will establish a baseline of your health markers so that if something goes off trend, your doctor can catch it early.  If you can catch a potential health problem early, you have a better chance of treating it before it becomes serious.  In addition, your physician can be a valuable partner in your plan to improve your overall health and wellness.  Don't miss those checkups!  Put them on your calendar and request the days off so you don't forget when life gets hectic.

Discuss with your employer if schedule flexibility is an option

Some employers are beginning to offer flexible work schedules and work-from-home arrangements.  Employers and employees are finding that such schedules can improve productivity while increasing employee satisfaction.  If your employer is open to the idea and you feel a more flexible schedule would improve your health, ask if this would be an option for you.

Set Limits on your work availability

If you find yourself answering work emails and texts at all hours of the day or night, and that this availability is increasing your stress and decreasing your emotional engagement with the important people in your life, it's time to set some limits.  Notify your manager and your co-workers the hours you will be available and then stick to the limits.  Create a clear dividing line between work and personal time.  Just because you are answering all those texts and emails after hours doesn't mean you are more productive.  Most of those communications are not true emergencies and can be dealt with during your normal working hours.

Cut back on hours

If you are consistently working over 45 to 50 hours a week, consider if you can cut back.  If your employer requires mandatory overtime, this may not be an option, but if the extra time is not mandatory, consider rescheduling your day or delegating tasks so that you are able to work fewer hours at least some weeks.

Go to bed earlier

Getting adequate sleep is extremely important both for your health and to manage stress.  Schedule your bedtime so that you can get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  Many people find that going to bed earlier and getting up earlier in the morning helps them to feel more energetic and calm the next day.

Stand up and walk around frequently

Don't be a victim of sitting disease.  If you work a desk job, it's easy to sit for several hours without moving around.  Set an alarm on your watch or on your desk so that you get up and walk around the office every hour.  And consider walking meetings or a lunch time walk to get in those extra steps.

Desk Exercises

Speaking of sitting at the desk, adding a few desk exercises throughout the day can help to improve your strength and mobility as well.  Here are some desk exercise suggestions to get you started.

In Conclusion

It's is important to understand that you do not have to sacrifice your health to your job.  However, you will have to make choices to actively promote your health, to stand up for your health, and to prioritize your health.  You will have to set aside the time for healthy eating, healthy physical activity, and stress management.  You will have to set clear boundaries between work and your personal time.  When you put your own health and welfare first, you will improve the odds that you will be a happy and productive worker, either in someone else's business or in your own, and you will be better able to care for those around you.

Sharing is Caring - If you like this article, please share!

Sharing is Caring - If you like this article, please share!

Baby Steps Will Get You There

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Like many of you, I have spent years - thirty-three to be exact - building my family and career.  I've supported my husband mentally and emotionally; carried children on my hips until they could walk and then nurtured them through childhood to adulthood; spent many hours, often working overtime, at jobs that sometimes I've loved and sometimes hated, but I had to add to the family bank account and pay the bills.

In all those years of caretaking others, I stopped taking care of myself.  Not that I completely let myself go, but most of the time, I didn't eat healthy foods - I bought what was cheap or fast.  Although I cooked for my family (I love to cook when I have time!), what I made was heavy on "meat and potatos" and light on vegetables and fruit.  And there were the inevitable fast food and pizza take out meals on those days when there are more activities than time to get them all done. 

My exercise consisted of pushing strollers or chasing toddlers or lifting baby carriers or bags of groceries, or rushing from one meeting to another, with an occasional walk in the park around the playground.

I so admire those women who have managed to maintain an exercise regimen throughout their lives!  But, that wasn't me. 

So, thirty-three years later, I looked into midlife having gained 100 pounds and developed high blood pressure.

Every day that I wake up is a new chance to improve my health and fitness

But I refuse to be defeated.  Every day that I wake up is a new chance to improve my health and fitness from this point on.  A year ago, I didn't think I could ever run again.  Walking down the block was a struggle.  But this month, I signed up for a 5K fun run/walk.  I will probably walk most of it, but having added in running intervals of 1-2 minutes at a go into my daily walk, I know now that I CAN run, at least for short distances.  Maybe by next year, I'll be able to run the whole 5K, but even if I can't, I will have made progress.

We don’t have to reach perfect - we just have to make progress

And that's the point, right?  We don't have to reach perfection.  We just have to make progress on this new journey.  After years and years of taking care of other responsibilities while we let ourselves go, it's going to take time to regain our former health and fitness levels.  And that's okay.  As long as we take the time now, each day, to take care of ourselves, just as we have taken care of so many others.  In the words of the delightful Flylady, "Baby steps will get us there."  So keep taking those baby steps, each and every day.  

If you would like support in your journey to health and fitness, pop over to our free private Facebook community, The Pride, and sign up!

What No One Is Telling You About Skyrocketing Healthcare Costs

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As we watch our healthcare premiums go up each year, outpacing our raises; as our co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pockets rise and rise and rise; as we hear pundits and politicians shout about "affordable care" - I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret:

No one knows how to decrease the skyrocketing cost of healthcare

And what's more, even if they did, they are not interested in lowering the cost of healthcare for you or for me.

Oh, there are tons of ideas out there.  Most of them involve layers upon layers of additional regulation, bureaucracy, and red tape.  Ideas that increase, not decrease, the cost of care.  Ideas that will build the profit margins of insurers, hospitals, healthcare systems.  Ideas that may lower the cost for employers (who are desperate to lower costs - hence, wellness programs).  

But for the average working Jane, not so much.

In the United States, our healthcare costs significantly outpace the costs (as a percentage of GDP) of other first world nations, with poorer outcomes.  While that's not necessarily an argument for single-payer, it does speak to the fact that in spite of the high cost and in spite of the calls for "value-based care," we just aren't getting what we are paying for.

The proposed panaceas of electronic medical records, Obamacare, physician and hospital ratings, wellness programs, consolidation of physician practices under healthcare systems, all have failed to move the needle on cost.  

Meanwhile, chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are growing like a proverbial cancer.

So, while we as individuals may not be able to do much about the skyrocketing cost of healthcare for our population, we can start to do something about our individual costs.  Ultimately, the only chance we have to control our own healthcare costs is to take control of our own health, especially as it intersects with the possibility of lifestyle-influenced chronic disease.  

Eighty percent of heart attacks and stroke events could be prevented with lifestyle changes

Eighty percent.  That's a huge number.  

Type II diabetes, with its potentially devastating consequences, owes much of its prevalence to lifestyle.  

Imagine how much could be saved in costs just by making the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent or decrease these chronic conditions.  Imagine the impact on health!

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Every day, I meet patients suffering the consequences of heart disease and type II diabetes. The cost for these patients is enormous (even if they are not directly paying the costs themselves, we are paying through social programs like Medicare and Medicaid).  Imagine those costs multiplied millions of times over.

It's becoming more and more clear to me that we have to take control of our own health.  It can be as simple as starting with a daily walk, simple changes in our diet to choose healthier foods, taking time to de-stress.  We have to start making the changes in our lifestyle and habits, and we have to do it now.  We can't afford not to.

You can’t afford to get sick and you can’t depend on the present health care system to keep you well. It’s up to you to protect and maintain your body’s innate capacity for health and healing by making the right choices in how you live
— Andrew Weil, MD

The Guilt Gremlin

Photo by  boram kim  on  Unsplash

Photo by boram kim on Unsplash

With two employees out, it was another night of working late.  The other staff members, working short handed and getting on each others' nerves, were snipping at each other, and two of them were in tears, and as their supervisor, I had to listen to their complaints and try to end the fighting.  I had a pile of reports still to complete before I could go home.  My daughter had a band concert, and I (once again) would have to miss it.  My husband was complaining he never got to spend time with me.  We were getting to see each other a few minutes every day in between work and sleep.  Our relationship had been suffering for months.  Weekends were spent trying to catch up, or de-stressing just enough to get back to the rat race on Monday. 

Eating healthy?  Cooking at home?  Exercise?  Right.  Not a chance.  And the thought of taking time to exercise created a stressful sense of guilt.  How could I possibly even consider it when my job was already stealing so much time from my family?  My hours were so limited?  The stress and frustration were building to unsustainable levels, my weight was growing along with my frustration, I was tired, angry, sad, and most of all, feeling guilty all the time, because I couldn't give any aspect of my life the time and attention each deserved.

We as modern women struggle with a lot of guilt. 

The tension between work, family and social life seems to be tailored to create guilt whenever any piece of the triad falls out of balance.

Feeling guilty for not being able to give everything we have to our work, family, and friends, we can easily feel like we are spinning out of control.  Breathless.  Out of oxygen.  

You've no doubt heard the airplane analogy that when the cabin loses pressure, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you.  But as women, our first instinct is to take care of those around us first.  To give until we have nothing left.  To deplete the oil in our lamps, and therefore extinguishing our own light, giving oil and light to others.

Until we find ourselves stressed out, burnt out, done.

It's an impossible situation.  And it's a situation that cannot be allowed to continue if we are to be healthy and able to continue to care for those we love. 

Put on your own oxygen mask first

Put on your own oxygen mask first

We have to put our own oxygen mask on first.

As I've entered my fifties, I still have a busy, stressful job that requires long hours and long commutes.  I still have teenage daughters and a husband who need my time and attention.  I still have a home that needs cleaning.

I also have a life that needs living.  My job, my family, my home, my friends - I won't be able to take care of any of them if I fall apart.  So if I am going to feel guilty about anything, it shouldn't be that I'm not giving enough to any of those pieces of my life.  I'm giving them all I've got.

If guilt is to be useful at all, it should be to let us know that there is something in our lives that we need to change. 

And in my life, my guilt really meant that I need to change my priorities.  I need to put my oxygen mask on first.

I need to take care of myself. Taking care of myself is not a luxury.  It's a necessity.

That means a thoughtful re-assessment of how I'm spending my time and what is important for my health.  A re-assessment first of my morning routine.  How can I change my morning routine so that I include exercise, a nutritious meal, mapping out the priorities for the day, and a brief meditation to set a positive focus.  That's my me time.  That's my oxygen mask time.  

Because when I can take care of myself, I can take care of those I love.  And I can stop feeling guilty.