According to figures for the last year, 526,000 workers are suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety resulting in 12.5 million working days lost. But why? A job and a career, should be a positive influence on health and happiness but various circumstances can arise that turn your job into a source of illness.
Many factors can cause work-related ill health but ‘workload’ is the biggest cause. Tight deadlines, too much pressure and responsibility, and simply too much work will certainly do it. In workplaces where there is a continuous feeling of ‘only just coping’ all the time, there tend to be high rates of work-related ill health. Constantly being under pressure is physically and mentally exhausting, and over time builds up levels of fatigue and burnout. The lifestyle that goes with overwork is also detrimental to health: skipping breaks, working late, working into the weekend and eating on the run, foregoing things that can be protective of good health.
Are your colleagues toxic?
Who you work also has a significant effect on your health. The people you work with can really make a job; when relationships go wrong in the workplace, there can be significant fallout. Bullying bosses, toxic colleagues, and even office affairs all contribute to jobs making people ill. It is not surprising: being surrounded by people where there is conflict or confrontation will cause psychological ill health; whilst in our personal life we can walk away, that luxury is not available at work. And it’s not just tricky personalities: health will also be knocked when there is a lack of support, a lack of supervision and a lack of empathy from colleagues.
Do you take your work home?
Work-life balance is another key issue. To be well both psychologically and physically, you need time for rest, pleasure and leisure outside of work. If work takes up too many hours and therefore rules out these protective aspects of your life, it will lead to illness. Physical and mental exhaustion through overworking and under-resting makes you vulnerable to ill health: we all need that time to recuperate, so when that balance goes awry we suffer the mental and physical health costs. Sadly in recent years digital connectivity has allowed us to stay connected to work far longer than we need to and there is an expectation within our work culture now of longer and longer hours. The damaging overuse of digital devices intruding on family meals, exercise, and even sleep means downtime has been destroyed for many: workers are suffering as a result of losing their work–life balance in this way.
So how can you reclaim your health in the face of a job that is making you ill?
Having time in a normal schedule to take care of yourself, nurture relationships and recuperate allows you to foster resilience and build stronger mental and physical health. It gives you the capacity to cope with stress at work, challenges and busy-ness. Now that may seem like an overwhelmingly difficult goal in the face of a job that is making you ill, but the opportunities to look after yourself can be created.
When scheduling your week, even a crazy working week, make room for the people in your life that make you feel good, and spend quality time with them. Quality time is an expression that is overused now but that is what you want: special time connecting with those family and friends who support and nurture you. Prioritise it, and make sure you are doing that every day. Far too often we sail through busy weeks and think we’re spending time with our family when we’re actually just living together.
A proper night’s sleep is absolutely vital to good physical health and strong mental health. It is so fundamental to us as humans and such a mundane, inconsequential part of our routine that it is easy to forget just how important and restorative it can be.
Ensuring you are sleeping well is absolutely vital if your job is making you ill, particularly if you are suffering from overwork, exhaustion and stress when rest can be elusive. Are you really getting the best possible night’s sleep? Take the chance a few nights in a row to have an earlier night consistently and see how that makes you feel. It may be you are not getting enough sleep but have simply become accustomed to your routine.
Of course late nights are part of a normal busy life, but ensure earlier, or early, nights are planned within your week. You want your sleep to be as restful as possible and that means creating the ideal environment for sleep: the right temperature and as dark and as quiet as it can be to. You should remove from your bedroom anything that will disturb this: phones, LCD displays, TVs and, especially, work-related paraphernalia.
Change your commute
Is your journey the best it can be? Consider whether you can ameliorate any stress that the journey causes relatively easily. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I’ve always done it this way, I’ll just carry on’, but rather think about the other options – switching to doing part of the journey on foot or on public transport, for example. Are there better routes you can take that will avoid the traffic and reduce your stress? That may mean a longer journey, but don’t discount that as it may be worth it if it is actually less stressful.
Variety is good for your mood, rather than spending the time on autopilot: can you alter your journey some days to break up the routine and the stress? When sleep and home time feels precious the last thing you will feel like doing is going to work earlier – but that could be a better way to start your day: you don’t want to be running out the door each day sitting in traffic jams as you get later and later, with your blood boiling. Before you have even faced the stress of work you are starting the day already in stress mode. If you commit to leaving earlier and avoiding that unnecessary pressure, you are keeping your stress levels down, your blood pressure down and preserving your mood. You start the day feeling ahead, not already on the back foot, which is immensely powerful psychologically.
Find time for yourself
Having a significant focus outside your work, such as a hobby, can be an incredibly valuable part of relaxation: when work is a source of illness, if it is the main focus in your life, the negative impact will be multiplied. Having other interests to aim for and enjoy is a great way to temper this and maintain your mental well-being. It offers you the chance to have goals and successes outside your career – any successes feed into your feelings of self-worth and confidence. A hobby offers you the chance to socialise and therefore build up your support network; it gives you a distraction from your symptoms and your troubles. It offers you variety in your week which gives you balance and perspective on other things you are facing. Challenging yourself to commit to something and achieve it simply makes you feel good. You are improving your emotional and physical capacity to cope with work by giving your mind a different outlet.
If your job is making you ill, make 2018 the year that you make yourself better.
|Dr Ellie Cannon read medicine at Cambridge University and completed her clinical training at the Royal Free Hospital, London, before embarking on a career in General Practice. She is best known for her weekly health column in the Mail on Sunday and Mailonline, a frequent contributor to Netdoctor, and is the resident GP columnist for Best Magazine. This is her second book.|