Draft: American Work Day 3

You’re sitting at your desk waiting for the eighth hour to end so you can go home. But, you can’t just go home and relax. We don’t end our work day and go straight to sleep. More than half the time after a long day of school or work, I want to just crawl up on the couch and watch some overly dramatic drama that is not the slightest grounded in reality. Do you ever wonder who decided to create a society that is so demanding? Americans are overworked and it shows. We don’t have the time or energy to work 40 hours a week then go home and cook, exercise, and maintain a healthy personal life. So many of us are struggling to keep up, but we don’t talk about it. We keep quiet because this is what we have been told to do our entire lives. You go to school, you get a good job, you support a family. There are people that are content with their jobs and the amount of stress they have, but a larger portion of Americans are barely getting by.

What if it was okay to admit that you hate your job? What if we stopped comparing ourselves to your coworker that works 40+ hours a week, goes to the gym five days a week, and is also getting their master’s degree? Why are we still comparing ourselves to the low percentage of people that are happy with their work/life dynamic. More importantly, why are we the most overworked developed country in the world? The only thing I know for certain is stress causes numerous health problems, both mental and physical. There is a growing number of people developing stress-induced health problems as a result of financial strain and work stress.

I’m probably concerned with building a lifestyle that is healthy because it has been brought to my attention. I have Hashimotos Thyroid Disease, which is the disease that causes reduced thyroid function. After being diagnosed, I decided to consult a functional medical doctor. She asked me a lot of questions in regards to my physical health. Although, it was surprising to me that she asked so many questions she about my lifestyle. Here I was filling out a form that asked how many hours I worked a week and how stressful my job made me. To be honest, I never thought a job could cause my physical health to decline. The doctor explained to me how cortisol levels rise when we are stressed. She also made a point of mentioning how today’s society is under an immense amount of pressure in our daily lives. The best way to describe it is to picture an animal running away from a predator, yet our predators are the exam you have to take on Tuesday or your boss that refuses to give you vacation time.

I asked her what I could do to lower my stress levels and help heal my body. In addition to discussing diet, we talked about what my typical week looks like. At the time, I was going to school full time and working a part time job. She acknowledged that not everyone can make changes to their lifestyle for financial reasons, but recommended that I should try to when it is possible, which meant limiting my work load and obligations.

I couldn’t help but question what my priorities were back then. I realized that I was putting myself through so much at once. I started to think about careers that would allow me to achieve a better work life balance in the future. I have some ideas, but I’m still young and curious. I’m also not naive to the fact that my job may change as my personal life changes. I feel that achieving a work life balance can at times be impossible, but is something that I think about a lot. It’s something that I want to stay consciously aware of and work towards establishing a personal life that is my own. A successful life to me is a life that allows for self-care and compassion.

It is daunting to think about establishing  a work life balance, or even a life balance. I think the first step to achieving something is to understand that you will get there, but it is a process. Changing your behavior and habits is a process. Humans don’t like change, but sometimes it’s just taking the very first step that is the hardest, whether it is learning a new recipe (even though you hate cooking) or meeting a friend at the gym instead of the bar.

In addition to paying attention to our bodies, there have been many studies done that indicate mindfulness and yoga can help alleviate stress levels. Some studies have shown that mindfulness in the workplace can be beneficial to one’s health. B Grace Bullock, PHD, author of How Mindfulness Beats Job Stress and Burnout says, “Results of these studies suggest that mindfulness programs in the workplace may help employees better deal with stress, and develop the ability to observe negative emotions and automatic thought patterns and behaviors, and remain calm, present, self-aware and alert, rather than succumbing to the slippery slope of negative emotions. What’s more, findings identify an important link between less stress, and greater job satisfaction.” It is interesting to think about the relationship between meditation and job performance. It is clear that we perform better at our jobs and in all areas of life when we are adequately rested. We require downtime to function regularly at our jobs. Meditation can be used as another tool to help us reset for the upcoming work week. When we feel at ease emotionally, we are more capable to carry out tasks that require focus and analytical skills. Bullock says, “Work-related stress and job burnout are among the leading causes of poor physical and mental health, with many workers suffering from anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. In recent years, numerous stress management interventions are mindfulness-based.”

A study suggests that mindfulness and meditation had an impact on the following workers. Bullock explains, “A total of 22 executives (21 male) completed the MBSR training, which included a one-day introductory session, and single-day trainings at the end of weeks 4 and 8. Participants were given audio recordings of daily mindfulness practices and exercises, as well as instructions on coping with stress, and a workbook to support their practice. Some executives set up a daily, 30-minute practice group.” It is refreshing to see a study that is focused solely on improving the quality of working conditions in modern society, even if it is limited almost exclusively to male executives..

The study was beneficial in providing necessary information to suggest a strong correlation between meditation and a decrease in stress within work environments.  Bullock says, “At the end of the 16-weeks, participants reported less perceived stress, improved physical and emotional health, enhanced sleep, better health-related habits and behaviors, and more self-compassion. What’s more, they also showed significant declines in blood cortisol levels and systolic and diastolic blood pressure, suggesting that both their minds and bodies were less stressed following the program.”

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