November 25, 2015

Why Do We Insist on Working Ourselves to Death?

office paper

They are working me to death.

I was saddened by an email I received this week from an acquaintance. She wrote, “Four years and ten months ago, I gave my five year notice. The partners have just now figured out that I’m really leaving and they are working me to death.”

A little over a decade ago, I was guilty and fell under the spell of working long hours, wanting to do more than I could handle and taking my health for granted.

I was a 911 dispatcher faced with having to call an ambulance on myself while alone on shift. It was a decision that took me awhile to make as I wasn’t sure it was a true emergency. That is until I was hit with pains so severe that I thought I was having a heart attack.

If it was a stranger calling 911, I wouldn’t have second-guessed them.

I survived, but not without a health crisis to snap me into reality. Stress was the biggest culprit. My outlook on life altered that night. A few months later, I made drastic changes. I quit my job, attended personal training school and opened my own business.

I found myself overcome by tears, as I continued reading her words, “I’ve been having some health issues (lung problems, of all things) and I’m on oxygen 24/7.”

So, why do we wait until something is so unbearable before we are made to face those life-changing decisions?

Our resistance is so strong that we put ourselves in harm’s way over and over again.

Is it ego getting in our way?

Are we too stubborn to face the truth?

Is it denial?

Or is it fear?

In my case it was all of the above.

Ego sat on my shoulder and told me to woman up: people depend on you, so you’d better do your job.

Stubbornness told me it wasn’t happening, even though I had all the signs of neglect. I gained weight. I ate foods that were clearly not good me. I worked in a high stress position. I switched shifts every month and I didn’t sleep well.

Denial tried to rally my support by telling me I’d be okay. If that didn’t work, the voice would tell me it’ll pass, it’s just a little heartburn.

Fear whispered in my ears, you really don’t want to know. But remember mother?

She died of a heart attack.

Each of us has our own excuses for not taking care of ourselves in the best manner possible.

We are fully aware that in our lifetime disease will strike us or a loved one and yet we still think that it won’t—it can’t—happen to us.

This email was a reminder to me that it is easier to play an active role in my health than to let circumstances lead the way.

And it felt even more significant that the email was written by the same woman who about five years ago, when I worked as a personal trainer, knocked frantically at my front door looking for help. In her late 40’s, she said she felt horrible, was stressed out, kept getting sick and was tired of being tired.

We talked and came up with a health plan that she could keep. She adjusted her work schedule, ate healthier and exercised regularly.

She kept the promise to herself for a little over two years.

As I returned my focus to her present email, I felt the regret in her words: “Keep thinking I waited one damn year too long to retire and start taking care of myself.”

Revelations can be embarrassing and many times kept close to the heart. Sometimes shame is the elephant in the room and too hard to bring out of the shadows.

I admire those who step out of their comfort zone searching for answers.

One of the main things that we often fail to recognize is that ignoring these things never helps.

But how do we get started?

Here are some suggestions to get your health back on track:

  • If you make comments like, “I’m working myself to the grave or this job is going to kill me,” ask yourself if you are working too much and how is it affecting your health? For ideas, pick the brains of coworkers who seem to have an easier time getting through their day.
  • When your stress level gets so high you feel like exploding, think about what you can do right at that moment. Can you take five minutes and walk away? Meditation isn’t only for those who do yoga. It doesn’t have to be on a mat or structured. Find a quiet space, breathe deeply and release the pent up stress.
  • When you know you need to exercise. How do you squeeze it into your already busy day? Start with a few small steps, find a stairwell for cardio and body weight exercises are a great workout with minimal time and space needed.

Keep in mind that even when we get off track, it’s just as easy to resume these simple steps and begin taking care of ourselves again.

Working oneself to death isn’t good for any business, for us or for our family. If you wake up in the morning dreading the day ahead of you, it’s time to notice, question and take action.





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Author: Lee Lomas

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: quinndombrowski at Flickr 

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