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Work Hard, Live Smart: A Balancing Act for a Healthier, Happier You

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When individuals overwork and fail to prioritize self-care, the body and brain don't get enough time to recover. Dr. Perlman emphasizes, “Ultimately, this tends to lead to both physical and mental distress.” Prolonged activation of the alarm system, or the stress response system, results in the presence of cortisol and other stress hormones for an extended duration. This becomes a concern as chronic stress has been linked to various health issues, including mental disorders, diabetes, digestive problems and other illnesses, such as cancers, arthritis, chronic lung disease, and hypertension.

According to a joint WHO and International Labour Organization study, a climb in hours worked led to 745,000 deaths globally from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% rise compared to 2000. Their analysis also found that “working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.”

Can we solve this by reducing working hours? Unfortunately, merely counting hours on the job can be deceptive. Burnout is influenced by various factors like commute time, external responsibilities, work environment, feeling appreciated by co-workers, and job satisfaction. Rather than focusing solely on these aspects, a more effective approach is to pay attention to our bodies. One indication of overworking is when your productivity stalls. Another sign is if you're not getting enough sleep.

Recognizing the signs of working excessively and the negative changes in yourself is the first step. To effectively manage these pressures and improve well-being, it's important to mentally detach from work. This means consciously avoiding work-related thoughts during leisure time. Activities like exercise, reading, and cooking can help facilitate this mental switch-off. Another effective strategy is to incorporate short timeouts into your workday to better manage stress. One study demonstrated that short recesses of approximately 10 minutes taken throughout the workday can be surprisingly effective in alleviating daily job stress and demands. Briefly engaging in activities at work like stretching, socializing with co-workers, and participating in cognitively stimulating tasks such as reading for fun can contribute to improved motivation, mood, and sustained energy.
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